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Raleigh Presses for More Flow Reductions From Falls Lake

Posted February 19, 2008

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— The Army Corps of Engineers agreed Tuesday to reduce the flow of water from Falls Lake into the Neuse River by 9 percent to help conserve the dwindling supply of drinking water in the lake.

Raleigh officials had lobbied for the reduced flow as one way to extend the available water supply, and they pushed for further reductions in a Tuesday meeting with Corps officials.

Corps officials said they would cut the flow of water from the lake into the Neuse River from 55 to 50 cubic feet per second, beginning Tuesday afternoon. That decrease keeps an extra 3 million gallons a day in the lake, according to Ed Buchan, water conservation specialist with Raleigh's Public Utilities Department.

The Corps has to keep enough water flowing from the lake to maintain water quality in the river, which is the drinking-water source for several downstream cities, including Smithfield, Goldsboro and Kinston.

Mayor Charles Meeker asked Terry Brown, the Corps' water control manager for eastern North Carolina, about cutting the flow from the lake to about 27 cubic feet per second, or about 19 million gallons a day. Brown said downstream areas would have to sign off on the move, and such drastic cuts could last only until April, when spawning season for fish would require increased flows in the river.

"It would be a small savings (in water), but it certainly would be a savings," Brown said.

Thirteenth District Congressman Brad Miller, who attended the council meeting, said he would call Corps officials in Washington, D.C., to speed the process for getting the larger reductions approved.

Falls Lake, which is the primary reservoir for Raleigh and six Wake County towns on the municipal water system, is about 8 feet below normal levels. Officials have said it has enough drinking water to last at least through June 17.

Water coming into the lake has been about one-fifth of average flows for February, according to Corps officials, which they said is the lowest inflow level in eastern North Carolina.

Councilman Thomas Crowder asked Brown to compile a spreadsheet that would provide different limits for daily consumption under various conditions so Raleigh officials would know what cuts would be needed to survive through the summer.

"Pick out a target date we need to survive by," Brown said, adding calculations could change almost daily.

Tougher Limits Suggested

Public Utilities Director Dale Crisp said water demand had dropped by about 1 million gallons a day since Stage 2 water restrictions went into effect last Friday. The tougher rules banned outdoor watering and pressure-washing, closed car washes that don't recycle water and required restaurants and hotels to cut back on water use.

Dean Naujoks, a member of the Neuse River Foundation environmental group, said Raleigh should have moved to Stage 2 last fall. A city ordinance suggests officials look at imposing the tougher rules once the water supply in Falls Lake drops below 50 percent, but it was at 35 percent in October when the City Council voted to ban sprinkling.

"They waited too long, and their own municipal code said they waited too long," Naujoks said.

Buchan said the ordinance is a guideline, not a requirement, and officials held off on Stage 2 for as long as possible to avoid adversely affecting businesses.

"I don't necessarily think the ordinance was a perfect guide at that point," he said. "We also don't like to use hard, fast targets because of all the mitigating circumstances involved."

Five individuals and businesses have been cited for violating the new rules since Friday and face $1,000 fines. Councilman Rodger Koopman said the city should pursue criminal charges against repeat violators, but City Manager Russell Allen said that wouldn't be necessary because a second violation results in the cut-off of water service.

Crowder pushed the council for more discussion on even stricter water limits – a potential "Stage 4" in addition to "Stage 3," about which council members are already thinking.

Ideas on the table for "Stage 3" include requiring restaurants to use disposable plates and requiring businesses to place containers of hand sanitizer in public restrooms to cut down on hand washing. Also, exemptions in Stage 2 regulations, such as allowing car washes that recycle water to remain open, could be eliminated under tougher rules.

Meanwhile, Wake County school system officials said they have started to install 4,500 low-flow devices in bathrooms at existing schools, and all new schools are being built with such devices. Some schools also are collecting water in cisterns and using it to flush toilets and to irrigate.

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  • john60 Feb 20, 2008

    It's pretty clear ever since this drought was declared that our elected leadership is completely unwilling to go up against the business community in Wake County. The officials all believed if we could just hold our breath long enough, the rain would fall and the status quo would return, without any true pain taking place.

    Except we're about to run out of time, there's no fallback plan, there's no attempt to find more water, and they STILL refuse to admit that this heedless growth has outstripped our supply of drinking water!

