Clean water rules under assault statewide

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Far from the shores of Jordan Lake, Falls Lake, Goose Creek, and other watery playgrounds and drinking sources around North Carolina, buried in the dry confines of the General Assembly's Legislative Office Building, a Republican Senator from Greensboro stood in front of her colleagues this morning and outlined a plan to effectively dismantle clean water protections at nine lakes and rivers around the state.

Under the new provision, on December 31, 2019, all "nutrient management strategies" for the nine water sources would be repealed, including the Neuse River, Falls Lake, Lake Jordan, and Catawba.

What's more, the new provisions would change the rules having to do with buffer zones around drinking water sources. Buffer zones are areas along shorelines where developers can't build and where foliage and vegetation helps cut down on pollutants getting into the water. Think run-off from construction; you don't want it going straight into the lake. Buffer zones act as natural sieves.

Environmentalists also note the proposal was rolled out in the Senate budget, not as a standalone bill. It's far from the first time policy changes would be embedded in the budget, but Dustin Chicurel-Bayard with the NC Sierra Club says it would mark one of the most significant policy changes in recent memory.

"It would take a sledgehammer to policies we've had on the books for decades," said Chicurel-Bayard. "When you're talking about removing water quality protections for Falls and Jordan, that's almost three quarters of a million people whose water supply could be impacted just in the Triangle alone."

Chicurel-Bayard says the kinds of nutrient management strategies under threat include: waste water treatment upgrades, controls on run-off from new development, controls on run-offs from farm fields, and buffer zones.

ABC11 tried to interview the Greensboro Republican who introduced the provision, Sen. Trudy Wade. As of Wednesday afternoon, she hadn't gotten back to us.

Chicurel-Bayard says he's watching the Senate for a potential budget vote Thursday. If that happens, the two chambers (House and Senate) go behind closed doors to hash out the differences between their two versions of what the spending document will look like. When there's initial agreement, one combined budget goes to both chambers for a full vote.

You can view the full budget here. You'll find the water quality section on page 111.

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