Falls Lake

Falls Lake is a reservoir that was created when the Army Corps of Engineers completed a dam on the Neuse River in 1981. The lake was designed to serve as a regional water supply, to prevent flooding, and to help protect water quality downstream of the lake during droughts. A side benefit of the lake was the recreation opportunities it created for the region’s residents. Seven different areas around the lake offer opportunities for activities such as boating, fishing, swimming, picnicking, camping, hiking, and biking. In addition, about 13,600 acres of land were designated to serve as wildlife habitat around the lake.

Why Falls Lake is in the News

The water in Falls Lake does not meet North Carolina standards for chlorophyll a (found in algae) in reservoirs. Too much algae can stress fish populations and increase water treatment costs. Falls Lake serves as a source of drinking water for the City of Raleigh and surrounding areas. Controlling algae usually means controlling nitrogen and phosphorus, nutrients that algae and all plants need to grow. In January 2010 North Carolina adopted a set of regulations referred to as the Falls Lake Nutrient Management Strategy.

Issues surrounding reservoir treatment and management often become complicated because those that benefit from the reservoir are often not those who pay for the benefits. The City of Durham has always understood the need to protect city streams and downstream resources like Jordan Lake and Falls Lake. The city has had development requirements to protect stream buffers and to treat stormwater runoff since the early 1980s. Additional requirements specifically targeting nutrients began in 2002. In addition, proactive upgrades costing approximately $48 million have been made to the North Durham Wastewater Treatment Plant in the last 15 years. In 2010 the city revised its standards for land development projects that further protect local water quality.

Consensus Principals

To promote regional cooperation in meeting the Falls Lake Nutrient Management Strategy, Durham’s City Council and other stakeholders (such as the City of Raleigh and the Town of Butner) agreed to a set of Consensus Principles. These principles promote cooperation in finding reasonable and equitable solutions to the nutrient problem in Falls Lake. These principles call for reducing nutrient contributions to what they were in 2006 in Stage 1 of the management strategy implementation. This will protect water quality at Raleigh’s intake in lower Falls Lake. The consensus principles then call for reevaluation of the goals, feasibility, and the need for further reductions before implementing Stage 2 of the rules. This is important as the city estimates that the cost to the city alone will be an additional $700 million to $1.1 billion if the Stage 2 goals remain unchanged.