Surface Water 1987 Recommendations/2007 Results By Rusty Rozzelle, Program Manager, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Daryl Hammock, Team Leader, Water Quality Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services The 1987 State of the Environment Report contained four general surface water quality issues followed by specific recommendations to the Board of County Commissioners on how to address these issues and protect and restore surface water quality. The following bullet points list the actions taken over the past 20 years in Mecklenburg County to address these recommendations. 1987 In order to coordinate efforts to protect our lake system for drinking water and recreation, we recommend: • Promoting a regional effort to protect the lakes by coordinating the efforts of local counties as well as efforts of North and South Carolina • January 2004: Gaston and Mecklenburg counties conduct the Mountain Island Lake Workshop for the purpose of informing elected officials and area residents of the extreme importance of Mountain Island Lake to our growing area, and the need to better coordinate protection efforts for the lake. • August 2004: The Mountain Island Lake Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) is adopted for the purpose of coordinating efforts to protect water quality conditions in the lake between the following parties: Mecklenburg, Gaston and Lincoln counties; cities of Charlotte, Gastonia, and Mount Holly; towns of Cornelius and Huntersville; Mountain
Island Lake Marine Commission; Centralina Council of Governments.
• January 2005: The handbook titled “Mountain Island Lake Watershed Protection Guidelines” is developed and distributed to the MOU parties. • June 2005: Web site developed in support of the MOU to facilitate coordination and exchange of information between the MOU parties. • March 2006: A second workshop is held to explore the possibility of expanding the Mountain Island Lake MOU to include Lake Wylie. • May 2007: “Green Transformation” conference held to explore ways to expand cooperative efforts to include Lake Wylie. • Promoting the need for regional wastewater treatment plants that ignore political boundaries in order to reduce the number of point sources discharging into our lakes. • 2007: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities begins work to establish a regional wastewater treatment plant on Lake Wylie working with the town of Mount Holly in Gaston County. Surface Water continued on page 66
Mecklenburg County, NC
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• Reviewing and/or conducting appropriate studies to assess the needs and best uses for further protection of our drinking water sources. • November 1988: Mecklenburg County launches a watershed management study to protect water quality conditions in Mountain Island Lake, resulting in the adoption of a watershed protection ordinance for the lake in March 1993. • July 1993: Two separate stakeholder groups convene to develop watershed protection plans for Lake Norman and Upper Lake Wylie, resulting in the adoption of watershed protection ordinances for the lakes in June 1994. • October 1999: Stakeholder group convenes to develop a watershed protection plan for Lower Lake Wylie, south of the Paw Creek tributary, resulting in the adoption of a watershed protection ordinance for the lake in July 2001. • October 2006: Watershed Management Plan is developed and implemented for the McDowell Creek watershed with the objective of restoring degraded water quality conditions in McDowell Creek and downstream in Mountain Island Lake. 1987 In order to reduce the number of small wastewater treatment plants that have the potential to pollute our streams, we recommend: • Obtaining increased authority for local government in the permitting and regulation of new and existing wastewater treatment plants and other point sources. • 1988 through 2007: Work Plans are developed and implemented in cooperation with the N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources to coordinate efforts for the control of point source discharges in accordance with the Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) entered into between Mecklenburg County and State in August 1986. • Expanding the municipal water and sewer system, thus limiting the number of point sources.
• 1987 through 2007: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities has doubled the size of its municipal water and wastewater systems over the past twenty years resulting in the elimination of 19 private (“package”) wastewater treatment plant discharges. 1987 In order to preserve and enhance the usability of our streams for recreation, fishing and aesthetics, we recommend the following: • Promoting and supporting the Greenway Park System. • In 1987, Mecklenburg County’s greenway program was just getting started with seven miles of greenway developed. In 2007, 33 miles of greenway have been developed and 147 miles are planned for development. • Promoting better control over point and nonpoint sources of pollution. Monitoring: • 1987 through 2007: Significant advancements are made to monitoring programs to better identify water quality problems and trends. Water quality indices have been developed to better communicate this data to the public. Point Sources: • January 1995: City of Charlotte adopts a pollution control ordinance prohibiting illicit discharges to storm drains and surface waters in compliance with Phase I Storm Water Permit requirements. • November 2000 through May 2004: Mecklenburg County and the six towns adopt pollution control ordinances. Non-Point Sources: • January 1, 1993: Charlotte-Mecklenburg begins the operation of a storm water utility. • March 1993 through July 2001: Water supply watershed protection ordinances go into effect on Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake and Lake Wylie. • November 1993: City of Charlotte initiates efforts to reduce pollution in storm water runoff in compliance with its Phase I Storm Water Permit.
2008 State of the Environment Report
• November 1999 through June 2001: The City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and the six towns adopt the S.W.I.M. ordinance for the establishment of stream buffers countywide. • July 2005: Mecklenburg County and the six towns initiate efforts for the reduction of pollution in storm water runoff in compliance with their Phase II Storm Water Permit.
1987 In order to better protect our streams from pollution associated with soil erosion, we recommend the following: • Strengthen City and County erosion control ordinances by increasing all fines to the maximum allowed level of $100 per day. • September 2000 and May 2002: CharlotteMecklenburg erosion control ordinances and program efforts are significantly enhanced resulting in increased enforcement. Maximum fines are set at $5,000 per day, per violation.
• June through November 2007: Postconstruction storm water ordinances go into effect in the City of Charlotte and six towns based on a draft ordinance developed by a stakeholder group.
• March 2005: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Certified Site Inspector (CMCSI) training begins with the goal of training the private sector to inspect their construction projects for proper sedimentation and erosion control to ensure compliance with local and state regulations.
• Conducting educational programs to inform the general public about streams. • June 30, 1986: First volunteer water quality initiative starts with the “Clean Stream Program” that involves citizens walking Charlotte-Mecklenburg streams, identifying and eliminating pollution sources, and removing trash. • July 1994: The Storm Drain Stenciling Program is developed as a second volunteer program as a component of Charlotte’s Phase I Storm Water Permit. The Clean Stream Program is enhanced and becomes the “Adopt-A-Stream Program”. • July 1998: Part of the S.W.I.M. Program includes the development and implementation of an ad campaign to educate the general public regarding surface water quality protection and to promote volunteerism in the Adopt-AStream and Storm Drain Stenciling Programs. • FY2006-2007: A total of 1,640 storm drains are marked by 121 volunteers combining for over 200 volunteer hours. • FY2006-2007: A total of 90 volunteer groups involving 1,106 volunteers and over 2,500 volunteer hours complete 94 stream clean-ups and remove over 22,000 pounds of trash from Charlotte-Mecklenburg streams.
Hiring and training more inspectors. • Between 1987 and 2007: The number of erosion control inspectors in the City and County has more than doubled to the current total of 14.
• Consolidating ordinance enforcement with existing water quality programs. • July 2002: Erosion control efforts are consolidated under Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services’ Water Quality Programs. • Prosecuting aggressively.
• No data is available regarding the number of penalties assessed in 1987. However, during FY2006-2007, Mecklenburg County assessed 38 penalties and collected $133,600 in fines. The City of Charlotte assessed 107 penalties and collected $401,560 in fines. During FY20062007, the total number of penalties assessed countywide is 145 for a total of $535,160 in fines collected.
