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Woodard wants 'counterpunch' on Falls Lake perceptions

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."


USGS data suggest Falls Lake pollution going down

If you've opened a water bill lately, you may have noticed that the blue "WATERways" insert is all about the Jordan and Falls lake cleanups and preparing Durham's water customers for rate increases ahead.

If you've been paying attention the past three years, that's old news. New cleanup and protection regulations for Jordan Lake got the legislature's approval last year, and the Falls Lake version is due to take effect in January.

Nevertheless, the lakes' water-quality picture is still developing and Assistant County Manager Drew Cummings, who is keeping on top of the process, has tossed some new data into the mix that suggests Falls Lake is getting better already without any new regulations.

Cummings's data, compiled from four U.S. Geological Survey monitoring stations at different points in Falls Lake (at I-85, N.C. 50, N.C. 98 and the Falls dam), shows the level of chlorophyll A -- the chemical marker used to indicate offensive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus -- has trended down since August 2005. June 2010 levels at all four points are below the 40 micrograms/liter standard for excess N and P.

"This is raw data and there are not enough data points for the shown trendlines ... to be statistically significant," Cummings wrote to the state Environmental Management Commission last month (see attachment below), "but as several statisticians have reminded me, statistical significance is not the same as practical significance and this is some of the best data we have to go on."

As of last week, Cummings said, he had had no reaction from EMC members. "Even if it isn’t a lot of data, it sure seems to be TRYING to tell a story," he wrote in an email reply to Bull's Eye's question.

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