[At the March 1, 2011, meeting of the Carrboro Board of Aldermen, in response to a request from the OWASA Board of Directors to facilitate greater access to water from Jordan Lake, Mayor Mark Chilton made the following remarks. The Editors of OP asked if we could publish his comments here as a blog post, and he agreed. -Ed.]
What the evidence that was just laid out before you clearly shows is that our community is capable of living with the water supply we have now, that the water supply now is very substantial, is scheduled to grow significantly in 2035, and that water conservation efforts have proved to be more effective than—I think they've really proved to be more effective than anybody would have guessed 10 years ago, than the most wild-eyed optimists would have believed 10 years ago. We've been more successful than that. We have not even exhausted the water conservation and water efficiency technologies and policies and procedures that even possibly could be implemented within our community.
When I first moved here in 1988, our community was still at that time reeling and dealing with a very difficult decision that our whole county had to make surrounding the creation of the Cane Creek Reservoir. The purpose of the reservoir was to provide the absolute highest-quality water that could be had for the people of Chapel Hill and Carrboro and some of the surrounding area. It came at the expense of, to some degree, of the rights of landowners in the area. There were people who were forced to sell their land, land that had been in their family for hundreds of years. That wasn't an easy decision for anybody to arrive at. But the reality is that our OWASA board and the Chapel Hill Town Council and this board and the Board of County Commissioners of Orange County ultimately recognized that it was worth it, that as much of a burden as we were putting on a relatively few people who lived in the Cane Creek watershed, that that burden was worth it to insure that Chapel Hill and Carrboro would have, for far distant time into the future, the absolutely most pristine sort of water we could have. And they did that for us. They made really tough decisions, and I appreciate that, and I value that.
I think the evidence is that we don't need Jordan Lake water. I understand some people would feel more comfortable knowing that it would be possible to get Jordan Lake water in the future. But here's the thing. The quality of the water that goes into Jordan Lake is considerably lower. The water in Jordan Lake washes off the streets of Burlington, it washes off the streets of Greensboro and Graham and Pittsboro and any of several dozen other cities and towns in its upper watershed. The areas it washes through includes numerous EPA-identified Superfund sites. It includes all sorts of underground storage tanks that leak contaminants into the water table. It includes parking lots from here to Wake Forest University, practically. It includes a lot of area, and it includes a lot of sources of pollution, and those pollutants are picked up by rainwater that washes across the streets, filters through the ground; and where those pollutants ultimately end up is in Jordan Lake.
Now, these guys can tell you and show you the numbers that suggest that the water in Jordan Lake is not necessarily that bad. It's not bad compared with the kind of water that most of the United States drinks. It's not bad compared with the water that most of North Carolina drinks. But here's the thing. We don't know in the long run what the quality of water in Jordan Lake will be. Jordan Lake is not finished being polluted by the sources of pollution that lie upstream of it. Jordan Lake's watershed will continue to be built out. The failure of the state government to adopt strict standards to protect Jordan Lake over the last several years was driven primarily by one thing, and that was the desire of home builders and realtors to build the hell out of Greensboro, Burlington, and all points upstream from Jordan Lake. They stopped those rules from going in the way that they had been recommended by scientists. And the reason they did it is because they do not care about the quality of the water that comes out of Jordan Lake.
What I'm saying is, we don't have to go to Jordan Lake, we don't need Jordan Lake, and we really shouldn't want Jordan Lake—and I am not going to support going to Jordan Lake.
I realize that there's the possibility of emergencies in the future. There's the possibility of droughts beyond anything we've yet experienced. And yet we have in place some agreements and a set of policies that address those questions, that will allow us to buy water if need be from our neighbors in Durham or potentially other jurisdictions, if that's what it really comes down to. But for me, except in those circumstances, I don't want to drink Jordan Lake.
[Note from Mark: The above passage is a transcript of my extemporaneous comments. Please forgive any lapses of grammar and the absence of supporting statistics. The stats do exist and do support what I said above, but I did not have them handy at the time I was speaking.]