Mecklenburg County, NC
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Stream and Lake Water Quality: Then and Now By Sharon Foote, Public Information Specialist, Mecklenburg County Water and Land Resources Jeff Price, Environmental Analyst, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Program Storm Water Services 1987: “We are fortunate that surface water quality in our lakes and streams is generally good.” The biggest threats to water quality were point source pollution associated with illegal dumping and discharges associated with poorly operated and maintained wastewater treatment plants. 2007: Point source discharges of pollution such as private treatment plants, sanitary sewer overflows and illegal discharges have decreased an estimated 22%. However, it is estimated that since 1987, nonpoint source pollution in storm water runoff has increased 55%. Urban-Industrial Streams 1987 • Generally “poor” water quality • “Subjected to…treated wastewater effluent and leaking sanitary sewer lines” • “Channelized with their banks lined with rocks” Urban Streams 2007 • Most urban streams are “impaired” or “partially supporting” their designated use • Bacterial problems often due to sanitary sewer overflows and animal waste, usually related to grease-clogged sewer lines • A significant decrease in the number of private wastewater treatment plants and enhanced treatment technology have reduced point sources of pollution. • The completion of numerous stream restoration projects has returned 50,000 linear feet of streams to a more natural condition
2008 State of the Environment Report
Suburban Streams 1987 • Generally “fair” water quality • Primary source of pollution is sedimentation from land-disturbing activities Suburban Streams 2007 • Most suburban streams are “partially supporting” their designated use • Primary source of pollution is sediment from construction sites and from in-stream channel and stream bank erosion Rural/Agricultural Streams 1987 • Generally “good” water quality • Pollutants included fertilizers, pesticides, animal wastes, and sedimentation from tilling farm fields Rural Streams 2007 • Few “rural” streams remain • Rural streams are “partially supporting” their designated use • Pollutants include fecal bacteria and nutrients (fertilizers) from storm water running over land 1987: “The water quality in Mecklenburg County’s streams is strongly correlated to the land usage in each stream’s watershed.” 2007: Land use continues to have significant impact on the water quality in CharlotteMecklenburg streams. Stream and Lake Water continued on page 69
Surface Water Data Comparisons Surface Water Use in Mecklenburg County Drinking water supplied by CMU Population using CMU drinking water Recreational Use of Lakes Fishing licenses sold annually in Mecklenburg County Registered boats in Mecklenburg County
61.941 mgd 350,000 people
113.672 mgd 750,000 people
General Surface Water Discharge Information Permitted Surface Water Discharges Amount of non-point source pollution Stream samples collected not meeting standard Lake samples collected not meeting standard Exceedances of permit limits by WWTPs
80 Unknown 125 32 59
53 Unknown * 20
Surface Water Discharge Volumes Point Sources/Permitted Volume Amounts: a. Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants b. Non-Municipal WWTP c. Industrial WWTP d. Other NPDES Discharges Non-point Sources:
65.79 mgd 2.32 mgd 4.23 mgd N/A Unknown
117.6 mgd 5.62 mgd 3.83 mgd 0.05 mgd Unknown
Number of Surface Water Discharge Sources Point Sources: a. Municipal WWTPs b. Non-Municipal WWTPs c. Industrial WWTPs d. Other NPDES Discharges Non-point Sources:
13** 27** 2** 38** Unknown**
5 20 17 10 Unknown
Surface Water Quality Standards Exceeded (not met) for Year Stream Monitoring:
397 violations at 14 facilities
Fecal Coliform Bacteria Dissolved Oxygen
1987 Number of samples not meeting standard 116 9
1987 Percent of samples not meeting standard 74% 5.7%
2007 Number of samples not meeting standard 196 11
Lake Monitoring: Lake Norman-Fecal Coliform
1 1 20 Not sampled in 1987 Not sampled in 1987
0.6% 0.6% 12.7%
0 0 9 1 10
Mountain Island Lake-pH Mountain Island Lake-Fecal Coliform Lake Lake Lake Lake Lake
Wylie-Dissolved Oxygen Wylie-pH Wylie-Fecal Coliform Wylie-Chlorophyll a Wylie-Turbidity
Standards Exceeded for Groups of Known Sources a. Municipal WWTPs b. Non-Municipal WWTPs c. Industrial WWTPs d. Other NPDES Discharges Total exceedances of NPDES Permit Limits by WWTPs
17 41 1 0 59
20 372 1 4 397
Surface Water Activity Levels Citizen Requests for Service Emergency Response Incidents NOVs issued by County Water Quality Program
583 39 31
597 50 35
2007 Percent of samples not meeting standard 47.46% 2.27%
* 2007’s stream sampling methods do not allow for an accurate comparison to stream sampling of 1987 ** Due to changes in record-keeping, accuracy of the 1987 numbers cannot be verified Definitions and Explanations: mgd: million gallons per day Non-point Source Pollution: Pollution that cannot be traced to a single point or source because it comes from many places or a widespread area NPDES: National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System, a component of the federal Clean Water Act NOV: Notice of Violation of local Water Quality/Storm Water Pollution Ordinances, including Erosion Control and SWIM regulations Request for Service: Request by a citizen for County Water Quality staff to investigate suspected surface water pollution Emergency Response: Response by Water Quality staff to site of water pollution that may pose risks to people or the environment WWTP: Wastewater Treatment Plant
Mecklenburg County, NC
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The statements in the 1987 State of the Environment Report regarding Mecklenburg County streams were based on data analysis, observations, and best professional judgment of that time. However, water quality monitoring has changed significantly since 1987. 2007’s assessments are based on different monitoring locations, sampling frequency, water quality parameters of interest, analysis techniques, and State standards. These changes in water quality monitoring practices make specific comparisons over the 20 year period difficult.
Monitoring Water Quality in Individual Watersheds Mecklenburg County began using a Water Quality Index in 1988. Large amounts of lake and stream data was compiled into an easy-tounderstand rating system using color-coded maps. Over the years, the index was modified to make it more accurate. A major change was made in 1995 when benthic macroinvertebrate data was added. In addition to monitoring water chemistry, staff began tracking
Overall Water Quality 1995
2008 State of the Environment Report
the types and populations of aquatic life and insects in streams to more accurately reflect in-stream water quality. In 1995, the Water Quality Index became known as the Water Quality Rating. The WQR was used from 1995 until 2007. In 2006-2007, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services developed a new reporting tool: the Stream Use-Support Index (SUSI). The goals are to accurately reflect surface water conditions in Charlotte-Mecklenburg and be consistent with State classifications, terminology and water quality assessments. SUSI incorporates water chemistry, dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, aquatic insect diversity and abundance, as well as in-stream habitat assessments. Because of significant differences in how data is collected and reported, SUSI maps cannot be directly compared to Water Quality Index or Water Quality Rating maps of the past. The 2007 Countywide Overall Designated UseSupport Rating is “partially supporting.” This means most sub-basins and watersheds partially support the State’s designated uses of the streams for secondary recreation (defined as wading or boating,) fishing, wildlife, and for fish and aquatic life propagation and survival.
Stream Use-Support Index 2007
Lake Water Quality Then and Now Lake Water Quality Index Comparison Summer 1988 Lake Norman: 82.5 (Good-Excellent) Mountain Island Lake: 75.4 (Good-Excellent) Lake Wylie: 67.8 (Good) All three combined: 75.23 (Good-Excellent)
Summer 2007 Lake Norman: Mountain Island Lake: Lake Wylie: All three combined:
84.0 76.6 72.2 77.6
(Good-Excellent) (Good-Excellent) (Good) (Good-Excellent)
Lake Water Quality Index Summer 1988 and 2007
Water quality data collected from the three lakes shows improvement since 1988. Lake Wylie continues to have the lowest water quality of the three. A primary reason is pollution in Mecklenburg County creeks that flow into Lake Wylie. In 1988, Mecklenburg County began reporting lake water quality data utilizing a Lake Water Quality Index (LWQI) that is still used today. The LWQI incorporates nine common water quality parameters: temperature, dissolved oxygen, specific conductivity, Secchi depth (clarity of the water,) pH, total phosphorus, total nitrate, chlorophyll-a (indicator of algae) and alkalinity. The nine subindex scores are combined to create the overall LWQI score. Lake Stressors 1988 • Algae blooms and discolored water linked to bacteria from wastewater treatment facility
discharges. Some treatment plants discharging into the lake were not in Mecklenburg County Water quality affected by sediment from construction projects and stream bank erosion
Lake Stressors 2007 • Mountain Island Lake affected by sediment from McDowell Creek • Lake Wylie affected by sediment and nutrients (fertilizers) from storm water runoff and wastewater discharges The most recent Catawba River Basinwide Water Quality Plan identified Lake Wylie as eutrophic, or containing excessive amounts of nutrients. Excess nutrients such as phosphorus can cause algal growth that depletes oxygen. The result can be fish kills and degraded quality of drinking water supplies. Stream and Lake Water continued on page 72
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Surface Water Quality-Specific Pollutants Fecal Coliform Mecklenburg County’s Water Quality Program has been collecting fecal coliform bacteria samples from local streams and lakes for more than 35 years. The bacteria often come from sanitary sewer overflows and animal waste, affecting the environment and having the potential for human health impacts. When fecal coliform levels do not meet the State standard, the water is considered unsuitable for prolonged human contact. Comparing 1987 to 2007, the concentration of baseflow fecal coliform bacteria in our streams has improved. In 1987, 52.5 percent of the samples collected met the State standard for a single sample (400 col/100ml). In other words, almost half of stream samples in 1987 did not meet the State’s basic health and safety criteria for human contact. In 2007, 69.5 percent of these samples met the State standard for fecal coliform. This represents a significant increase in the number of samples collected that comply with the State standard.
