Chatham County

Jordan Lake got trashed. Can volunteers clean up after two big storms?

Debris collected near face of Jordan Lake Dam following Hurricane Florence last month.
Debris collected near face of Jordan Lake Dam following Hurricane Florence last month. Clean Jordan Lake

High water levels at Jordan Lake have threatened the annual, volunteer shore cleanup this fall.

Last week Fran DiGiano of Clean Jordan Lake did not know if they could hold their event Saturday. He hoped Monday that a decision could be made on whether to hold the event. But additional rain forecast has pushed that decision to Wednesday, he said.

“It’s uncertain whether the lake level will drop far enough to hold our event,” DiGiano said.

Rains from hurricanes Florence and Michael had swollen the lake to more than five feet above the level considered safe for the cleanup. With the potential for more rain this week, the level may not drop below that threshold in time for the cleanup, DeGiano said.

Each fall and spring, more than 100 volunteers scour the banks for trash that has washed down the Haw River, the main source that feeds the lake. Volunteers typically find plastic bottles and bags, balls, toys and cigarette butts.. They’ve even dragged tires out of the woods near the shore, he said.

This fall’s cleanup is scheduled for Saturday.

DiGiano said he expected to find more trash than usual after Hurricane Florence dumped record rain on the state last month.

“There was a lot of water coming into the lake,” he said. “A lot of times trash gets stuck in coves that we usually can’t reach, but the high water has pushed it out.”

Last week, Hurricane Michael dropped several more inches of rains upstream, and the water has reached the lake.

Back-to-back storms

The one-two punch by two hurricanes in a month’s time put Jordan and Falls lakes to the test.

Jordan Lake peaked near a record when it rose to 232.4 feet above sea level on Sept. 23, nine days after Florence crept across North Carolina, according to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The Jordan Lake record is 233.8, set in 2003.

Falls Lake had its peak of 259.0 on Sept. 25. The record level in Falls Lake came in 1999 after Hurricane Floyd as it reached 264.3 feet.

Jordan Lake protects the Cape Fear River basin, while Falls Lake safeguards the Neuse River basin. Flooding from Florence came from rain that fell downstream of the dams as the storm moved inland.

The lakes, which are managed by the Corps, serve primarily as flood control reservoirs. But they also serve as drinking water sources for much of the Triangle.

The Corps had been releasing water from both lakes at a steady pace until Tuesday prior to the arrival of Michael. The level in Jordan was reduced by almost nine feet, while Falls was down by about six.

The lake levels started rising again Thursday and could see increases similar to after Florence, depending on the rainfall, a Corps news release said.

The Corps’ district water managers are monitoring downstream river conditions in the Neuse and Cape Fear river basins. There could be some minor flooding but nothing like during Florence.

Next week after downstream conditions improve, releases will be gradually increased to begin bringing lake levels back to normal. But that might not come in time to allow the cleanup.