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Aug 14, 2012


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Here's a primer on the issue. It's from a different region, but most of the info is applicable. And here's a source for funding the city could use to make the cost less painful. It also needs to be said: In the early days of the CWA, the Federal government offered generous block grants to help cities convert their systems. And the smart ones took advantage of that.

Account Deleted

The rules have been hanging out there for years on the horizon but each time a deadline approaches the localities involved raise a fuss and some get exemptions. The rules seem burdensome given that the water quality of Jordan Lake is a foreign concept to most folks who don't get their drinking water from its bounty.

But as a water quality expert explained it to me once, the improvements have to be made upstream in runoff and pollution controls. Storm water runoff, small creeks and tributaries can be controlled, filtered and improved. The Haw River and Jordan Lake cannot.


Why do politicians think they have the ability to determine what is or isn't "flawed" science? I get the political reasons for not wanting to do this - it is because there is little to no tangible benefit for Greensboro residents. The practical reasons for delaying it are just not there - unless you can imagine repealing the CWA. It is pay now or pay later. Municpalities all over the country are dealing with this issue - whether it is the cost of complying with Chesapeake Bay rules, Great Lakes and Puget Sound clean up plans and Florida everglades restoration - to name a few.


They actually have that ability, Brian. The recent sea level bill (excuse me, law) is proof positive, and it appears Greensboro's Mayor is catching on.

And you people thought he was a RINO. For shame. ;)


Did I mention that implementation of these laws will create jobs? The rules require an increase in professional people familiar with erosion and sediment control,engineers and landscape architects designing innovative water treatment (erase your brain of the ugly detention ponds), environmental consultants, BMP designers/inspectors. I thought this City Council was pro-jobs? I made an extremely good living in another state doing just that.


A good portion of Wake County water comes from Jordan Lake. (I'm drinking coffee made from it right now.) Falls Lake is the other major source. When most of Falls Lake dried up in the drought a couple of years ago, Jordan Lake's importance was highlighted.

Stuff-you-don't-want-in-your-water flows downstream. Jordan Lake is downstream from GSO. Other folks are downstream from Wake and the rest of the Triangle. Stuff that gets in the Cape Fear here ends up in Wilmington.

North Carolina has surprisingly few water sources. Water's a political issue for the long term.

David Wharton

Question: if Wake Co. is the main beneficiary of the Jordan Lake Rules, does Wake Co. bear the main cost of enforcement? Or is this a regressive tax in which the wealthier municipality forces a poorer one to pay for its clean water?

Andrew Brod

That's an interesting question, and I'm not sufficiently well-informed to answer it. However, a Coasian outcome would involve payments from the downstream beneficiary of pollution abatement to the upstream polluters. Coasian bargaining is rarely doable, and it wouldn't be here due to the large number of parties involved. But it makes sense for government to approximate a Coasian outcome, which means that the Jordan Lake rules should indeed require some compensation going upstream. Do they not? Or is all the burden placed on upstream municipalities?


I wonder if municipalities upstream of Greensboro are taking note of how Greensboro is treating fellow citizens downstream.

Something about "do unto others" comes to mind...


The pollution of Jordan Lake is the result of all the municipalities and counties cumulative inputs and is the result of non-point pollution which makes it even trickier to determine who is the worst polluter. What I keep hearing Greensboro cry is "It's not fair - you are picking on us because we are at the top of the watershed." Hey, sometimes geography is great and sometimes not so much. It is an obligation under state legislation and under federal legislation. Time to stop whining and get on with the business of cleaning up the waterways.


We're at the head waters. Unless you count Summerfield.


Let's promote converting our Kentucky Fescue to Bermuda.

Much less run off chemicals.

Would be an effective tax cut as well.

Then they would have to recalculate the whole thing.

Fescue is a rip off forced on us by the seed and chemical complex.

David Wharton
What I keep hearing Greensboro cry is "It's not fair - you are picking on us because we are at the top of the watershed." Hey, sometimes geography is great and sometimes not so much.
Brian, I'd be willing to bet that you believe fairness is very important in other tax situations, and that those with the most resources, and those who benefit most from public policy, should bear their fair share of the costs. I don't think it's whining to apply that principle here. Call it the Elizabeth Warren principle.
Andrew Brod

You didn't pollute that!