20 Year Comparison Fecal Coliform by Watershed Fecal coliform levels vary widely from creek to creek. Mecklenburg County uses maps to track pollution levels in each watershed. Monitoring results are compared to the State standard. For each month that a site complies with that standard, points are awarded and an overall score is developed. The scores are averaged for a 12-month period to determine a final score. The State has given each creek an “intended use.” In Charlotte-Mecklenburg, all streams are expected to be used for recreational purposes. The overall water quality score of a creek is compared with its intended use. Streams that comply with State standards more than 90 percent of the time are considered “Fully Supporting” of that use. Other designations are “Partially Supporting, “Impaired,” and “Degraded.”
2008 State of the Environment Report
Stream sample showing fecal coliform
The various categories are color coded on maps illustrated on page 73. In 1987, Mecklenburg County’s overall fecal Coliform index rating was 51.8. That was in the category of “Impaired” for the designated use. Stream Monitoring The 1987 map shows more watersheds depicted in red and orange than in yellow or green. That indicates higher fecal coliform observations and poorer water quality. In 2007, the overall fecal coliform index rating improved to 69.5. This number also falls into the general category of “Impaired” for designated-use, but it is now at the upper limit of the category. This indicates a decrease in fecal coliform and an improvement in water quality. As you can see in Map 2, there are fewer watersheds depicted in red. While there still is a fecal coliform problem in baseflow surface water in Mecklenburg County, improvements have been made in the last twenty years. Two decades ago, many of the reported sewage overflows spilling into creeks came from non-municipal wastewater treatment plants. As municipal sewer services have been extended into more of the County, there are fewer nonmunicipal treatment plants and more sophisticated wastewater treatment. Compared with 1987, watersheds located downstream of wastewater treatment plants showed significantly lower fecal coliform levels in 2007.
Fecal Coliform 1987
Fecal Coliform 2007
20 Year Comparison Fecal Coliform in Lakes 1987 Fecal Coliform Violations Lake Norman: Mountain Island Lake: Lake Wylie: Total:
in Lakes 6 3 20 29
2007 Fecal Coliform Violations Lake Norman: Mountain Island Lake: Lake Wylie: Total:
in Lakes 0 0 6 6
20 Year Comparison Other Pollutants in Streams Sediment Quote from 1987 SOER: “Severe erosion and sedimentation problems exist in areas under construction … The quantity and velocity of stormwater runoff … contributes to urban stream bank erosion while increasing the frequency and magnitude of flooding.” The struggle against sediment in our surface water has intensified over the past two decades. Eroded soil in our streams and lakes reduces water quality and damages aquatic habitat. The problem goes far beyond muddy water. Surges in storm water runoff overwhelm our creeks, causing erosion, bank instability, and degradation. The damage to stream channels is widespread and significant. Repairing that damage could cost over $1 billion. We also must prevent future damage to stream channels and the resulting sediment pollution.
Fish Monitoring Stream and Lake Water continued on page 74
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Nutrients Quote from 1987 SOER: “Many treatment plants dump treated wastewater still high in nutrients into Sugar, Little Sugar and McAlpine creeks. The water color has turned to dark gray-green … and these streams are no longer suitable for recreational activities such as fishing and other uses such as irrigation. Aquatic organisms such as fish and their food organisms are stressed under these conditions.” Wastewater treatment plants still discharge effluent to our streams containing nitrogen and phosphorus. Indicators show nutrient levels in many streams have decreased in the past 20 years. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities has completed major treatment plant improvements to reduce nutrients, and upcoming plant projects will further reduce this point source pollution. In 1987, Water Quality staff did not do extensive stream monitoring of nutrient levels. Now, staff analyzes monthly stream and lake water samples for fecal coliform, total phosphorus, turbidity, dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature, copper, chromium, lead, and zinc. Streams are monitored to determine aquatic habitat and the numbers and types of aquatic life living in the water. In 1987 as well as in 2007, there is relatively wide variation in water quality from creek to creek, and watershed to watershed. While there is not precise data from the 1980s, measurements such as dissolved oxygen, pH, temperature and metals show water quality has generally improved in the past two decades. Because data collection in 1987 was not as extensive as it is today, we are not able to create a 20 year comparison of those measures of water quality.
Wastewater Treatment: Successes and Challenges in the Last 20 Years By Erin Culbert, Environmental Outreach Coordinator, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities
Wastewater treatment is vital in protecting health, water quality and quality of life. Expanding services, improvements in technology and more stringent permit limits for treatment plants have marked some of the most prominent changes in the past two decades. As the consolidation of municipal water and wastewater systems continued through the 1980s, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities entered into operating agreements with the six towns in Mecklenburg County. This action decreased the number of municipal wastewater treatment plants to its current number of five. Additionally, as wastewater services extended throughout the growing county, the number of privately operated treatment plants also decreased. As important as wastewater treatment is to health and safety, it also has significant implications for the environment. CharlotteMecklenburg Utilities annually receives performance awards for treatment plant permit compliance. Its Mallard Creek Water Reclamation Facility also received the prestigious ISO 14001 certification in 2007, which demonstrates environmental commitment and pollution prevention. One of the biggest challenges in operating its 3,800-mile wastewater system continues to be sanitary sewer overflows. Utilities is taking a multifaceted approach in addressing this problem by increasing system cleaning, improving infrastructure and educating residents on proper wastewater disposal. About $10 million is invested each year to repair or replace older sewer lines, and several large sewer projects are under way along Long, Irwin, Briar and McAlpine creeks to add wastewater collection line capacity and prevent overflows. We need the community’s help to protect our waterways. When disposing of cooking grease and oils, be sure to pour them into a lidded container and dispose of it in the trash. Grease poured down drains is the leading cause of overflows throughout the Charlotte-Mecklenburg area. Staying grease-free will reduce the risk of sewer backups in public or private plumbing, while protecting our water quality.
2008 State of the Environment Report
Main CMU drinking water intake on Mountain Island Lake
Findings and Recommendations 2008 By Rusty Rozzelle, Program Manager, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Daryl Hammock, Team Leader, Water Quality Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services measured when it is not raining and streams are not subject to non-point source pollution from storm water flow.
Mecklenburg County has more than 3,000 miles of streams with year-round flow.
A major river drainage divide separates Mecklenburg County with one-third of the County draining to the east into the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin and two-thirds draining to the west into the Catawba River Basin.
Mecklenburg County has more than 190 miles of shoreline along Lake Norman, Mountain Island Lake, and Lake Wylie. These lakes provide a raw drinking water source to more than one million residents in Mecklenburg, Lincoln and Gaston counties.
Water pollution can be grouped into two categories: point and non-point sources. Point sources of pollution come from a fixed location such as a pipe. Non-point sources usually originate in storm water runoff.
As has been the case for the past 20 years, the most common pollutants in our surface water are sediment and fecal coliform bacteria from both point and non-point sources.
