Jordan Lake Rules

Jordan Lake with a tree and foliage in the foreground.
The Jordan Lake Rules were passed in December 2008 by the Environmental Management Commission and are now under review by the North Carolina General Assembly for possible revision. The rules establish requirements in the Jordan Lake watershed for, among other things, wastewater discharges, buffers, agricultural activities, and stormwater management in new and existing development. Approximately half of the City of Durham is in the Jordan watershed.


The goal of the rules is to reduce nitrogen and phosphorus in Jordan Lake. Please visit the NC Division of Water Quality website to obtain information regarding the Jordan Lake Rules.

Durham’s Position

The Durham City Council, which has many members who are consistent supporters of environmental groups and initiatives in the region, has determined that not all of the Jordan Rules are in Durham's interest. The Council has endorsed many of the rules -- for example, the new development rule. That rule will raise the cost of stormwater controls for new housing and commercial and institutional construction in Durham to the highest in the state.


However, the Council opposes some of the rules, particularly the existing development rule, given the outrageous costs which will fall on Durham citizens. This would force the city to pay an estimated $570 million, could require condemnation of private property, and take property out of the city’s tax base. The science behind Jordan Lake’s condition can certainly be argued both ways, but it is a fact that the lake is successfully serving uses that many experts thought would be impossible when it was constructed. In fact, the water in the lower New Hope arm of the lake is now used as a source of drinking water for a number of communities. Durham is working with other local governments to make Jordan Lake a regional water source. Thus, the city is invested in the water quality of Jordan Lake.

A compromise approach is needed to strike a reasonable balance. The existing development rule is prohibitively expensive and should be substantially modified. Some rules need to be fine-tuned and others should remain as is. The result of such a compromise will continue to protect Jordan Lake at a more reasonable cost for citizens. View the City Council resolution (PDF) supporting the adoption of general legislation to modify the Jordan Lake Rules.

Summary of Recommendations

The existing development rule should be modified to mirror the approach used in the Neuse Basin and Tar-Pamlico Basin.
  • The implementation date for nitrogen reduction for water reclamation should be moved to 2016 from 2014. This will allow time for testing and engineering steps necessary to ensure optimization and good use of public dollars.
  • The requirements for new development should remain as proposed.
  • Buffer requirements should remain as proposed; however, implementation of the requirements should be performed by the State instead of local governments.
  • The Jordan watershed should be declared a nutrient sensitive watershed, not a critical water supply watershed.