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Drought's better in Triangle lakes, but problems remain

Posted July 10, 2008
Updated March 7, 2010

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— The storms have been rough around the Triangle of late, but the rain has paid off with higher water levels in area lakes.

Thursday, WRAL’s helicopter, Sky 5, flew over Falls Lake – the water source for Raleigh and six Wake County towns on the city system. At 2 p.m., the lake level was at 251.79 feet, about 4 inches above its historic normal level.

Jordan Lake was at 216.52 feet, a half-foot above normal. At the Kerr Lake measuring station in Virginia, the National Weather Service said the water level was at 299.2 feet, actually 0.8 feet below the norm.

WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said the drought was better in the eastern half of the state, though conditions worsen farther west, and 13 counties along the South Carolina border in the southern mountains are in an exceptional drought, the most serious of five rankings used by the Drought Management Advisory Council.

"About 16 percent of the counties have seen their drought status improve" since last week, Fishel said, and more may achieve that category when this week's rains are counted.

The council reports conditions every Thursday based on data collected at 8 a.m. each Tuesday. That means that rain Tuesday night and Wednesday isn't reflected, and conditions are probably even a bit better than reported, Fishel said.

Twenty-five counties reaching as far east as Forsyth County are in extreme drought, the second-most-serious condition.

Severe drought, the middle category, reaches into Chatham, Cumberland, Harnett, Lee, Moore, Robeson and Scotland counties, along with eight others.

In the Raleigh-Durham area, 43 counties are in moderate drought. Gates, Halifax, Hertford and Northampton counties in the northeast corner of the state are in the best shape. They rank as abnormally dry and are not officially in the drought, Fishel explained.

The good news about better surface-water conditions in at least some areas does not extend to groundwater conditions, however.

The state Division of Water Resources tracks the levels in a network of test wells, and many are below average. Groundwater had begun to recover after the last round of rains, but hot, dry days that followed evaporated much of that gain.

Groundwater – the water held in soil layers underground and used by people on wells – takes much longer to recharge than it takes for rain to flow overland reach streams and lakes. Groundwater also helps keep reservoir levels up after rains end, emptying into them below the surface.


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  • yellow_hat Sep 11, 2008

    So if lakes are over capacity, and groundwater is low, why would we not hold the water in the lakes, and in a week of 2 be encouraged to water our lawns? That puts it back on the ground -right? Seems like that would be a better way to replenish groundwater than allowing it to rush down the Neuse or Cape Fear & into the Ocean.
    In my unscientific opinion, excessive runoff because of building & paving is the significant contributor to our groundwater problems.

  • beachbum1 Sep 11, 2008

    Heard a nasty thing on the news that Falls Lake was 8 ft over something but not good for boaters because of floating trees and SNAKES. Call me stupid but what do SNAKES have to do witrh boating and how many must there be to be noticed I guess???

  • jsanders Sep 11, 2008

    Things are OK with the other part of Raleigh, too, now that they've used the drought to expand their own power:

  • saltnsanddefenderofdamiddleclass Sep 11, 2008

    I love these stories. everyone knows conservation in everything is the most important thing. It has nothing to do with supply, just conservation. When you don't buy enough water raleigh will just raise your taxes to compensate. Washing cars makes no difference, it's just an excuse to govern behavior. Next election pay attention to who you vote for.

  • Space Mountain Sep 11, 2008

    The growth hasn't helped anything.

  • m0nky Sep 11, 2008

    i really wish people would read other comments before they post. when they don't, they end up sounding like idiots.

    Thanks to everyone trying to explain to folk what a drought actually means. Hopefully they'll take the time to do a little research into the subject before saying things like "WELL DUH! THE LAKES ARE FULL! STUPID GOVERNMENT WANTS MY MONEY!"

  • fl2nc2ca2md2nc Sep 11, 2008

    This was fairly obvious even before Hanna.

    Any word from Raleigh on easing restrictions??? The lakes are overflowing!

  • something2say Sep 11, 2008

    There are two kinds of droughts....agricultural and hydrological. Hydrological drought assessment includes groundwater levels, and it's an indication of how quickly stream levels go down after rainfall. So during a hydrological drought, even if you get a foot of rain, stream levels quickly drop off to below normal.

    Thank you for this explanation. You did a great job explaining the difference in a way a "lay person" could understand. This makes the story of us being abnormally dry make more sense!

  • ReallyBigYawn Sep 11, 2008

    Whoot Whoot! Washing cars again 3 times a week!

  • ralyrosegrl Sep 11, 2008

    Leonardo-I looked up the differences on agricultural and hydrological droughts as I was intrigued by your comment and you were correct. I thought it also interesting that a hydrological drought can be affected by land use, and considering the growth that the Triangle area has experienced in the past few years, I believe that this fits. Thank you for your thoughtful post.

    People-instead of bashing someone for a scientific explanation why not do a little research on what they have said? I don't think a little knowledge is going to hurt you. Some areas are still in a drought, granted its not as bad as it was, but we are not completely out of the woods yet. Especially in western NC.