The Pulse

Instead of curbing pollution, state lawmakers consider funding chemical treatment for Jordan Lake

By: - April 28, 2017 2:02 pm
An overgrowth of algae in Jordan Lake can harm boaters, swimmers, fishers and jet skiers. (Photo: US Army Corps of Engineers)

[dropcap] T [/dropcap] o clean up the pollution in Jordan Lake, North Carolina lawmakers have tried arguing. They’ve tried SolarBees. They’ve even tried ignoring the problem. All those tactics have failed. Now state officials are examining a potential chemical treatment for the lake — yet another experiment on a vital drinking water source for more than 350,000 people.

NCPW has confirmed that the NC Department of Environmental Quality has been presented with a “demonstration project that we are continuing to review” with the US Army Corps of Engineers, said Jamie Kritzer, DEQ acting deputy secretary for public affairs.

Funding for the chemical treatment could be included in the Senate’s proposed budget, sources told NCPW. The amount of money could not be confirmed.

It’s unclear why lawmakers would pursue this avenue when last year, they created a think tank, the NC Policy Collaboratory, and gave it $500,000 to fund a two-year study about pollutant sources running into Jordan Lake.

Steve Wall, community outreach liaison for the collaboratory, told NCPW that its Jordan Lake study team met with DEQ earlier this week to update state officials on research. During that discussion, Wall said, DEQ mentioned there could be a legislative proposal to fund chemical treatment of the lake.

The lawmakers and lobbyists behind the chemical scheme are not publicly known. However, one of the state’s most powerful lobbyists, Harold Brubaker, who served 35 years in the House, including two terms as Speaker, represents SePro, a “life sciences” company that sells chemicals to kill aquatic plants in lakes and  reservoirs.

SePro’s corporate headquarters are in Carmel, Ind., but it has a research and technology campus in Whitakers, N.C., and a distribution center in Rocky Mount. A review of this year’s registered lobbyists and their clients showed that SePro was the only company that specifically offered this service.Brubaker has represented them since 2016, according to state board of elections records.

Citing confidentiality rules, Brubaker & Associates could not comment on SePro’s plans. However, a representative for the lobbying group said she would pass along a message to SePro seeking comment from NCPW.

DEQ declined to identify the company that presented the demonstration project.

One of 25 herbicides and algaecides sold by SePro, a company with offices in Indiana and North Carolina. These chemicals can be used to kill polluting algae in waterways, such as Jordan Lake. (Label from SePro website)

The company sells 25 aquatic herbicides, all registered with the EPA, for a variety of uses. A main ingredient in AquaPro is glyphosate, the same chemical used in RoundUp; other products are copper-based. But many of the active ingredients are “proprietary,” according to the label, and not publicly available.

The level of potential hazards vary. The label for SonarQ advises against releasing large amounts of the chemical at once, in order to avoid environmental damage. However, labels several of the products also state that there are no restrictions on fishing or swimming after the chemicals have been applied in the water.

The material safety data sheets for the products, required by federal law, caution that people applying the herbicides should wear protective gear.

In 2009 state lawmakers passed the Jordan Lake rules, which were intended to curb the amount of pollutants — both agricultural and urban runoff — by, among several measures, restricting development in the watershed. But the real estate and homebuilders lobby chafed at the limitations. For the past eight years, those industries’ political power and a general anti-regulatory tone among the Republican majority have thwarted any legitimate progress toward mending the lake. That attitude has continued this session with the rollback of buffer rules and other water quality protections.

The state spent $1 million on a failed SolarBees project, essentially gigantic eggbeaters that were supposed to stir the lake water and prevent algae from forming. But monitoring data showed that the SolarBees were ineffective and DEQ discontinued the project.

“After the unnecessary, expensive and ridiculous experiment with SolarBees, the state needs to simply stop pollution at the source from coming into Jordan Lake,” said Elaine Chiosso, executive director of the Haw River Assembly. The Haw flows into Jordan Lake. “There is no other way to fix the problem.”


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Lisa Sorg
Lisa Sorg

Assistant Editor and Environmental Reporter Lisa Sorg helps manage newsroom operations while covering the environment, climate change, agriculture and energy.