Falls Lake Reaches Record Low Level
Posted November 20, 2007 1:08 p.m. EST
Updated November 21, 2007 6:08 a.m. EST
Raleigh, N.C. — 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.