RALEIGH, North Carolina — An experiment that prompted lawmakers to delay for years the promised but costly cleanup of a key water supply for about 300,000 people in the Raleigh-Durham region has produced no tangible results, a state report said.
North Carolina lawmakers in 2013 approved spending $1.4 million on a no-bid, single-source deal with a North Dakota company that had lobbied legislators for the funds. The legislation tailored to target a specific company's product would have been illegal by almost any other part of the government, State Auditor Beth Wood said months later.
The first year of testing Medora Corp.'s SolarBee water-circulating equipment produced no improvement in water quality on Jordan Lake, a report by the state's Division of Water Quality said.
"These preliminary results indicate that nutrient related water quality conditions did not significantly improve in areas of the lake where SolarBees were deployed," said the report to the General Assembly.
The experiment with three dozen of the solar-powered, floating devices started in August 2014 and was supposed to wrap up early next year. But the General Assembly this summer decided to spend another $1.5 million on the project and again delay until at least 2019 more stringent anti-pollution regulations on homebuilders, farmers and other businesses as far away upstream as Greensboro and Burlington designed to protect Jordan Lake.
"It seems like what the purpose of the panels really is is to provide cover for upstream developers to avoid doing the pollution controls that they're required to do," Sierra Club lobbyist Cassie Gavin said Wednesday. "So basically that shifts the cost of the cleanup to the public and to taxpayers to clean up Jordan Lake instead."
The regulations were part of the state's 2007 agreement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up nitrogen and phosphorous spilling into the lake. Opponents say the regulations designed to reduce pollution sources would hurt economic growth and cost hundreds of millions of dollars.
State Department of Environmental Quality spokeswoman Crystal Feldman declined to comment Wednesday but pointed to a statement on the agency's website: "Initial test results indicate water quality conditions in two areas of Jordan Lake are similar to historical conditions but that the effectiveness of the Solarbees will not be known until several years of data can be gathered."
The man-made lake, completed in the early 1980s, has seen the rising nitrogen and phosphorus levels encourage the growth of algae which hurts water quality and fish. The solar-powered equipment mixes surface waters with the aim of reducing algae outbreaks but doesn't reduce nitrogen and phosphorous entering the lake from runoff, as the delayed regulations would require.