Local News

Raleigh Throws in Kitchen Sink in Search of Water

Posted February 14, 2008 6:01 p.m. EST
Updated February 14, 2008 10:35 p.m. EST

— City officials are considering numerous options, from accelerating construction on a water-treatment plant to banking on help from Congress, as they look for long-term solutions to the drought.

Falls Lake, the city's primary reservoir, could run dry by this summer, according to a forecast by the Army Corps of Engineers, which manages the lake. The forecast is based on no decrease in current demand levels and predictions for continued dry weather in the coming months.

To help conserve as much water as possible in Falls Lake, Raleigh officials have asked the Corps to cut the amount of water it releases into the Neuse River to maintain water quality for downstream cities that use the river for drinking water. About 38 million gallons are now released into the river daily – almost equal to the 40 million gallons a day used by water customers in Raleigh and the six surrounding towns its system serves.

U.S. Rep. Brad Miller plans to attend a meeting next Tuesday of the Raleigh City Council and Corps officials. Miller wants to get "a detailed explanation of what the city's concerns are" regarding releases into the Neuse River, said LuAnn Canipe, Miller's spokesman.

"We're confident the Corps and our congressional delegation will help us look at those issues," City Manager Russell Allen said.

Dean Naujoks, of the Neuse River Foundation, called the push for smaller releases from Falls Lake "not a good decision."

"Raleigh did not act soon enough on water-conservation measures," Naujoks said. "Raleigh Public Utilities depends on revenues coming into water sales, so they're reluctant to move toward conservation sooner."

Raleigh officials also are looking at speeding up construction of a treatment plant at Lake Benson. An accelerated construction schedule – moving the opening date up about 10 months to the summer of 2009 – could add about $10 million to the plant's $90 million cost.

"It doesn't supply us assistance with this immediate drought circumstance," Allen said. "It will provide us about 20 million gallons (a day) of extra capacity."

In the short term, "package plants," miniature, temporary treatment plants often used by private subdivisions, could be used to start pulling water from Lake Benson, he said.

City Council members also have talked about creating a "Stage 3" level of water restrictions. The city will enact Stage 2 restrictions on Friday, banning outdoor watering and pressure-washing and requiring car washes to use certified water-recycling systems or close.

Raleigh also has asked the Corps for permission to dip into the sediment pool at Falls Lake once the drinking-quality water runs out, and the city is in discussions with Cary to purchase water from Jordan Lake.

"We've tried to do good planning," Allen said.

Most observers agreed that the only sure-fire way to replenish the water supply in the coming months is a tropical storm.

"If we don't get a remnant of a hurricane (and) we don't have a wet summer this year, we could be in very serious trouble in terms of running out of water," Naujoks said.