You’d have to go back to August to find the last time Jordan Lake was at its “normal” water level.In the five months since, North Carolina, particularly its central area, has experienced a literal deluge of precipitation.
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You’d have to go back to August to find the last time Jordan Lake was at its “normal” water level.
In the five months since, North Carolina, particularly its central area, has experienced a literal deluge of precipitation.
First, Hurricane Florence struck in September. Hurricane Michael followed the next month. Early December brought a heavy snowstorm. And the early days of 2019 brought more rain.
“Our normal lake level is 216 feet above mean sea level,” said Dana Matics, assistant operations manager at Jordan Lake with the Army Corps of Engineers (ACE). “We’ve come close, 216.3, 216.5 in September. But since Florence, I know we haven’t hit 216.”
The heavy precipitation provides a peek into the daily activities of the ACE — which is responsible for flood management at Jordan Lake and Dam — particularly during a season like this.
Matics said the lake was originally built to reduce flood damage downstream, particularly along the Cape Fear River, by holding water in place and releasing it in small amounts so both the lake and the river are at safe levels.
But Mother Nature doesn’t always cooperate with man’s best plans.
“It’s all a balancing act,” Matics said. “Until the rain really falls and we get an idea of how much rain we get in our basin, then we can make a prediction. From there, we start looking downstream, watch the river crest and start to fall off. Once the river falls off, we can start releasing some of the water.”
The ACE folks at Jordan Dam are, in effect, responsible for two bodies of water. If the Haw and Cape Fear rivers downstream are both high and nearing or breaching flood level, releasing water from Jordan Lake would simply add to those problems.
“If we release water into the Cape Fear, and (a) hurricane draws east, then we have given downstream extra water and it’s going to (rise),” Matics said.
The lake peaked at 232.39 feet on Sept. 24. The area has received 32.89 inches of rain from the beginning of August 2018 through January 4.
ACE staff normally checks lake levels once or twice daily, but with the increase in rain, that frequency has increased.
Chatham County’s Emergency Management department also regularly checks the lake level, even on days when it’s just raining, according to Director Steve Newton.
“That’s one of the few things we do two or three times a day,” Newton said. “During the dry periods, we don’t have to track it but once a week. On days like today, we’re looking at not only what’s the level but what’s the outflow coming out the dam.”
Emergency Management’s first priority, Newton said, is the Jeremiah Drive community, which has experienced flooding on and off over the last few months. When the lake level reaches and breaches 227.5 feet — which has happened three separate times since August — residents face flooding.
Newton said Jeremiah Drive’s situation is not uncommon; there’s a neighborhood in Wake County near Falls Lake Dam that gets flooded due to flood control operations.
But the amount of rain in recent weeks has been notable for Newton.
“The biggest challenge we’ve had is just that it’s rained so much the last few months. There’s no capacity for this rain to be absorbed. Now, any amount of rain is of concern to us.”
Newton added that Chatham County residents won’t see the affect from the rain on Friday — around 0.7 inches — “for days.”
Matics said she and the rest of the ACE staff on site are happy to speak to citizens about their concerns and questions about flood management and the lake.
"We live in an age where I can hit a key in my computer and delete anything. We can’t delete this water,” she said. “It’s got to go somewhere. Our job is to get the lake to 216 and hopefully keep it there, and floods and or droughts make that challenging.”