North Carolina government can be amazingly complex. A great example of this complexity is the ongoing saga of the new Jordan Lake Nutrient Strategy, otherwise known as the Jordan Lake Rules. As it turns out, one of the “rules” being discussed could have reverberations that affect home development statewide and could cost taxpayers billions of dollars. Of note, all of this could happen without a single vote from an elected official.

Last May 8, the Environmental Management Commission (EMC) adopted the aforementioned set of rules. Of the 12 rules adopted, only one has caused a great gnashing of teeth. Specifically, it’s a rule titled “Stormwater Management for Existing Development.” This rule has drawn the ire of developers, homebuilders, and cities such as Durham and Greensboro. If adopted, it would force existing developments in the Jordan Lake watershed to comply with current stormwater runoff regulations. For perspective, that area spans 26 municipalities and seven counties. But this is just the beginning.

The EMC-approved rules were then sent to the Rules Review Commission to ensure that they were legal and could be enacted. On Oct. 15, Attorney General Roy Cooper’s office provided cover for the rules to be enacted. In a letter to the N.C. Division of Water Quality, Cooper’s office surmised “local governments can impose the new requirements on existing developments through the use of police power.” With that, the Rules Review Commission adopted the rules and moved on.

Again, this entire process is mired in the complex environmental agenda and has massive, costly implications across the state. Once adopted, the rules were to go into effect automatically this spring. But Rep. Cary Allred, R-Alamance, filed a bill to reject the newly adopted rules. If that bill dies and others are not taken up to address the situation, the new rules will go into effect automatically at the end of this legislative session.

This one rule truly illustrates how badly the process has gone awry, how science gets abandoned, and how an environmental agenda gets adopted with little — if any — public outcry or media attention.

If adopted, all existing developments in the Jordan Lake watershed will have to become compliant with current water runoff rules. Imagine owners of developments from 20 or 30 years ago moving dirt, installing new drainage systems, and developing new engineering plans. New restrictions also would require that local governments not only enforce the rule, but also adopt new stormwater programs and implement plans for existing developments. That would require an entirely new department within the enforcement divisions of local government. Taxpayers would eat the cost of implementation and enforcement.

The rationale for this particular rule was supposed to be scientific. But both Durham and Greensboro already are dealing with the runoff issue, and there appears to be no scientific basis for the adoption of the rule — other than the desire to inhibit development and create new regulatory red tape.

The long-term implications are far more ominous, and the environmentalists know this. If adopted, the rule would become a precedent for the rest of the state. The Division of Water Quality could easily extend the “existing development” rule statewide. Such a rule could be devastating to local government leaders, who would find themselves in a quagmire of epic proportions — with a mandate to bring all existing developments into compliance with standards put in place after those developments were built.

Truth is, the citizens are better served when policies have true science behind them, include input from parties affected, and put in context the implications of their implementation. In other words, don’t fix a problem if one doesn’t exist. More often than not, that simple axiom runs contrary to agenda-driven policy making.

Chad Adams is vice president of the John Locke Foundation, director of the Center for Local Innovation, and a former county commissioner.