Twenty years of comprehensive efforts to protect and improve water quality conditions in Mecklenburg County have resulted in a 22 percent decrease in point sources of pollution such as private treatment plants, sanitary sewer overflows and illegal discharges. Since the implementation of the S.W.I.M. Program in 1997, the number of stream miles suitable for human contact has increased by 15 percentage points. Sixty-two percent of streams now meet this benchmark, up from 47 percent. This is
Although point sources of pollution in Mecklenburg County have decreased in the past 20 years, rapid growth has tripled the amount of developed land. This has resulted in an estimated 55 percent increase in non-point source pollution contained in storm water runoff from developed areas.
Over the past 20 years, Mecklenburg County has experienced a 70 percent decrease in treed and naturally vegetated groundcover, which serves to filter storm water pollution and protect water quality.
Population growth has led to a significant increase in the amount of pavement and other impervious surfaces. This results in a decrease in storm water absorption into the soil and a corresponding increase in the volume and velocity of storm water runoff entering creeks and lakes. Stream channels in Mecklenburg County have been significantly eroded by this increased amount of rapidly moving storm water, resulting in the destruction of aquatic habitats and discharge of mud and other pollutants downstream.
More than 73 percent of major stream miles in Mecklenburg County have been designated by the EPA as impaired or not meeting their designated uses. The EPA lists the primary source of impairment as “increased land development activities.” Key Findings continued on page 76
Mecklenburg County, NC
air surface water land solid waste Stream and wetland restoration projects that are intended to compensate for these impacts are being built outside of Mecklenburg County due to cost, which reduces Mecklenburg County’s ability to meet state water quality standards.
Key Findings continued from page 75
State agency review of stream and wetland impacts is limited to environmental impacts and does not consider whether the proposed drainage system modifications are designed according to local standards or practices. These modifications, such as the installation of culverts become part of the Storm Water Services’ maintenance responsibility, even though they may not have been designed or installed properly. State agency review fails to consider the cumulative environmental impacts to local waters.
¶ Implement the Post-Construction Storm Water ordinances adopted by the City of Charlotte, towns and County. Fund and support ordinance implementation adequately, including reviews, inspections, enforcement, and maintenance activities, so that the intent and goals of the post-construction ordinances are met. Evaluate these ordinances and the accompanying design manual on a regular basis to determine their effectiveness, and modify as necessary to ensure that established water quality goals are met. · Develop and fund implementation of watershed management plans to restore those watersheds that have been identified as impaired or not meeting their designated uses and to protect those that have remained fully supporting of their uses.
¸ Expand efforts to acquire open space, which is becoming increasingly scarce as the community continues to grow. Target the purchase of this open space where it will have the greatest benefit to water quality such as areas where best management practices can be installed to achieve the pollutant removal targets specified in the watershed management plans described in #2 above. ¹ Increase water quality monitoring activities as well as data analysis and response to provide increased protection of our lakes from pollution, particularly sediment, which is becoming an increasing threat as the areas around the lakes continue to experience rapid development.
2008 State of the Environment Report
Enforcement is severely limited by state agency staffing and budget. The agency representative for Mecklenburg County oversees the regulatory program for eight counties in addition to Mecklenburg. Many violations are considered minor or insignificant and penalties are not adequate enough to encourage compliance.
º Develop and implement efforts to increase volunteerism in protecting and restoring water quality conditions. Encourage and offer incentives for “green development.” Promote environmental stewardship on a countywide level by recognizing and rewarding the good work and accomplishments of both the public and private sectors.
Ï Support the expansion of educational efforts by providing the schools special programs and resources that encourage students to be proactive in the protection of the environment. Continue to raise awareness through volunteer programs, educational presentations, and media campaigns so that residents adopt behaviors that protect water quality.
¼ State and federal agencies are charged with stream and wetland protection. Regulations at the state and federal levels are often not adequate to protect streams and wetlands found locally. Severe state and federal budget constraints as well as urban development pressures often result in damage to or loss of wetlands and natural stream corridors and adjoining floodplains. These resources are being lost forever with state and federal approval, adversely affecting water quality, habitat, and quality of life of our citizens, and at local public expense. Additionally, the loss of wetlands, and piping or modification of streams increases the strain on our local storm water program. Local stream and wetland protection measures are recommended, as well as support for adequate staffing at the state and federal levels.
Development means more rooftops
The Ever-Changing Waters of Mecklenburg By Rusty Rozzelle, Program Manager, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services Since 1987, the population in Mecklenburg County has nearly doubled from 437,760 to 857,379. This population increase has resulted in a tripling of the amount of developed land in the County from approximately 54,000 to over 154,000 acres. On average, 9.86 acres, which equates to nine football fields, is converted daily from undeveloped to developed land uses in Mecklenburg County. The increase in developed land has resulted in an increase in the pollution discharged to our lakes and streams in storm water runoff such as oil, antifreeze, metals from tire and brake pad wear, pesticides, fertilizers and a variety of other chemicals. These are called non-point source pollutants. The cumulative impact of these pollutants on Mecklenburg County’s surface water quality is significant. Over the past 20 years, the pollution generated from developed areas of the County has increased by an estimated 55 percent. The effect of this increased pollution is compounded by the fact that Mecklenburg County has experienced a 70 percent decrease in treed and naturally vegetated groundcover, which serves to filter storm water pollution and protect water quality. Increased land development and urbanization also results in an increase in the volume and velocity of storm water runoff entering surface waters. In Mecklenburg County, even with our relatively impermeable clay soils, an inch of rainfall on an acre of forest does not generate any storm water runoff. Instead, the rainwater is absorbed into the soil and taken up by plants or provides recharge to groundwater. If the trees are removed and replaced with an acre of impervious asphalt, a total of 27,000 gallons of storm water runoff is generated from the same inch of rainfall. In addition, this runoff typically enters surface waters through the piped storm drainage system instead of flowing over the land. As the amount of storm water increases, it flows faster. This increased volume and velocity of storm water runoff entering streams causes their banks to erode. The sediment and silt degrades
water quality and destroys aquatic habitat. In Mecklenburg County, streams degraded in such a manner are commonplace in urbanizing areas. The combined effects of increased non-point source pollution, decreased natural ground cover, and increased stream channel erosion has resulted in significant degradation of surface water resources in Mecklenburg County. Over 73 percent of the major stream miles in the County have been designated by EPA as impaired or not meeting their designated uses. Increased land development activities are listed as the primary source of this impairment. Mecklenburg County’s population growth has also increased demand for clean, usable surface water resources. Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utilities (CMU) currently supplies an average of 113 million gallons of drinking water a day to 750,000 customers from surface water intakes located on Lake Norman and Mountain Island Lake. In 1987, CMU operated only one intake, which was on Mountain Island Lake, and supplied an average of 62 million gallons of drinking water a day to approximately 350,000 customers in Mecklenburg County. Over the past twenty years, CMU’s customers have doubled and their water withdrawal from the lakes has increased by 77 percent. In addition, the demand on our water resources for recreational uses has significantly increased over the past twenty years. Duke Power recreational use studies indicate that over 10 million people visit the Catawba River reservoirs annually. This number is expected to increase by approximately 11 percent per decade through 2050. The primary recreational use along Mecklenburg County’s streams is the greenway system. In 1987, Mecklenburg County had just begun its greenway development program. By 2007, a total of 33 greenway miles had been developed and 147 miles were planned. The increased demand on our drinking water supply and increased recreational uses accentuate the importance of clean surface water resources for sustaining a livable community in Mecklenburg County. Ever-Changing Waters continued on page 78
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Over the past 20 years, Mecklenburg County has made significant strides in the development of plans and ordinances to control increased pollution from land development activities and meet the demands of our growing population mainly through input from stakeholder groups, including the development community and environmental interest groups. Some of these accomplishments include: 1. November 1988: Mecklenburg County launches a watershed management study to protect water quality conditions in Mountain Island Lake from nonpoint source pollution associated with increased land development activities. CH2M Hill, an environmental consulting firm in Charlotte, is hired by the County to perform a watershed study of Mountain Island Lake, completed in May 1991. 2. December 1991: Stakeholder group convenes to develop a watershed protection plan for Mountain Island Lake using the information collected in the watershed study discussed in #1 above. Consensus is reached regarding the plan in May 1992. 3. January 1, 1993: Charlotte-Mecklenburg begins the operation of a storm water utility, which is funded with a separate storm water fee based on a property’s impervious surface. This utility provides the foundation for future efforts aimed at the control of storm water quality and quantity. 4. March 1993: Watershed protection ordinance goes into effect on Mountain Island Lake based upon the plan developed by the stakeholder group described in #2 above. 5. July 1993: Two separate stakeholder groups convene to develop watershed protection plans for Lake Norman and Upper Lake Wylie, north of the Paw Creek tributary. Consensus is reached on the Lake Wylie plan in December 1993 and on the Lake Norman plan in January 1994. The Post-Construction ordinance requires rain gardens or similar devices in most new developments in Charlotte-Mecklenburg to manage storm water.
