The wasted money and wasted time of the SolarBee experiment

The wasted money and wasted time of the SolarBee experiment

solarBee2Here is some troubling but hardly unexpected news about the solar powered water mixer boondoggle approved by the 2013 General Assembly to avoid implementing common sense water quality rules to protect Jordan Lake.

It doesn’t work.

An interim report released last year showed the so called SolarBees that were somehow supposed to reduce algae blooms in the lake merely by mixing the water up weren’t working at all, but that didn’t stop the General Assembly last year from throwing good taxpayer money after bad and spending another $1.5 million on top of the $1.3 million spent on the SolarBees in 2013. There was also talk of expanding the program to Falls Lake too.

Supporters of the scheme said it was too early to tell if the mixers were cleaning up the lake and asked for more time and money. But the latest report from the Division of Environmental Quality makes it clear that more time hasn’t helped.

The report says that the solar mixers are unlikely to improve water quality and “appear to contradict the fundamental premise of the Clean Water Act, which seeks reduction of pollutants to waters of the United States.” And in case that’s not enough, the report also says the mixers can cause other problems downstream and could become a hazard for boaters.

Several of the 850-pound devices left their project zone area of the lake this winter thanks to storms and high winds, going rogue—as one news account put it—for weeks at time.

It is now indisputable that the mixers still in place aren’t doing anything about the algae problem, which makes sense when you think about it. As Mary McLean Asbill of the Southern Environmental Law Center told ABC11 News, “The pollution needs to be stopped before entering the lake. It is absurd to think you can remove the pollution from the lake without doing anything to stem the flow of it into the lake.”

It is absurd indeed, but that’s exactly what legislative leaders said would happen when they approved the no-bid contract with the company that makes the giant mixers that are supposed to miraculously stir the lake clean.

And their failure has cost more than just the several millions of dollars of taxpayer money that were wasted. The folly of the SolarBees means that the pollution in Jordan Lake has not been addressed and it’s the drinking water supply for hundreds of thousands of people.

The water quality in the lake has been a problem for a long time. That’s why the federal government told the state years ago to figure out a way to reduce the pollution at its source as the Clean Water Act requires.

The decision to try solar mixers instead meant a long delay in the rules to clean up the lake that were developed in 2009 after years of a painstaking process that included input from environmentalists, developers, municipalities and the general public.

Lawmakers stepped in and postponed the rules and then postponed them again and then came up with the flawed solar mixer solution that has done nothing but make some money for the company that manufactures the devices.

It’s time for lawmakers to stop the swirling mixers and start improving the water quality in the lake by reducing the pollution flowing into it.

Stirring the water is not enough.

It seems like they would have known that from the beginning—several million dollars ago.