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Following a three-year study of Jordan Lake commissioned by the North Carolina legislature, a team of university researchers has submitted a final report, which includes management recommendations. The report examines the current state of the lake, evaluates water quality strategies and identifies new funding and policy opportunities.

The North Carolina Policy Collaboratory was charged by the North Carolina legislature in 2016 to study Jordan Lake and potential water quality strategies. Over the last three years a team of more than two dozen university researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, UNC-Charlotte and N.C. State University have been conducting research on water quality in the lake and throughout the watershed. This scientific work was coupled with an analysis of financial and policy issues that could assist in improving the water quality of Jordan Lake.

Jordan Lake is a reservoir west of Raleigh and south of Durham in Chatham County. Jordan Lake provides drinking water for hundreds of thousands of Triangle residents, recreation for visitors, aquatic habitat and critical flood control for the region downstream.

“The study represents a strong partnership among natural scientists and social scientists taking on a challenging environmental issue in a comprehensive manner,” said Mike Piehler, director of the UNC-Chapel Hill Institute for the Environment and faculty lead of the study. “The new information gathered from the water quality modeling and monitoring components of the study gave us a better understanding of how the reservoir functions and allowed us to align our policy recommendations with a stronger scientific foundation.”

Some of the key recommendations from the study include:

  • Increased revenue generation for water quality protection is needed from a broader mix of local government jurisdictions.
  • Nutrient management strategies and reduction goals for Jordan Lake must consider the role of existing nutrients in the bottom sediment and their potential impact on algal growth.
  • Management strategies must be adaptive to allow course corrections and to maximize local water quality protection.

Piehler stated that one of the lessons of the study is that it is important to make sure the costs of water quality protection are equitably distributed. “It is likely that management actions are going to be occurring in places well upstream of the lake,” he said. “This creates a situation in which areas taking action may not be receiving services directly, such as drinking water.  This issue was a focal point of our study and resulted in specific ideas to generate revenue in a fair manner.”

Enabling legislation for this project identified critical components to be included in the study:

  • A review of historical water quality and its connections to management interventions.
  • A critical review of the costs and benefits of other states’ nutrient strategies for enhancing water quality.

The UNC Jordan Lake study was designed to provide an empirical assessment of the factors contributing to Jordan Lake’s impairment using a set of fully integrated research projects and numerical models to assimilate project results and provide a platform to project future conditions in Jordan Lake under a range of management scenarios. The study sought to provide actionable information for decision-makers regarding an effective path forward to sustain water quality in Jordan Lake.

The full UNC Jordan Lake study report can be found at

About the North Carolina Policy Collaboratory

The Collaboratory was established in 2016 by the North Carolina General Assembly for the purposes of facilitating the dissemination of the policy and research expertise of the University of North Carolina system for practical use by state and local government. The Collaboratory facilitates and funds research related to the environmental and economic components of the management of natural resources within North Carolina and of new technologies for environmental and water quality improvement. More information about the Collaboratory can be found at

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