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6. November 1993: City of Charlotte initiates efforts for the reduction of pollution in storm water runoff in compliance with its Phase I Storm Water Permit. 7. June 1994: Watershed protection ordinances go into effect on Lake Norman and Upper Lake Wylie based upon the plans developed by the stakeholders groups described in #5. 8. October 1996: Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners (Board) adopts the community’s first Creek Use Policy calling for all surface waters to be “... suitable for prolonged human contact and recreational opportunities and supportive of varied species of aquatic life.” 9. February 1997: Stakeholder group convenes to develop a strategy for fulfilling the Board’s newly adopted Creek Use Policy, which is termed Surface Water Improvement and Management or S.W.I.M. The new initiative focuses considerable effort on addressing non-point source pollution. 10. April 1998: Three-phased S.W.I.M. approach for fulfilling the Creek Use Policy is developed by the stakeholder group and adopted by the Board. 11. June 1998: S.W.I.M. stakeholder group begins deliberations toward developing a countywide stream buffer ordinance for the control of nonpoint source pollution. Consensus is reached in January 1999. 12. July 1998: S.W.I.M. initiative begins based upon the approach outlined by the stakeholder group discussed in #9 above. 13. October 1999: Stakeholder group convenes to develop a watershed protection plan for lower Lake Wylie, south of the Paw Creek tributary. Consensus is reached regarding the plan in May 2000.
20 Years of Protecting Mecklenburg’s Water Quality Creation of a fee-funded storm water utility Watershed Protection Ordinances for Mountain Island Lake, Lake Norman and Upper Lake Wylie Mecklenburg County Creek Use Policy Surface Water Improvement & Management (S.W.I.M.) Ordinances Watershed Management Plan for McDowell Creek Huntersville Low Impact Development Ordinance Post-Construction Storm Water Ordinances
20. March 2005: Charlotte-Mecklenburg Certified Site Inspector (CMCSI) Training begins with the goal of training the private sector to inspect their construction projects for proper sedimentation and erosion control to ensure compliance with local and state regulations. 21. July 2005: Mecklenburg County and the towns of Davidson, Cornelius, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville initiate efforts for the reduction of pollution in storm water runoff in compliance with their Phase II Storm Water Permit.
14. September 2000 and May 2002: CharlotteMecklenburg erosion control ordinances and program efforts are significantly enhanced resulting in increased enforcement.
22. October 2006: Watershed Management Plan is developed and implemented for the McDowell Creek watershed based upon the modeling work completed by Tetra Tech described in #17 above. The objective of this plan is to reduce non-point source pollutants in McDowell Creek and Cove and restore water quality conditions.
15. July 2001: Watershed protection ordinance goes into effect on Lower Lake Wylie based upon the plan developed by the stakeholder group described in #13 above.
23. June 2007: Post-Construction Storm Water ordinances go into effect in the towns based on the ordinance developed by the stakeholder group described in #19.
16. October 1999 through June 2001: Mecklenburg County, City of Charlotte and the towns of Cornelius, Davidson, Huntersville, Matthews, Mint Hill and Pineville adopt the S.W.I.M. ordinance for the establishment of stream buffers countywide.
24. November 2007: Charlotte City Council adopts the Post-Construction Storm Water ordinance developed by the stakeholder group.
17. June 2000: Mecklenburg County contracts with Tetra Tech, an environmental consulting firm, to complete a water quality model for McDowell Creek for the purpose of developing a strategy to control non-point source pollution associated with development activities and restore degraded water quality conditions. 18. February 2003: Town of Huntersville adopts a Low Impact Development (LID) Ordinance for the control of non-point source pollutants in McDowell Creek and the rest of its jurisdiction in response to modeling results provided by Tetra Tech as described in #17 above. 19. April 2004: Stakeholder group convenes to develop a countywide post-construction storm water ordinance for the control of non-point source pollutants. Consensus reached regarding ordinance language in September 2005.
Moving forward, our focus must be on the effective and efficient implementation of these plans and ordinances but alone this will not be enough. We must also work to fix the water quality problems we have created in the past. As a community, we must dedicate ourselves to retrofitting water quality enhancement measures in all areas of Charlotte-Mecklenburg that were developed before plans and ordinances to protect surface water were put in place. This will require the significant expenditure of both public and private funds; however, this is the only way we can ensure that our community can grow and maintain a clean, usable supply of surface water. In the midst of the worst drought in North Carolina history, we have all learned a significant lesson that we cannot take our water resources for granted. They are finite and must be protected. Maintaining this precious resource is costly and difficult but the consequences of failing to do so is unconscionable.
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Mecklenburg County’s Surface Water Improvement and Management (S.W.I.M.) Program By Rusty Rozzelle, Program Manager, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services By 1996, the majority of the creeks in Mecklenburg County had become polluted by rapidly spreading urbanization, and were being underused as a community resource. On October 15, 1996, the Mecklenburg County Board of Commissioners (Board) took a stand in support of clean, usable surface S.W.I.M. logo — 1996 waters through the adoption of the community’s first “Creek Use Policy.” It called for all Mecklenburg County surface waters to be “...suitable for prolonged human contact and recreational opportunities and supportive of varied species of aquatic life.” At that time only about 15 percent of Mecklenburg County’s 3,000 miles of creeks met this standard. Creeks with poorer water quality needed to be restored. Cleaner creeks needed to be protected. The effort to protect and restore water quality conditions in Mecklenburg County to meet the newly adopted “Creek Use Policy” was called Surface Water Improvement and Management or S.W.I.M. Beginning in February 1997, a panel of stakeholders including representatives from development and environmental interest groups (S.W.I.M. Panel) began working diligently with City and County staff to develop a comprehensive strategy aimed at fulfilling the Board’s policy statement. In January 1998, the S.W.I.M. Panel reported back to the Board with a three-phased approach for achieving its “Creek Use Policy.”
