Throughout the Falls Lake Rules process, one thing that's been frustrating at times for those of us in upstream Durham -- where a significant majority of our blue county, I suspect, supports tougher environmental measures -- has been the frustration of getting finger-wagged over growth and pollutants by our downstream neighbor.
A neighbor that's grown far faster than Durham, Orange, or Person, taking up a disproportionate share of regional growth. A neighbor whose impervious surface levels soared in the area around Falls Lake much faster than Durham's did. A neighbor whose County Commissioners vetoed a slow-growth provision near a future reservoir site so that Rolesville (who wants to live in Rolesville?) could keep growing.
A neighbor that chews up greenfields for subdivisions like a fat guy eats hot dogs at a July Fourth eating contest on Coney Island.
Raleigh city officials say a proposed chicken operation in [downstream-from-Wake --BCR] Nash County could cost them big bucks for waste cleanup. [...]
If [the plant and associated Consolidated Animal Feeding Operations, or CAFOs are] built as planned, Raleigh officials say nutrient levels in the Neuse and its estuary will rise. Should that happen, Waldroup predicts “the federal government, through the Clean Water Act, will require additional nutrient reductions from everyone upstream, not just the plant or the CAFOs.”
“Everyone within the basin will be affected, and traditionally point sources, like waste water treatment plants, will feel the brunt before non-point sources like land application operations,” he said.
“Municipalities, rather than the CAFOs, will receive more scrutiny because of how the Clean Water Act is structured.”
Meanwhile, the article tells us, Raleigh's three wastewater treatment plants have spent $25 million (gee!) to meet tighter nitrogen and phosphorus requirements -- and as much as (gasp!) a half-million a year in operating expenses to meet pollution rules.
But let me get this straight. Raleigh's grown at massive rates in the past decade, with the fastest growth countywide in the Brier Creek area, which drains to the Neuse just downstream of Falls Lake...
...and you're concerned that something happening downstream from you could make you have to spend more on pollution clean-up?
Cry me a Neuse over a $25 million cap-ex. We're looking at spending a few times to perhaps dozens of times that amount in Durham, a smaller-population, smaller-geography county already contrained by existing watershed rules from growing. Our taxpayers, and those in places like Hillsborough, could end up getting soaked by cleanup rules over the next couple of decades.
Not that we shouldn't have to clean up the water, mind you. But I've long argued that the right way to do it is through a regional or statewide methodology.
All communities deserve clean water. All communities deserve to be required to meet high standards for wastewater discharge.
But none of us have a say in the happenstance of geography.
A community like Raleigh is lucky to have so few communities near it on the downstream side of things; it can rely on natural processes to clean up its wastewater before any larger urban area drinks it.
Durham, of course, has Raleigh's drinking fountain sitting right at the butt end of its northern municipal toilet. (Pardon the imagery.)
And upstream from us, we have Greensboro and suburban Alamance Co., fighting like the dickens to get out of clean-up rules for Jordan Lake.
In between, Durham gets pinched.
Ultimately, though, I find myself annoyed about the Raleigh whinging over the CAFO and plant in Nash County not because Raleigh's officials are wrong on this.
They aren't. We don't need any more (literally) stinking hog and chicken farms in eastern NC, given the tremendous waste levels they already bring to impoverished communities downstream from us.
Rather, I find it galling to see Raleigh making an argument about downstream activities when their public stance has taken an unrealistic approach to the unmistakeable problems in cleaning up Falls Lake when the powers that be built it in the 1980s just downstream from Durham.
Hey Oak-folks, we know: a chicken plant down near I-95 stinks to high heaven.
On the other hand, try having a county downstream that's Ground Zero for every minivan of suburbanites fleeing the northeast, drawn to southwestern Wake County like it's a gold rush, and sprawling out subdivisions across our state until the living's not easy and the miners move to another Sunbelt destination.
Imagine how that smells when you live upstream from it, and have to spend millions thanks to your neighbor's irresponsible, unsustainable growth.
Come to think of it -- I might just choose the chicken plant.