Five years after the need for a cleanup was recognized by the state legislature, the state Environmental Management Commission is hammering out a strategy to reduce pollutants flowing into the almost 12,500-acre reservoir from streams and rivers in Orange, Person, Granville, Wake and Durham counties that have led to rising levels of nitrogen and phosphorus in the lake. ...
And mysterious deaths! Several residents, all with connections to Duke and NCSU, have died while swimming in Falls Lake (and drinking treated Falls Lake water). What could be behind this crime?
The push and pull between the interests of Durham and Raleigh - the two communities with possibly the most at stake - may lead to tense relations between the two cities.
Raleigh, and a large part of Wake County, needs Falls Lake for its drinking water and will spend millions upgrading the city's water treatment plant if pollution isn't reduced by 2016.
But Durham looks as though it will be on the hook for millions of dollars to lower the amount of sediment-laden stormwater that rushes off pavement in its urban core into streams, creeks and rivers that flow into the lake. Durham doesn't get its water from Falls Lake but from Lake Michie and the Little River Reservoir.
And it will definitely lead to some tension between Triangle-area environmental economists (those guys need some tension). Can't you see a Duke (Murray/Pattanayek) vs. NCSU (Phaneuf/Von Haefen) empirical study-type showdown? I'd go after the following actors: Gabriel Bryne to play a Murray-type character (I'm typecasting with an Irish theme), Hank Azaria for the Pattanayek-type character, Jeff Bridges for the Phaneuf-type character (because he's Oscar-hot ... and he'd shave his head like in Ironman), and, er, Will Ferrell to play the Von Haefen-type character (sorry Roger, but I gots to get my boy in the film somehow).
... To fix the lake, Durham might have to shell out $20 million over the next decade. City leaders say the cost could rise to as much as $1 billion overall to upgrade a sewage plant and bring existing development into compliance. Among other measures, that could involve encouraging more stormwater to be filtered by the soil, which would help curb pollution in the lake's upper reaches, where pollution is most concentrated. ...
One BILLION dollars? That represents $1 billion in potential funding for Duke medical research.
But money is also behind Raleigh's push to start cleaning up soon.
Money? And Murder. Someone definitely has to go down. Not an economist because economic life is too boring to generate a motive, but probably an evil mid-level research administrator with higher administrative ambitions.
If the lake quality doesn't improve by 2016, a $115 million upgrade of Raleigh's E.M. Johnson Water Treatment Plant, which handles all the water for Raleigh's system, will be needed. In addition, as much as $200 million in other improvements may be necessary.
And if Raleigh has to spend this much money on clean drinking water, all of NCSU's external funding will be crowded out. No indirect costs? That's motive.
All this story needs is a crusading heroine played by Julia Roberts:
JoAnn Burkholder, an N.C. State University aquatic ecology professor who has been researching the Falls Lake pollution, said the unsafe conditions on the beaches may be symptoms of the lake's illnesses.
"That indicates to me that something has seriously gone wrong," Burkholder said about the beach closures at a recent forum about Falls Lake.
And, of course, we'll also need a team of heros. I suggest a Mansfield/Van Houtven-type (Sandy Bullock/Clooney or Pitt) meta-analysis that determines which empirical study is the outlier, determine if net benefits are positive and reveal the true mid-level-academic-administrator-with-higher-administrative-ambitions villain.
And I'd be the technical advisor so they'd get the economics right.
*A post like this? It must be spring break.