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The APPROACH prioritized creek basins and tasks using the philosophy of: • preventing further degradation • preserving the best waters • improving the good and • remediating the worst waters. The following PRINCIPLES were identified to guide S.W.I.M. efforts: • use of a holistic approach in addressing water quality, quantity and green space issues • basin level community involvement and support • basin specific analysis using modeling and stream assessment and • use of proven watershed management techniques. PHASE I focused on the basic steps necessary to address the worst polluters in Mecklenburg County and prevent further water quality degradation. S.W.I.M. Phase I received full funding by the Board beginning in Fiscal Year 1998-1999 and continuing through Fiscal Year 2004-2005. The S.W.I.M. Phase I made significant progress toward improving water quality conditions in Mecklenburg County and fulfilling the Board’s Creek Use Policy. For example, significant efforts focused on the development and implementation of watershedspecific control measures to reduce the two major pollutants in Mecklenburg County: bacteria and sediment. As a result, water quality monitoring data has revealed an overall decrease in bacteria and sediment concentrations in our most polluted streams. This phase of S.W.I.M. also significantly enhanced efforts to protect Mecklenburg County’s drinking water supplies in its western lakes. A riparian buffer program was developed in 1999 and incorporated into local ordinances through S.W.I.M. Phase I to ensure the protection of Mecklenburg’s streams. The implementation of S.W.I.M. Phase I also resulted in the establishment of a comprehensive water quality modeling program supported by
enhanced stream assessments and water quality monitoring activities. Knowing the types and levels of water pollution throughout the County was essential to develop watershed-based management programs as part of Phases II and III. S.W.I.M. Phase I also led to increased coordination between governmental agencies involved in creek construction and restoration activities resulting in the establishment of a holistic creek management effort in Mecklenburg County. Possibly the most significant achievement of S.W.I.M. Phase I was the 40 percent increase in citizen involvement in voluntary creek improvement projects such as:
Charlotte-Mecklenburg streams with total maximum daily loads
• Adopt-a-Stream • Donated easements • Big Sweep • Stream buffer replacement. Read more about the success of volunteer initiatives on p. 82. (“How We Can Prevent Pollution in Creeks and Lakes.”) PHASE II focused on using the tools developed in Phase I to develop a comprehensive watershedbased management program to focus on specific point and non-point source water quality problems in identified special-interest basins. Included are watersheds with impaired surface water quality that have been identified by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for development of Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs). A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a stream can receive and still meet water quality standards. As a result of S.W.I.M Phase II, TMDLs were developed by Charlotte and Mecklenburg County and approved by the EPA for Sugar, Little Sugar, and McAlpine creeks to reduce fecal coliform levels. Phase II also led to watershed management plans for the McDowell Creek basin and Gar Creek basin. McDowell Creek, upstream of Mecklenburg County’s drinking water intake, has suffered considerable water quality degradation since 2000 and is in need of restoration. Gar Creek, which according to data collected by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, is the healthiest stream in the County and is in need of preservation. Low Impact Development (LID) regulations implemented in the Town of Huntersville as part of S.W.I.M. Phase II have established effective measures for protecting these important surface water resources.
PHASE III focuses on using the watershedbased managed tools perfected in Phase II to address water quality degradation in all those basins not addressed in previous phases of S.W.I.M. and ensure that all the waters in Mecklenburg County comply with the Board’s Creek Use Policy. The focus of Phase III has been in the McDowell and Goose Creek watersheds. In October 2006, a comprehensive watershed management plan was developed and implemented for McDowell Creek. Restoration efforts are identified and prioritized in this plan and to date over $1.7 million in grants have been received and matched locally with over $1.5 million for implementation of the plan. A watershed management plan is currently under development to restore water quality conditions in Goose Creek. This plan will be completed and implemented by July 1, 2008. The implementation of S.W.I.M. Phase III continues through Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services’ Capital Improvement Program (CIP). The overall goal of S.W.I.M. is to fulfill the Board’s Creek Use Policy by 2015. As of September 30, 2007, 62 percent of the surface waters in the county were determined to be suitable for human contact based on bacteria levels, which represents a 47-percent increase in the 10 years since the implementation of S.W.I.M. in 1997. Although progress has been made, much work remains to be done to fulfill the goal.
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How Can We Prevent Pollution in Creeks and Lakes - and Does it Really Matter? By Erin Oliverio, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Educator Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, Water Quality Program Water is our most precious natural resource. The water that exists on Earth today is the same water that was here millions of years ago. It is a finite resource, and as our community deals with the impact of unprecedented drought, it is more important than ever that the citizens of Mecklenburg take pride in the streams, creeks, and lakes that crisscross our community. To understand how easily we can affect our water, it is helpful to understand how water collects. Water runs downhill and drains into streams, lakes, and rivers. The area of land that all drains to one point is known as a watershed. We all live in one.
Learning your watershed address will help you to better appreciate how your lifestyle influences your local waterways. Consider your daily habits: • • • • • •
How do you maintain your lawn and garden? How do you care for your car? How often do you dispose of cooking grease? What kind of detergents and household cleaners do you use? How do you dispose of common and toxic household wastes? How many pets do you have and where is their waste deposited?
If you were the only person making these everyday decisions, the effects would be minimal. But you are one of more than 850,000 people in Mecklenburg County whose everyday choices — both positive and negative — add up quickly. The following stories are a few ways local residents are making positive differences in their watersheds.
Everyone lives in a watershed. Find out your watershed address at http://stormwater.charmeck.org
What does your watershed have to do with you? It means stopping pollution before it begins in your own backyard. How could what you do in your yard affect water quality? At any point along its journey, rain or runoff can be tainted by things like illegal dumping, or the overuse of pesticides. That is why it is important to know what you can do to help prevent pollution. 82
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From left: Tyler Butts, Zayne Laubach, Robby Stroud, Rachel Sheppard, Danny Stroud, Matthew Stroud (front), and Steven Sheppard get ready to clean a tributary that runs through Auten Nature Preserve.
Neighborhood Kids Adopt a Stream In May 2006, the Stroud family contacted Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services about adopting the stream running through the nature preserve behind their house. In speaking with them, it was discovered that illegal dumping was going on
Farrell O’Quinn (far right) brings students from Covenant Day School to participate in Big Sweep 2007.
in the nature preserve. Storm Water Services, Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation, and the Strouds worked to remove all the large items including tires, mattresses, rusted barrels and other debris. Since that initial clean-up, the Strouds along with other neighborhood children who play in the nature preserve and tributary to McDowell Creek have continued to be “watch dogs” for the area, cleaning up the waterway, and reporting illegal dumping. Without these kids taking ownership of a natural area, the land, water and wildlife would have suffered. Instead, they help keep it a pristine wilderness area to be enjoyed. Water Watchers Report Fish Kill in Little Sugar Creek Storm Water Services relies on citizens to alert staff of unusual conditions in our creeks and lakes. On Saturday, September 1, 2007, early morning users of the Little Sugar Creek Greenway noticed many dead fish in the creek. They correctly called 911 to report the incident. A pressure washing company had used a chemical to wash the parking lot of a nearby business. The chemical and water mixture flowed into a nearby storm drain and emptied directly into Little Sugar Creek. The cleaning chemical lowered the pH of the water enough to kill all aquatic life in its path. Without the concerned citizens that called to report the incident, the company might never have known what had happened. Instead, Storm Water Services responded, tracked the chemical to its source, and got the company to stop its activity. The company at fault had to remove all dead fish from the creek, was issued a State Notice of Violation, and could face fines up to $10,000. Volunteers Remove Over 8 Tons of Trash from Local Waterways Charlottemissing from Something’s Mecklenburg creeks and lake shorelines: about 16,000 pounds of trash. More than 600 volunteers took part in 2007’s “Big Sweep” in Mecklenburg County. The annual event, coordinated by Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, is part of a statewide cleanup of waterways.
Volunteers were invited to gather at one of eight Big Sweep sites around Mecklenburg County or clean up a creek or lake shoreline near their home and report their individual results on line. The most commonly found items were bottles and cans. Among the more unusual finds were three refrigerators, an engine block, a TV, the back seat from a new car, and an artificial Christmas tree. The number of pounds of trash collected was up more than 40 percent from 2006. Just four hours of time on a Saturday was enough to remove more than eight tons of trash from local waterways.
Citizen involvement is an integral part of our program; one Storm Water Services could not do without. With nearly 3,000 miles of streams and 167 miles of lake shoreline in Mecklenburg County, staff relies on citizens to be our eyes in the field. Whether you make a long-term commitment to your neighborhood creek, volunteer a couple of hours a year, or make a phone call to report unusual stream conditions, you are helping to protect our region’s most valuable natural resource. Mecklenburg County, NC 83
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Sediment has created this sand bar in Torrence Creek in Huntersville. The stream banks are badly eroded, exposing tree roots and threatening bank stability.
