Recent findings by the state water-quality division indicate Falls is more polluted than rule-makers expected, particularly the Durham County arm west of Interstate 85.
More than 50 percent of water samples from three western sites exceeded pollution levels allowed by federal clean-water standards; the rate at an Ellerbe Creek site was 84 percent. (See link to map below.)
"The western side of the lake is in poor condition," Raleigh Mayor Charles Meeker said Tuesday.
The next-highest rate was a site on Little Lick Creek in eastern Durham County, at 39 percent. Of the other eight testing stations in Durham and Wake counties, none were above 25 percent and samples' quality improved the farther downlake from Durham they were taken.
Meeker and other Wake County officials and legislators are pushing to get some protective measures in place quickly for Falls, which provides drinking water for 435,000 Wake County residents.
"Certainly," said assistant Durham city attorney Karen Sindelar, "Durham city and county are going to have to change practices."
The state legislature mandated a cleanup program for Falls, similar to that for Jordan Lake, to be drafted by July 1. With much work remaining, DWQ has requested an extension to November 2011, which does not sit well with Meeker and others.
"We don't think two years is appropriate," Meeker said in May. "We requested the rules be created four years ago."
As a compromise, a bill to extend DWQ's deadline to July 2010 is currently before the legislature. Another bill, introduced by state Sen. Josh Stein, D-Wake, provides for interim regulations based on those in the Jordan rules, and incentives for municipalities and landowners who take cleanup measures before the Falls rules take effect.
A meeting of legislators and representatives from Raleigh, Durham and Wake and Durham counties is scheduled at Stein's office Wednesday.
"We're trying to solve problems, figure out creative solutions," Stein said Tuesday.
Like Jordan, Falls Lake is "impaired waters" under federal clean-water standards due to high levels of nitrogen and phosphorus. Those nutrients can lead to rampant algae growth, harmful to aquatic life, detrimental to lake recreation and making water more difficult and expensive to treat for human consumption.
Pollution reduction targets for the most-polluted part of Jordan Lake are 35 percent for nitrogen and 5 percent for phosphorus. DWQ estimates that Falls may need more than 50 percent each.
"We're talking about some serious numbers here," said John Huisman of DWQ, who is leading the Falls rules project.
Also Like Jordan, Falls' worst pollution levels are in the section fed by streams running through Durham County: the Flat, Little and Eno rivers and Ellerbe Creek, along with Granville County's Knap of Reeds Creek.