Durham officials aren't too happy about the image they think they have where the Falls Lake Rules are concerned. With some reason.
Some water-quality sampling, according to city and county reports, indicate that nitrogen and phosphorus pollution is actually declining in the lake. Some environmentalists, though, claim that Durham is only trying to weaken the regulations and cover up the dire condition in which it has put the drinking-water supply for 450,000 residents of Wake County.
"I worry that we're losing the perception battle with the public," City Councilman Mike Woodard said, at a meeting of council members and county commissioners this week. "We need to be able to counterpunch at all times."
"The public perception is very different from what we may be able to show," said Commissioner Ellen Reckhow.
"Knowledge and science should derive our policy, not perceptions," Councilman Eugene Brown said after a presentation by Assistant County Manager Drew Cummings.
As Bull's Eye reported Sept. 7, Cummings has compiled water-sampling records for the past five years that indicate the lake is getting healthier rather than more polluted. City stormwater engineer John Cox, who was on a technical advisory committee for the new rules, said other records show the same trend.
"Based upon what you've articulated here this morning, there is improving water quality in Falls Lake and we are not in a crisis situation, but I don't think that's the overall perception in the Research Triangle area,"
Pollution-reduction and -control regulations for the lake are being written by the state water-quality authorities and, by act of the state legislature, take effect in January. For Durham, through which most of the lake's tributaries flow, the total cost could be more than $1 billion over the next 30 years, according to the city water department.
"There is a set of the these [environmental] groups with the mindset there should be no limit to the spending, that we should bring this [lake] back to some prehistoric state," said Deputy City Manager Ted Voorhees. "There's no arguing with the hardcore."
"A lot of people believed Chicken Little, too," Woodard said. "The science can be presented, I believe, in pithy statements, and we're up against folks who don't necessarily rely on science."
Durham, and some other public and private parties that have commented on the draft rules, claim the data used to draft the rules are faulty -- or, at least, insufficient for basing a long-term and very expensive set of regulations that may or may not accomplish what they're supposed to.
"We need to be strategic in our communications efforts," Woodard said.
"The concern is," said Mayor Bill Bell, "we might know but the public doesn't know."
For more information on the "Falls Lake Nutrient Management Strategy Development Process," including links to commentary on the draft regulations, see http://portal.ncdenr.org/web/wq/ps/nps/fallslake.