Ed Cone

Good discussion, thanks all.

I added an update to the post with a link to more info.

Andrew Brod

Who pays is generally a second-order consideration in economic policy. Applied to this case, the most important objective is that water pollution, in the form of run-off, is reduced to a level that balances upstream development and downstream drinking water. Whoever pays for that reduction, the reduction needs to be made.

But a second-order consideration isn't unimportant, especially as regards the political feasibility of a given remediation. Until cap-and-trade got demogogued by the party that more or less invented it, one of its strengths was that it didn't impose all the cost on polluting companies and in fact made it possible for some companies to make a profit.

So it matters who pays.


Not sure what you're saying, David.

Should Wake County (government) pay to have Guilford County's water treatment facilities upgraded? Should Wake County's developers and homebuyers pay a fee so Guilford County's developers could implement best practices in stormwater runoff remediation without raising their prices?

I must have misunderstood you, because that's stretching logic to the breaking point.

Andrew Brod

How does that stretch logic?


Because it sounds like it's saying that the victims of pollution should pay the polluters to stop polluting. OK, maybe not illogical exactly (self interest and greed being what they are), but it's pretty crazy. If my heating oil tank started leaking onto David's yard, should he pony up to repair it?

Roger Greene

Where does Wake County's runoff go and do they practice the same care they're asking us to? The old corporate/military saying that doodoo runs downhill may have some application here.

David Boyd

What's not being given enough weight is, if Williams' comments are correct on Ed's link, Greensboro paying to implement these rules may not make much difference to Jordan Lake water quality. So it's not simply a choice between whether to pay to clean up or not and who should be responsible for paying for it, it's a matter of whether this spending will be effective.


Look at a map of the lake.

The dam is just below confluence of New Hope Creek and Haw River. Much of the polluted urban run off comes undiluted down New Hope Creek from Durham and Chapel Hill. Our pollution from GSO is thankfully diluted before it gets to the lake.

David Wharton

What Boyd said. Also, Scharrison and Roch, if Greensboro's watershed / runoff regulations are already in compliance with other state and federal regulations, I'm not persuaded that we're "polluters" or that Jordan Lake is a "victim." The lake is a creation of the federal government; its beneficiaries are primarily in Chatham, Durham, and Wake County. The Jordan Lake Rules looks like an ex-post-facto set of regulations, imposed in this one instance, to protect a particular watershed that just happens to benefit one of the wealthiest sections of the state.

A better example, Roch, would be this: you built a fishpond in your yard, knowing full well that, because of the natural slope of our properties, runoff from my yard will go into your pond. You then discover that my heretofore perfectly legal use of lawn fertilizer is killing your prized koi, so you get a law passed that forces me to spend $10,000 to make sure my fertilizer doesn't kill your koi any more.

Look, I'm not a big fan of the modern lawn -- I seldom use fertilizer and herbicide, and I mow my freedom lawn with 1860s technology. Nor am I a big fan of Greensboro's development community. But I do think the RTP is screwing us big time on this deal.


It's not just diluted , much of it gets treated. The city has a water report.

Steve Harrison

David, the Federal statutes that forced the creation of the Jordan Lake Rules has been in effect for twenty five years. And many of the best practices for achieving compliance of such have been around longer than that.

How many housing developments/industrial parks have been built here in the last quarter of a century? If city/county officials had taken the steps necessary back then, we probably wouldn't be having this conversation now.


Good point, DW.


Good point, SH.


What is the breakdown of the 100 million that GSO has spend between waster water treatment and non point (runoff) pollution. We are getting screwed on the non point pollution. Most of the problem is in New Hope Creek coming from CH and Durham.

Account Deleted

This isn't new and if localities had taken small steps along the way we would be more than half-way there by now. EPA Phase II requirements are along similar lines to the JLR. Stormwater runoff is a major pollutant and developers can take steps to lessen the impact.

I continue to be amazed at the track so many on the conservative side are taking against solutions and science. When has the American spirit ever been summed up by "we don't know if it works so we shouldn't try it"?

A state that is moving to 10 million residents and beyond is going to have major water quality and availability issues for a long time and wasting years arguing about doesn't help.

It wasn't that long ago that Greensboro came begging for water from Reidsville ...


Check out the landmark NCEEP, the recipient of our funds.

