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Hurricane Irene's Rains Could Be Too Much for Area Rivers and Lakes

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SMITHFIELD — Everyone is keeping a close eye on Hurricane Irene. If Irene heads toward eastern North Carolina, how much rain is too much for rivers and lakes that are already hovering around flood stage?

National Weather Serviceforecasters just finished running their river flooding models. They say if Irene brings three to four inches of rain, the eastern half of the state would see minor river flooding; five to seven inches of rain could bring major flooding.

All you have to do is look at the Neuse River, still in flood stage, to see why a small dose of rain from the remnants of Hurricane Irene could cause trouble in the eastern part of the state.

"Of course, the good and bad with everybody is because it's in flood stage, those people are away from the rivers in these areas," says NWS forecaster Joel Cline.

The Neuse remains close to flood stage because of all the water released from the Falls Lake Dam.

The lake was inches away from its maximum level after holding back millions of gallons of rain fromHurricane Floyd.

The dam release will be slowed to a trickle in anticipation of Hurricane Irene.

But the water from several hog lagoons is still flowing on already-soaked spray fields. A few inches of rain from Irene could wash the runoff right into a nearby creek.

"I mean, these are saturated. I don't know if he's been in contact with us or not but this is something we need to look into for sure," says Ernie Seneca of the N.C. Division of Water Quality.

But that runoff could be just the tip of the iceberg.

"If we get a half a foot of rain or more, we could have trouble at our city treatment plants again," says Seneca.

The National Weather Service says five to seven inches from Hurricane Irene remnants is a worst case scenario. Three to four inches is more likely.

It is also likely the forecast could change.