Raleigh puts its two cents in for Falls Lake water quality rules

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Raleigh City Council approved a proposal to the state that could govern nutrient levels in Falls Lake. The plan includes regulations to control nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake, which is considered an impaired water-body under the Clean Water Act.

The Falls Lake Stakeholders, which include the Raleigh city government, developed the nutrient management plan to recommend to the state Environmental Management Commission next year as it develops environmental rules for the lake. If approved, the rules could go into effect in 2011.

Inter-governmental cooperation is crucial, according to Upper Neuse Riverkeeper Alissa Bierma, since Falls Lake is in more that one city and more than one county.

The lake is downstream from some cities and upstream from others, so the effects of poor regulation in some are felt in farther down, Bierma said.

The current rules aren’t working. This has gone from a clean water source to one of the most, if not the most polluted waterways. We need to clean it up in the next five years; we need to take a clear and forceful position,” Mayor Charles Meeker said at the Tuesday’s city council session.

The state will implement the new rules in 2011, but they could still be changed as they move through the legislative process, according to Grady McCallie, the policy director with the North Carolina Conservation Network.

The proposal will move through the state commission, then made available for public scrutiny, before going back to the commission. From there it’s on to the state Rules and Review Commission, where, if they don’t receive 10 letters of rejection, the rules will become permanent. Bierma, the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper, says those letters are likely to come.

“The more we can all be on the same page up front, the less trouble we’ll have later on,” Bierma said.

Falls Lake currently has high levels of both nitrogen and phosphorus. High nutrient levels come from many sources, including agriculture and construction, according to the City Manager Russell Allen.

To help accommodate public input, the Division of Water Quality has created a stakeholder WIKI, and holds regular events, such as the Muddy Water Watch. The stakeholder meetings are also open to the public.

Beirma commended Raleigh’s involvement with water quality, even when it includes water outside of it’s limits. “Raleigh is helping to drive keeping standards fairly stringent,” she said. “Raleigh provides a good clearinghouse for information. When something comes back that looks a little fishy, they can step up and say ‘wait a minute.’ Raleigh is the hammer that is going to keep Durham honest,” Bierma said.

The Falls Lake Stakeholder group is made up of other local governments, non-profits, the Farm Bureau and concerned citizens.

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