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Falls Lake Reaches Record Low Level

Posted November 20, 2007
Updated November 21, 2007

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— Raleigh's primary reservoir is at an all-time low level, despite recent rains and declining water consumption by area residents.

The Army Corps of Engineers reported that Falls Lake has dipped to 242.62 feet, which is 8.88 feet below full and 0.16 feet below the previous low, which was set on Nov. 27, 1993. Lakes levels are measured by their height above sea level.

The lake has at least 110 days of drinking water left, assuming there is no rain before March 10 and demand remains constant, officials said.

"I'm not worried about running out of water,” City Manager Russell Allen said. “It is at its lowest level, but we do have extended usage because of the lake, and extended days because our consumption is down.”

Residents in Raleigh and six Wake County towns that buy water from the city have cut consumption by 37 percent since restrictions were put in place in late August. The 30-day demand average is 41.5 million gallons a day, which is down 1.9 million gallons a day from a week ago, officials said.

Rainfall at the National Weather Service station at Raleigh-Durham International Airport is 7.7 inches below normal for the year, and there is little chance for significant rain across the region in the coming days.

"The thing that I've consistently said, the thing that we need to be conscious of, is that we must conserve during the winter months in case we don't get typical rains and we start in the spring with a lower level," Allen said.

If that happens, current restrictions on irrigation and car-washing would likely remain in effect.

Raleigh officials said they are prepared to take extreme measures by pumping water from Lake Benson into the Neuse River to help conserve water in Falls Lake.

The Army Corps of Engineers recently approved the city's plan to divert water from Lake Benson and Lake Wheeler – the latter feeds the former through Swift Creek – into the Neuse River to maintain its levels for downstream communities. That would allow the Corps to decrease the volume of water released into the river from Falls Lake.

The city has held off on the pumping plan, saying recent rains had made additional water in the river unnecessary.

"It could be needed shortly, depending more on rain events than the level of the lake," Allen said.

Meanwhile, Durham has 63 days of drinking water left, officials said. The city's two main reservoirs – Lake Michie and Little River Reservoir – were 12.4 feet and 26.2 feet below full, respectively, on Tuesday. Residents are still being urged to conserve water. The city is close to reaching its goal of a 30 percent cut in water consumption.

At Jordan Lake – reservoir for Cary and Chatham County – levels are only 5 feet below full. Cary has year-round water restrictions, and Chatham County last month banned outdoor watering.

60 Comments

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  • Offshore Nov 21, 2007

    What water shortage? the lawns sure look good!! Question: why would you continue to issue watering permits when the shortage is so severe? Ans: Money. How much rain can Raleigh buy with the money from the permits? Cary too? Just because Jordan is still well off doesn't mean now is not a good time to maintain water restrictions. (I know Cary/Apex has some restrictions, yet their lawns look soooo good) [;-)

  • getrealpeople Nov 21, 2007

    Not like we have a choice of which river to get water from. If you get water from the neuse you have to discharge in the same basin. yes, Falls basin is not as large as Jordan but no matter how large the lake is, if the users do not stop irrigating their grass and it doesn't rain it will run out. Also got to let out enough water to appease US Fish & Wildlife.
    Falls lake was built for flood control first then water supply.

  • Steve Crisp Nov 21, 2007

    To knock:

    That is correct, but it is also what happens when a major city relies on its sole source of water as a lake built at the headwaters of a river. The watershed for Falls Lake is in no way sufficient to supply water for a growing population. Now, if the Neuse drained all the way from the Blue Ridge Mountains, that would be a different story.

    And to the person who suggested that dredging the lake would produce more pressure on the dam, that is wrong. Water pressure is measured as the amount of water at the level of the base of the dam extending back across the lake. If the dam is say 50 feet high and the lake is dredged to 150 feet, it is only the pressure of the top 50 feet of the lake that matters. Dredging Falls will put no more pressure on the dam unless the dredging abuts the dam base itself.

  • 68_polara Nov 21, 2007

    If it's yellow let it mellow... it's brown flush it down :-)

  • der_Marv_meister Nov 21, 2007

    The conventional wisdom is that for every inch of rain that falls, it adds a foot of water (roughly) to the area lakes.
    So by this articles admission, we are 8 inches below normal in rainfall (a decade comparison not a historical averages comparion by the way!)

  • elmer Nov 21, 2007

    conservation should have started months ago not just when the governor said to, a cool clear glass of water looks a lot better than a green yard when you are thirsty

  • Firegal Nov 21, 2007

    DJofRaleigh---"So Falls Lake is at an all time low since 1983, when the population was less than half of what it is today. That’s half the people using water and half of the businesses those people worked at and went to using water. Plus, 1983 was just after the dam was built and the reservoir was filling, and it didn’t supply Raleigh’s water. Raleigh was getting water from Lake Benson, which it will again in 3 years.

    Raleigh had droughts in 03, 05, and now 07...seems to be a pattern, but we would not be out of water if we hadn’t had uncontrolled growth since 1983."

    dj-- Read the article again,the lake was at its low in 1993 not 83

  • djofraleigh Nov 20, 2007

    "But Cary can fill a new swimming pool with a couple million gallons."--- dianadarling

    Love that handle...but Cary is NOT having a water shortage since they draw out of Jordan Lake, and that has more than 6 months supply left at the last report I heard. Cary is 'being nice' and "going along" with the Governor -- being a good neighbor. Just like all the community wells which are not low but are still on restrictions as of Nov 1st.

    Do you think Raleigh, being so scared, is still issuing permits to hook on to the water system? (stop laughing)

  • dianadarling Nov 20, 2007

    But Cary can fill a new swimming pool with a couple million gallons.

  • Mom on Call Nov 20, 2007

    My neighborhood had a watermain break last Saturday night. We discovered water spewing out from under the street around 4pm. The city of raleigh got 10's of call from neighbors in the hours after. The road was covered in water and you could just hear it roaring in the surrounding drains. At 10pm I walked down to see what was going on with it. NOTHING!! I finally called the media and within an hour the city came out and turned of the water and proceeded to repair it.
    The city told us it was a weekend and they were doing the best they could...huh, there went any rain we got...rolled right down my street.

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