Engineers to cut release from Falls Lake

March 3, 2008 12:16:07 PM PST
Each day millions of gallons are released from Falls Lake down the Neuse River to provide water to communities south and east of Raleigh. Places like Smithfield, Goldsboro and Kinston. Monday, that amount will be cut in half, and leaders say it'll make a big difference in preserving what's left of Falls Lake.

"On a monthly basis, it's about 500 million gallons, so it's a very large amount," said Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker.

Meeker made the announcement Monday, flanked by Congressmen David Price (D - 4th District) and Brad Miller (D ? 13th District), who both pushed the Corps and lobbied for the cut, which is an unusual step that happened quickly once they got involved.

"We think it's a wise decision, and we think it will make a difference a big difference in extending Raleigh's dwindling water supply," said Price.

"We need to be looking for every way we can to deal with the drought, the water shortage and concerns about the environment downstream," added Miller, a Raleigh resident.

To that end, some worry the reduction will lead to lower quality water downstream in places like Johnston County.

"By cutting off more water from Falls Lake means less clean water being available for their intakes downstream," said Dean Naujoks, the Upper Neuse river keeper.

But some leaders we spoke with in towns along the Neuse River say they're not concerned yet. Smithfield's town manager told us he has "no problem" with the reduction.

"The lake being fuller helps us all, it means that the water quality pool will not run out as soon," Meeker said.

News of the reduction wasn't the only "drought headline" Monday. Mayor Charles Meeker also announced his hope for "spot checks" of local businesses to see if they're conserving as much as he wants.

In early January, Meeker requested that all homeowners and businesses install water-saving, low-flow devices by the beginning of March. Now, he wants to get an idea of how many are complying with that request.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, Meeker will ask that the city implement a program in which inspectors go to select businesses to see if they've put the devices in place. He says he's particularly concerned about businesses where the primary water users aren't the ones paying the water bills -- places like office buildings, apartment complexes, fitness clubs and hotels. Meeker's plan would be to "spot check" 10 to 15 of each kind of those businesses to get an idea of compliance citywide.

"I'm hopeful that most businesses have them in place already, those who don't will hear about it today and have them in place next Monday," Meeker said.

He said if it turned out very few businesses had installed the low-flow devices -- things like faucet aerators and low-flow showerheads, for example -- the city could pass a regulation making the installation mandatory, with big punishments for violators.

"Once it becomes mandatory, what you'll have is one big fine, then the water will be turned off," Meeker said. "I'm sure all businesses will want to be on the right side of having those low-flow devices in effect. This is just one of those things we're asking everyone to help on this drought."

The City Council meets Tuesday afternoon at 1 p.m.


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