Expected rainfall set to help drought conditions across Triangle

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Tuesday, November 21, 2023
Anticipated rainfall set to help drought conditions across Triangle
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According to the North Carolina DEQ, the water level at Falls Lake is about three feet below normal; at Jordan Lake, it's more drastic, now over four feet below normal.

NORTH CAROLINA (WTVD) -- On a warm, late-November afternoon, Justin Dunaway was set up along the Neuse River, nearby a few other people fishing.

"It's been extremely low. You can look at the rocks and down here on the shoreline and see that it's been very low. I was on the other side just this morning, and that was all so low. Lower than I've seen it," said Dunaway of the water levels.

He comes out once or twice a month, spending his day off fishing.

"When that water level is low, fish tend to scatter out to places where you possibly can't reach. So it's kind of hit or miss. I've been out here for a couple of hours and caught maybe a three-incher. When the water level is high, fish are much more likely to be closer in," Dunaway explained.

According to the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality, the water level at Falls Lake is about three feet below normal; at Jordan Lake, it's more drastic, now over four feet below normal.

Neuse River

"It is unusual. Normally we have some tropical storms or hurricanes in the fall that drop a lot of precipitation and really bring lake levels to a point that they're trying to release as much as they can to get back to their guide curves," said Klaus Albertin, Chair of the North Carolina Drought Management Advisory Council.

While no counties in North Carolina are in the highest level of drought classification, nine, all in the western part of the state, are in the second-highest. Across the Triangle, the bulk of counties are in the two-lowest classifications of either "abnormally dry" or "moderate drought." Chatham, Cumberland, Durham, Franklin, Harnett, Lee, Orange, Person, and Wake counties are part of the group of 40 counties listed as "moderate drought," the classification with the most number of counties.

"With it being wintertime, we are seeing some recreation impact, but most of the ecosystems are drawing dormant at this point. Demand is pretty low, not many people are watering their lawns," said Albertin.

"It also helps that trees and other natural vegetation don't pull up much water this time of year (i.e. increases base stream flows) and there are very low evaporative losses," noted Edward Buchan, Water Resources Manager with Raleigh Water.

A lack of rainfall is to blame for these conditions, though anticipated rainfall this week should help alleviate the situation.

"We are looking at an El Niño winter, and so those typically bring much more rainfall coming through the state," Albertin explained.

Buchan shared there is currently about 83% of the water supply volume remaining at Falls Lake, and a similar percentage remaining at Lake Benson. For reference, the drought response trigger for November and December is 35%. As of last week, the water supply at Lake Jordan was approximately 95%.

Buchan added that "large reservoirs like Falls Lake and Jordan Lake were designed to accommodate moderate droughts and dry spells with little operational change."

WATCH | Jordan Lake water levels reach multi-year low

The US Army Corps of Engineers reports water levels at Jordan Lake are four feet below normal, a noticeable impact for people frequenting the area.