  • charlesboyer Feb 20, 2008

    "it is becoming obvious that allowing the city of Raleigh to make decisions on the water supply coming from Falls Lake and the Nuese River is not a good idea"

    I agree 100%. Nor is it wise to allow the individual cities to control their water supplies like they are their property. The resources should be controlled by a regional authority whose mission is to best allocate the available resources according to the needs of the region, not any one single area.

  • x Feb 20, 2008

    I'm not one for more government intervention, but it is becoming obvious that allowing the city of Raleigh to make decisions on the water supply coming from Falls Lake and the Nuese River is not a good idea. Clearly the city officials want it both ways....restrict releases at the dam and in a separate issue, restrict Franklin County from taking water out of the river below the dam. These water resources are actually a public resource and need to be managed with the needs of all those municipalities along the Nuese basin in mind.

    Raleigh wants to have it both ways...including double digit growth without consideration for the impact it will have, not just on water, but schools, roads, and transportation. There are some tough choices that need to be made and few of the elected officials I see are strong enough to make those decisions and look the developers in the eye.

  • SheriffTruman Feb 20, 2008

    When people say flows into Falls lake are at 80-100 year lows, they really mean flows at the Neuse just before Falls Lake. Everyone knows that Falls has not been there forever. The fact remains that Falls is allowing more water out than what comes in. If Falls were not there, the people downstream would be unable to get water from the Neuse because there would be little left.

    So, Falls Lake benefits them as much as Raleigh. However, so far, the water releases have been going on just as if nothing has happened and that ther ewas no drought, so the only city that has actually felt the impact of the drought is Raleigh (and everyone else on that water system). I see no reason that everyone should not feel the pain equally.

  • veyor Feb 20, 2008

    I bet if you looked in a dictionary in a government office, the words speed, up, the, and process wouldn't even be in it. We need more sources than the inadequate Falls Lake. We're beginning to draw national attention for stupidity.

  • blackdog Feb 20, 2008

    ...with the lack of water (from poor planning, out of control building), loss of natural areas all around, traffic congestion, crowds, too many people who can't or won't speak english, rising crime, increased gang activity, political corruption, and such, Wake county has become less than the ideal area to move to. As a resident of three decades, I am seriously considering moving. The quality of life here is less and less a concern for those already here.

  • john60 Feb 20, 2008

    The lack of rainfall, small watershed and increased demand from Raleigh are all adding together to keep Falls Lake low, perhaps for years into the future. Do we REALLY want to rely on an annual Fran or Floyd to top off Falls Lake? That appears to be the attitude of our current elected leadership.

  • piperchuck Feb 20, 2008

    "I would love to know what Raleigh's demand was on Falls Lake 10-15 years ago. I bet it was half."

    Following are some numbers showing the amount of water being taken from Falls. I chose August since that seems to be a peak month:
    1983: 38
    1984: 43
    1985: 45
    1986: 54
    1987: 62
    1988: 61 1989: 54 1990: 61 1991: 64 1992: 67 1993: 72 1994: 57 1995: 79 1996: 74 1997: 92 1998: 91 1999: 100 2000: 95 2001: 97 2002: 89 2003: 88 2004: 88 2005: 102 2006: 93 2007: 98

    Source: http://epec.saw.usace.army.mil/FALLSMSR.txt

  • bobbyj Feb 20, 2008

    here is an idea,LETS BUILD ENOUGH WATER SOURCES TO HAPPEN TODAY'S POPULATION AND NOT BE EFFECT BY A 20% REDUCTION IN RAIN FALL. meDIA DRIVEN....

  • squid90 Feb 19, 2008

    "The inflows into Falls lake are at 80-100 year lows."

    Falls lake has only been around since the late 70's-early 80's. Most of the runoff into what is now falls lake is now eliminated as wastewater. It never reaches the upper falls of the neuse or the lake. Previous to falls lake being built runoff into the falls of the neuse, even in times of drought, was more than it is now. This is one reason that meeker and his council wants some of the wastewater to be put back into falls lake instead of dumping it below the lake the way it is done now.. Lets face facts here. With all the building going on and all of the land being paved and all of the runoff not going into falls lake, its no wonder that the lake will always be empty. Yes always be empty until a natural disaster keeps filling it up. We will need major hurricanes coming through the area to have an adequate water supply for the near future. Keep building and even hurricanes wont help.

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