Local News

WRAL Investigates Problems At Raleigh Water Treatment Facility

Posted September 27, 2002

— In recent months, we have heard a lot about environmental violations at Raleigh's sewage treatment plant. A WRAL investigation turns up problems at the city's water treatment plant as well.

State investigators are looking at how the plant may be polluting nearby streams that lead right back into the drinking water supply.

WRAL ventured into the woods behind the E.M. Johnson Water Treatment Plant looking for life. The plant that purifies Raleigh's drinking water has an outflow pipe that discharges directly into the stream.

Since aquatic bugs and fish are good indicators of a stream's health, WRAL asked state environmental biologist Kathy Herring to do some sampling.

"What I'm doing is disturbing the substrate to kick up the aquatic insects that are living here. There should be a very healthy community this time of year," Herring said.

Instead, Herring found evidence the stream is in big trouble.

Prior state tests downstream confirm similar problems, including an unidentified thick black film that coats the stream bed.

"The bugs are an indicator species that something is not right. There's something wrong," said Ernie Seneca of the

state Division of Water Quality

.

Water quality investigators suspect chlorine, and possibly other chemicals from the plant, have been killing off life in the stream. It is the same stream that eventually flows into Falls Lake, Raleigh's drinking water source.

Dean Naujoks of the Neuse River Foundation said fishermen complain they have not caught anything in the Honeycutt Bay area of the lake in years.

"We want some answers on this. We want to know what they're discharging into the stream, what's killing off the stream and what they're putting into our drinking water," Naujoks said.

"Its an ongoing investigation," Seneca said.

Raleigh Public Utilities officials have owned up to the problem and have now committed to making changes at the plant to decrease the amount of chlorine released from the facility ; however, no one knows how much or how long chlorine has been discharged and the ultimate damage to nearby streams and Falls Lake.

The state has cited the treatment plant for a chemical spill this past summer and improper testing of the water. So far, no fines have been issued for those violations or damage to the stream.

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