Local News

Drought Hits Falls Harder Than Other Lakes

Recent rains have helped replenish many area lakes, but Falls Lake continues to suffer from the ongoing drought.

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RALEIGH, N.C. — Recent rains have helped replenish many area lakes, but Falls Lake continues to suffer from the ongoing drought.

Falls Lake, Raleigh's primary reservoir, remains close to 8 feet below normal levels. Officials said Friday it has enough drinking water to last at least through the end of June.

Meanwhile, Lake Michie, one of Durham's two reservoirs, has refilled enough to be 3½ feet below normal, and Jordan Lake is about a foot above what officials consider to be full.

"It's phenomenal how dry the upper end of the Neuse (River) has been," said David Moreau, director of the Water Resources Research Institute in the University of North Carolina system.

The WRRI tracks water levels across the state, and Moreau said levels of the Neuse River upstream from Falls Lake are at the lowest levels in 82 years.

The trickling flow to Falls Lake is cut even further by the fact that two of the three rivers feeding the lake – the Little River and the Flat River – are dammed up to create reservoirs for Durham. Only the Eno River flows freely to Falls Lake.

By comparison, Jordan Lake is fed by the fast-flowing Haw River, and the land that drains into the lake is twice as large as the Falls Lake watershed.

Ed Buchan, water conservation specialist for Raleigh, also noted that fewer customers are tapping into Jordan Lake. It serves as the primary source of drinking water for Cary and Apex, but about a third of its capacity remains unallocated.

"Cary's demand is about 10 million gallons a day, where Raleigh's is 40 (million gallons a day). There is just a big difference," Buchan said.

Officials said it would take a good 6-inch soaking to help Falls Lake recover, but WRAL Chief Meteorologist Greg Fishel said 90-day forecasts continue to predict dry weather for the Southeast through May.

"The silver lining to this is that, even though the probabilities overall still tilt toward it being a dry period, they are less emphatic (than previous forecasts," Fishel said.

The Army Corps of Engineers, which manages Falls Lake, recently cut flows from the lake into the Neuse River by about 3 million gallons a day. Raleigh officials have asked that the flow be reduced by about another 14 million gallons a day to conserve as much of the water supply in the lake as possible.

Because the Neuse River serves as a water source for several downstream communities, the Corps is still weighing the request. Flows in the river must meet at least minimal levels for water quality purposes.