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The Daily Tar Heel

Board of Aldermen in favor of restricted access to Jordan Lake water

Due to a reporting error, a previous version of this story incorrectly stated Joal Hall Broun’s position with the Orange Water and Sewer Authority. She served on the board for six years. This story has been modified to reflect this change. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the errors.

The Carrboro Board of Aldermen voted Tuesday night against giving the community and University unrestrained access to water supplies located in Jordan Lake.

The amendment was an attempt to clarify the language of the 2001 Water and Sewage Management, Planning and Boundary Agreement, which allows Carrboro, Chapel Hill, Hillsborough and UNC access to several local reservoirs but may prohibit access to Jordan Lake.

Gordon Merklein, chairman of the board of directors for Orange Water and Sewer Authority, argued that the lake was needed in addition to the other water sources the area has access to.

Merklein is also UNC’s executive director of real estate development.

“Jordan Lake is essential because the other water supplies cannot meet all of the expected needs of the community over the next 50 years,” he said.

Merklein said in order to access Jordan Lake under the current agreement, Orange County must purchase water from Durham and Cary and transfer it for local use, which he said is inefficient.

Currently the town can only access the reservoir in extreme situations, but Merklein said the water might be needed sooner than expected.

“Recent droughts have emphasized the need for a diverse water supply as we face increasingly uncertain future conditions of climate, land use and hydrology,” he said.

But six out of seven aldermen, including Mayor Mark Chilton, voted against the proposal.

Chilton said the water conservation efforts of the community combined with other available water supplies make access to Jordan Lake unnecessary in both non-emergency and emergency situations.

“The water in the lake washes off the streets of Burlington, Greensboro and several other cities,” Chilton said. “The lake includes all sorts of underground storage tanks that leak contaminants into the water.

“We don’t have to go to Jordan Lake, we don’t need Jordan Lake, and we shouldn’t want to go to Jordan Lake,” he said. “I don’t want to drink Jordan Lake.”

Merklein forwarded a letter in December to the Chapel Hill, Carrboro and Orange County governments asking for their approval of the amendment. For the change to be implemented, the consent of all three governments would have been needed.

The Chapel Hill Town Council voted to allow the amendment at their Monday night meeting by a 7-2 margin. However, some of the aldermen questioned the council members’ attention to the proposal.

“This item came up very late on their agenda last night,” Alderman Dan Coleman said. “There is some feeling that it was not properly deliberated there, and it may be brought up again.”

Alderman Joal Hall Broun was the lone dissenter on the issue, and said it was impossible to determine what the future needs of the community may be.

Broun said at the meeting she formerly served on the board at OWASA for six years.

“To me, it’s an insurance policy,” she said. “I think when you’re talking about long-term infrastructure, you’ve got to plan and say, ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen in 50 years.’

“I would rather be in control than to have to beg someone when I really need it,” she said.

The Orange County Board of Commissioners is scheduled to continue discussion of the amendment at its March 15 meeting.

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