Andrew Brod

Talking about who should pay isn't the same as arguing against "solutions and science."

Account Deleted

Mayor Perkins questioned the science and Boyd, et al posit the water manager's doubts as reasons not to try ...

Account Deleted

Also the issue got side tracked. Greensboro is not the only city subject to JLR and is only paying to address its own share of the pollution.


Where is the data that says x amount of what
is slipping down stream?

How much of it it agricultural?

Has Pricey Harrison chimed in?


Anyone know if there's a tax built into the price of products and practices that contribute to runoff? E.g., fertilizer, tree clearing, chicken & hog farms?

Ed Cone

Re Pricey, RTFL, as the kids used to say.


I don't think we are getting screwed on the non-point source pollution. Our waterways aren't without their problems - several sections of North Buffalo Creek, South Buffalo Creek, Reedy Fork, Brush Fork and Horsepen Creek all are 303(d) listed waterways. This means they are all in violation of the water quality standards set by the Clean Water Act. We are required to clean up these waterways regardless of the Jordan Lake Rules, but would we? According to DENR's own data, these waterways have been on this list since at least 1998. So, it is not just about cleaning up the drinking water downstream it is about meeting our own obligations to comply with the Clean Water Act to make our creeks "swimmable and fishable". This is not some new obligation that just popped up due to Jordan Lake. We've been contributors to the problems for years. The BMP's (best management practices) under the Jordan Lake Rules, if implemented here, would help us meet our obligation to our own citizens and would also end up meeting the requirements of the Jordan Lake Rules.

Account Deleted

Thanks for stating that so well Brian.

David Wharton

Brian & Steve, I don't have the time or expertise to master the federal regulations. I think the gist of what you're saying is that local waterways have been below federal standards for a while and we need to fix that, and the Jordan Lake Rules will make that happen.

What I don't understand is the difference between what the Feds require and what the JLRs require. It sounds like the JLRs are going to force us to do some very expensive things -- maybe beyond the EPA mandate?

At any rate, I'm not yet persuaded that the JLRs are the right fix, or that they're fair from a regional standpoint. I understand being angry about bad development (I used to write a blog about that), but I just can't get excited about sticking it to the developers on this.

Steve Harrison

David, if you'll take a look at the statute, you'll see that many of the directives are targeted at (individual) state governments. Develop your plan, submit it to the (regional) EPA office for approval, then put the plan into action. There aren't two different sets of requirements competing with each other, there's just the one: clean up the water.

The EPA's approval of the JLRs tells us they're satisfied it will move us toward compliance with the CWA. It doesn't tell us if the rules are overkill and (as a result) unnecessarily burdensome. But since I'm not above using someone else's words to flog them, Perkins and Williams both believe the JLRs won't accomplish much, so I'd say that question's been answered.

As far as the price tag for implementing this, I wish there was a cheaper way. Hell, I'm a homeowner and taxpayer who's liable to get hit on both city and county levels, and I hate to see funds reallocated from services for the poor to fix this problem.

But I also know that (probably sooner than later) our water quality & supply is going to surpass nearly every problem we think we have right now, and we'll look back and wonder what those idiots were thinking.


David - It's not just the builders crying foul, it's the municipalities as well. The JLR is a whole suite of solutions - some focus on new development and some focus on existing development. In some cases, the actions that can be implemented do not require any money whatsoever, but do require some political will (keeping cattle out of streams, maintaining riparian buffers, restricting use of fertilizers, etc.) in the form of policy. It's hard to have sympathy for the local builders on this who fought tooth and nail against a requirement to plant 1 measly tree per new house (I know you remember this from your LDO days.) The reason things are expensive now is because we've made so little progress and have spent so few funds along the way - deferred actions. So, the reality is the fixes for this aren't going to get any cheaper. It is going to cost money - but it is money we need to keep in perspective. We, as a city, are spending money on things we want (new roads, PAC's, coliseum renovations) at a time when we should be spending some of that money on the things we are obligated to do. Politically, I guess it's not very exciting, but nontheless absent repeal of CWA, the requirement to do something and spend money doing it aren't going away. Other regions of the country have managed to move forward with solutions while continuing to adjust policies to new science and new tools (nutrient credit exchanges, e.g.)

BTW, this was just released the other day, and may be useful in understanding what tools we have for complying with JLR:


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