County moving ahead with Jordan, Falls anti-pollution efforts
State anti-pollution regulations for the Falls and Jordan Lake basins will have wide-ranging effects, potentially affecting even the decisions Durham homeowners make about fertilizing their lawns, county officials said Monday.
Work on implementing the mandates locally is proceeding, even though the N.C. General Assembly and Gov. Pat McCrory this summer gave communities discretion to postpone new pollution controls in the Jordan basin for up to three years.
In Durham, “we don’t recommend” taking advantage of the offered delay for fear of inheriting additional problems if the rules for the Jordan basin eventually take full effect, Assistant County Manager Drew Cummings told County Commissioners.
The Jordan basin covers the southern portion of the county, in general everything south of the Durham Freeway. The Falls Lake basin covers the land north of the freeway.
The two lakes both serve as drinking water reservoirs.
Falls is the city of Raleigh’s source of water, while Jordan supplies Cary and other southern Wake County towns. Jordan also is a backup source of water for the city of Durham now and is expected to become a fulltime source for it a decade or two hence.
State environmental regulators want local governments and private-sector players throughout the two basins to cut down on emissions of nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that fuel the growth of algae that complicate water treatment and crowd out other aquatic life.
Clamping down on the emissions means revamping sewage plants such as the two the city owns, asking developers to install catch basins and other devices that filter nutrients and keeping tabs on the way farmers and other landowners use fertilizer.
City, town and county leaders throughout the two basins fear the effort will prove costly, to the tune of a couple of billion dollars.
Complaints about the potential cost to one upstream community, Greensboro, sparked the move this summer by the Republican-dominated General Assembly to give local governments the option of delaying implementation.
The House and Senate coupled that to a parallel move to launch a new legislative study of the lake’s condition, the cost and benefits of compliance with the existing rules and the possibility of addressing the problem through “treatment and remediation” of lake water rather than by limiting pollution on the front end.
Legislators to date haven’t addressed the possibility of delaying or modifying the Falls Lake rules.
But County Commissioner Ellen Reckhow said Monday that she thinks communities in the Falls basin may try to persuade the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that the nutrient reductions they’ve been asked to make aren’t technically feasible.
“I don’t think it’s achievable, what they’re asking us to do in Falls,” she said.
Supplying further ammunition for such arguments, county officials noted the rules eventually will require them to OK nutrient-management plans for up to about 1,000 properties involved in commercial agriculture.
To date, they’ve completed 49, said Eddie Culbertson, director of the Durham Soil & Water Conservation District.
With help from Duke University researchers, county officials also have looked into how homeowners use fertilizer and suspect many problems there. Many use too much, and others make mistakes that sharply increase the chances of pollution reaching the lakes.
Cummings said administrators think “there’s real, low-hanging fruit” to collect in that area with the help of new local laws, and want to discuss some ideas with the commissioners.