Local News

Army Corps of Engineers and Raleigh mayor at odds over Falls Lake levels

Posted May 8, 2008 11:58 p.m. EDT
Updated May 9, 2008 7:54 a.m. EDT

— More rain overnight Thursday and this weekend could push the level at Falls Lake higher. Whether that is good or bad is a matter of different opinions among different government officials.

For Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker, the higher the lake the better. The Army Corps of Engineers doesn't see it that way.

“What tends to happen is the dry spell starts in May or June and then by August and September, the lake level is really down. So, by keeping it a little higher in the spring, it'll give us that extra cushion we need to get through the summer,” Meeker said.

The corps, however, is moving ahead with plans to release more than 500 million gallons of water a day to reduce Falls Lake to 6 inches above its normal level.

Drought-weary municipal officials would like to see the lake level pushed even higher, as much as 3 feet above full. That would provide about 4 billion gallons of extra drinking water.

“You just don't know about the weather. It may be a fine summer, but it could be dry. We want to have that assurance,” Meeker said.

A corps spokesman argues that maintaining too much water behind Falls Dam is a flood risk for communities downstream because the lake wouldn't be able to hold back any more water to protect them.

“The corps is definitely in a difficult position on this one,” said Dean Naujoks, of the Neuse River Foundation.

Naujoks said history does show that too much water in Falls Lake could be a problem. He points to the remnants of 2006's Tropical Storm Alberto, which dumped 8 inches of rain on the Triangle. It is a scenario, he said, that could play out again when hurricane season starts in June.

“If Falls Lake is sitting full, you could have some real major issues in terms of downstream flooding and then, obviously, water coming over top the dam,” Naujoks said.

The spokesman said the corps plans to operate Falls Lake conservatively, and that could keep it a little higher than normal.