The Dirt on Muddy Creeks: Why Mecklenburg County Works So Hard To Stop Erosion By Corey Priddy, Environmental Specialist, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services Sediment is the most prevalent pollutant in Mecklenburg County lakes and streams. Simply put, sediment is dirt. The particles get into the water through soil erosion. Erosion can occur within the stream channel itself or it can occur away from the stream and the dirt particles are carried into the stream by storm water runoff. When excess sediment enters into a lake or stream, it immediately starts to damage the water body. It covers the natural substrate located on the bottom of
Sediment washes down storm drains and flows directly into streams
the lakes and streams, it transports other pollutants with it, and it can build up within the waterways blocking the flow of the water. Federal studies 1 indicate sediment pollution causes $16 billion in environmental damage in North America each year. Excess sediment can cover streambeds, destroying the habitat where the smallest aquatic organisms live. The organisms can be plants or animals. Sediment deposits fill in the naturally occurring space between the natural sand and gravel bottoms of the streams. This interstitial space is where many macroinvertebrates live and r e pr oduc e . A s this interstitial Carolina space becomes Heelsplitter filled with
Osterkamp, W. R., P. Heilman, and L. J. Lane. 1998. Economic Considerations of Continental Sediment-Monitoring Program. International Journal of Sediment Research
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Badly eroded stream bank
sediment, habitat loss occurs for a multitude of benthic plants and animals. This diminishes the biodiversity of the stream and can disrupt the entire food chain. The most notable benthic organism in our area is the Carolina heelsplitter, a mussel on the federal Endangered Species list. For years, sediment deposits are thought to have been a leading cause of of habitat destruction for the Carolina heelsplitter. Sediment also transports other pollutants along with it. Phosphorous and nitrogen, two of the main nutrients in fertilizer, easily attach themselves to dirt particles. Storm water runoff carries sediment and nutrients from the land into the storm drainage system, which flows untreated to streams and lakes. Phosphorus and nitrogen can be dangerous to aquatic systems. Algae blooms can occur when nutrient levels become too high. The algae blooms use up the dissolved oxygen in the water and can lead to large fish kills or make swimmers sick. One source of excess phosphorous and nitrogen in our water is runoff from construction sites. Around the County, farmland is being converted to commercial or residential uses. This land usually contains higher levels of phosphorous and nitrogen. If sediment from these sites is allowed to enter into our streams and lakes, excessive amounts of nutrients will be transported along with it. Sediment accumulation can also clog our streams and rivers, and fill in our lakes. The weight of sediment causes it to eventually sink to the bottom and collect in areas of slower moving water. The deposited sediment often forms sand bars. As the sand bars grow, they can begin to impede the flow of water during high flow events, possibly leading to localized flooding.
The two most common sources for excessive sediment are eroding stream and riverbanks, and construction site runoff. The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that stream bank erosion produces 30 percent of the total sediment in the United States. Accelerated erosion from human use of land accounts for the other 70 percent. A s M e c k l e n b u r g County becomes more developed, there is an increase of impervious area and a decrease of pervious area. Rain that used to fall on forested land now flows off rooftops and parking lots, down storm drains and directly into our streams. As a result, more water from a rain event enters the stream faster, creating a greater peak runoff. This large volume of water moving through the stream channel is more than the channel can handle. The channel starts eroding to make the path of the stream larger. The channel will continue eroding with each rain event until it reaches a size that will handle the larger peak volumes of water. As additional upstream areas are developed, the peak runoff will continue to increase. This creates Erosion continued on page 86
Years of stream bank erosion cause trees to tumble, making banks more unstable
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cycles of stream bank erosion. The scouring of the stream banks places a significant amount of excess sediment into the stream channel. To slow the rate of stream bank erosion, the peak runoff entering into the streams must be decreased. The PostConstruction Ordinance described in detail on p. 88 contains provisions to reduce the amount the peak runoff entering local stream channels. One goal of this recently adopted ordinance is to temporarily capture a majority of the runoff from newly constructed sites and gradually release it into streams in a slower manner that mimics the natural hydrology of the area. Detaining the runoff for a period of time helps to prevent future increases in the peak runoff and breaks the cycle of continual stream bank erosion. Some local creeks have unstable banks or even bank collapses due to years of severe stream bank erosion cycles. Mecklenburg County partners with the City of Charlotte, leveraging local storm water fees to obtain grants to restore degraded streams. During stream restoration, the stream channel is rebuilt and often reshaped. The banks are stabilized to help prevent future scour and channel erosion. Where possible, detention devices are added to the surrounding floodplain to reduce flooding risks that might occur in high water flows. Stream restoration
does not prevent streams from flooding, but can reduce the amount of bank erosion during flood events. The second source of excessive sediment in our surface water is from construction activities. As sites are cleared for mass grading, the land is left exposed. The absence of ground cover makes it very easy for water to transport sediment from the construction site into the storm drainage system, eventually ending up in our lakes and streams. Reducing erosion from construction sites is a joint effort between Mecklenburg County Land Development and Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. Currently there are 554 active projects within Mecklenburg County. The County staff inspect all active construction sites approximately every two weeks, and any site located within a sensitive area (adjacent to a creek or wetland, or located with a Critical Watershed) is inspected weekly. All of the erosion and sedimentation control measures are inspected as well as where the storm drainage system leaves the site. If deficiencies are found or sediment has left the site, the Environmental Specialist may issue a Notice of Violation, which could carry a penalty of up to $5,000 per day until the violation is corrected.
Mecklenburg County Erosion Control Projects
Flattened silt fences at construction sites could lead to fines
Stricter measures to control erosion and sedimentation are required in areas designated as “Critical Watersheds.” Mecklenburg County has identified three environmentally sensitive areas as Critical Watersheds: McDowell Creek and Gar Creek in western Cornelius and Huntersville, and Goose Creek in Mint Hill. McDowell and Gar Creeks are close to Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility’s (CMU) 86
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Extra rows of silt fences are required during construction in Critical Watersheds
Mecklenburg County uses a combination of regulations, restoration projects, and education to stop soil erosion of stream banks and from construction sites. This effort comes from a desire to help prevent the detrimental effects of sediment in our lakes and streams. As the County’s population continues to grow, so will the need to protect our surface water from excessive sediment pollution. Where McDowell Creek empties into Mountain Island Lake, sediment clogs McDowell Creek Cove
drinking water intakes and Goose Creek is home to an endangered species. McDowell Creek and McDowell Creek Cove in Mountain Island Lake have shown a significant decline in water quality conditions over the past two decades. According to the North Carolina Department of Water Quality (DWQ), McDowell Creek is impaired due to biological integrity. DWQ reports that the impairment is due to land development. Gar Creek also empties into Mountain Island Lake, immediately upstream of the CMU water intake. Currently Gar Creek is one of the cleanest streams in the County. Goose Creek is an impaired stream and DWQ has listed one of the potential sources of the impairment to Goose Creek as construction. It is Mecklenburg County’s desire to maintain the water quality of Gar Creek and improve the water quality of McDowell Creek and Goose Creek. One tool is imposing additional erosion control measures when land is developed or re-developed in these vulnerable watersheds. Mecklenburg County, NC
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Post-Construction Controls: The Next Big Thing In Water Quality By Don Ceccarelli, P.E., Project Manager, Mecklenburg County Water Quality Program Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services Most citizens within Mecklenburg County would not consider themselves polluters of our creeks, lakes, or drinking water, and most would not intentionally contaminate our waterways by dumping oil or chemicals down a storm drain or discharging raw sewage into our streams. However, by living or working in Mecklenburg County, we contribute pollution to our surface waters through increased storm water runoff. While we must be willing to accept some level of pollution to have a community, we must also do our part to reduce our impact on the environment. To promote environmental stewardship at Grand Canyon National Park in Arizona, there is a common saying among the local community to remind visitors to “leave only footprints.” As our community grows, we may leave more than footprints but we must continually do our part to practice environmental stewardship as well. In Mecklenburg County, the City of Charlotte and the incorporated towns, elected officials have done their part to protect water quality by enacting one of the most significant pieces of water quality legislation on record, the Post-Construction Storm Water Ordinance. On June 30, 2007, Mecklenburg County and the incorporated towns implemented PostConstruction Storm Water Ordinances designed to reduce the effect of development by providing
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long-term protection our streams and lakes from pollution and to protect our homes and roads from flooding. The Charlotte City Council adopted the Post-Construction ordinance in November 2007 to take effect July 1, 2008. As part of the federal Clean Water Act and related Phase II Storm Water Rules, the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission promulgated rules requiring urbanized areas (of which Mecklenburg County is one) to control storm water runoff and discharges. Mecklenburg County and the incorporated towns were issued a joint Phase II permit in July 2005 that required implementation of a Post-Construction Site Controls Program. The purpose of the PostConstruction program is to address pollution contained in storm water runoff from new development and redevelopment projects. The state minimum requirements for this element include: • • • • •
Issuing a storm water permit Prohibiting built-upon area along certain streams Recording deed restrictions related to storm water control Controlling storm water runoff volume Installing and maintaining structural storm water treatment systems to remove pollutants
While the Post-Construction Storm Water ordinance will not restore the environmental effects from existing development, the ordinance will provide long-term reduction of pollution from new development and redeveloped areas of the County. The Vision for Water Quality Protection Elected officials in Mecklenburg County and the incorporated towns cast their vision for environmental stewardship by adopting ordinances that not only meet the state-minimum PostConstruction requirements, but go even further to protect the environment. Why did elected officials take a stance of going beyond what was required while other surrounding communities elected just to meet the state minimum requirements? As part of the Mecklenburg County’s Environmental Leadership Policy statement, the future and existing resources of the County should be used “wisely for the benefit of the citizens.” Rather than developing ordinances to meet only the minimum state requirements, other surface water quality needs in the community were evaluated to determine if multiple goals could be met through development of a Post-Construction program. City, County and town staffs developed the following goals: • •
Meet the requirements of the Phase II storm water permit. Address cumulative and secondary impacts to aquatic life and water quality in watersheds with listed endangered species. This goal was added to meet the guidelines of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife to gain support to expand water and sewer services to areas of the County that contain threatened or endangered species. Minimize additional impaired stream listings (303(d) listed streams) which are streams classified by the EPA as not meeting their intended uses. Currently, 73 percent of all streams in Mecklenburg County are not meeting their intended uses. Address detention for control of storm water volume and peaks. This goal was added to address growing flooding issues in our County.
Since all these goals have an impact on future development and the environment, elected officials supported the development of a stakeholders’ group with the purpose of developing a storm water ordinance that met all four goals.
Stakeholders were selected from the leading environmental, development, community, and scientific groups in Mecklenburg County, the City of Charlotte and the towns and deliberated for 18 months to develop a model Post-Construction Storm Water ordinance. Mecklenburg County and the towns made minor revisions to the model ordinance prior to adoption, and the resulting ordinances took effect on June 30, 2007. The City of Charlotte’s version of the ordinance takes effect July 1, 2008. How Will The Post Construction Ordinance Protect Water Quality? The Post-Construction Ordinance contains four main criteria that protect water quality: • • • •
Installation of Structural Best Management Practices (BMPs) Increase in Stream buffers Installation of Storm Water Detention Structures Preservation of Undisturbed Open Space
Storm water treatment structures or Best Management Practices (BMPs) are required to control pollutant loading to our streams and lakes that come from overland flow (or runoff) from rain events. (Read more about BMPs on p. 92.) The BMPs are designed to remove two of the main pollutants in runoff: total suspended solids (TSS) such as sediment and total phosphorus (TP) which often comes from excess fertilizer and atmospheric deposition on paved surfaces. The BMPs are designed such that for every 100 pounds of TSS pollution in storm water runoff that enters a BMP, only 15 pounds of pollution leaves and flows into our streams and lakes. Requiring BMPs complies with minimum state standards, helps reduce pollutant Post-Construction continued on page 90
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loading to our streams, and helps maintain habitat for threatened and endangered species within our streams. In some areas of the County, BMPs are also required to remove 70 percent of TP, which provides enhanced removal of pollution from storm water.
protect our roadways, dwellings, and critical habitat areas of our streams. Undisturbed Open Space
Stream buffers serve an important function in meeting multiple goals. Stream buffers soak up rainfall which reduces runoff, absorb certain pollutants (such as nitrogen and total phosphorus) via plant update, shade creeks which reduces stream temperature (or thermal pollution), and provides food and habitat for threatened and endangered species. Under the ordinance, buffers range from 30 feet in width on either side of the stream up to 200 feet depending on the stream size, classification, and level of protection required. Detention Historically, detention (the slowing down of storm water runoff) has been required for industrial and commercial developments. Under the new Post-Construction Ordinance, detention is required for residential development as well. Increased storm water runoff from developed areas is a major contributor to flash flooding of buildings and roads. As development occurs, more storm water runs into our streams and the water flows faster. As storm water volume and velocity increase, the stream channel cannot hold the all of the water results in flooding, or the stream banks erode causing sediment pollution to our surface waters. By detaining storm water runoff, the flow of storm water into our streams can be controlled to reduce the risk of flash flooding and stream bank erosion. Detention helps 90
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The amount of undisturbed open space required by the ordinance varies from 10 to 25 percent of developed area depending on the amount of hard surfaces (built-upon area) of a development. The requirement for maintaining undisturbed vegetated open space for new developments helps protect water quality by reducing the impervious area of developments. The water quality benefits of undisturbed open space can be illustrated by evaluating a one inch rainfall event under two different conditions. In Mecklenburg County, 90 percent of all rainfall events are one-inch or less, and a oneacre parcel of wooded land will absorb a one-inch rainfall event and produce virtually no runoff to the downstream creek. However, if the trees on that same one-acre parcel of wooded land are cut down and replaced with a paved parking lot, the downstream creek will receive more than 27,000 gallons of storm water from each one-inch rainfall. To accommodate this additional runoff, the stream will flood and its banks will erode. This stream bank erosion then causes sediment pollution in our streams and lakes. By requiring undisturbed open space, the Post-Construction Ordinance will help reduce runoff from new development. Historically, our community was founded, in part, because of our water resources. As our community continues to grow, the PostConstruction Ordinance will help protect that resource for the benefit our current and future citizens.
Challenges of Meeting Water Quality Standards in an Urban Environment By Jeff Hieronymus, Water Quality Modeler, City Water Quality Team Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services Newspaper articles that appeared in the local media the late 1960s painted a bleak picture of water quality conditions in Charlotte area streams. Headlines such as “Catch Any Fish In Sugar? You Can Forget About It” and “The Creek Is Simply A Sewer” were an indication of the level of pollution impacting the environment within our community. When Congress passed the Clean Water Act (CWA) in 1972, it forced states and local municipalities to enact regulations aimed at reversing the environmental degradation that, until that critical point in our nation’s history, had largely gone unchecked. The CWA was initially focused on controlling sources of pollution coming from a point source that discharged directly into a stream. The most common point sources were wastewater treatment plants, industries, and livestock operations that discharged waste including harmful contaminants into waterways without treating it. While the nation’s streams are arguably in better shape than they were before the CWA took effect, we now find another source of pollution is impairing our streams’ ecosystems: non-point sources. Non-Point Source Pollution Non-point source pollution is another term for polluted storm water runoff. This type of pollution results when precipitation falls and the runoff flows across land, picking up and transporting pollutants as the rainwater flows to storm drains, through pipes, and directly to streams. Pollutants on land surfaces include sediment, bacteria, nutrients, oils, metals, litter, pesticides, and herbicides. The pollution carried by storm water is one threat to the health of streams; the amount of
storm water is another. As impervious areas such as roads, parking lots and driveways increase so does the amount of runoff generated when it rains. Instead of being absorbed into the ground, precipitation runs off impervious surfaces at an increased rate. The change in flow and velocities can cause streambank erosion and stream degradation. The results can be devastating to aquatic life. Addressing non-point pollution is challenging because of the nature of the source. The pollution in storm water runoff is generated over a large area and is transferred to streams through a complex pipe network. End-of-pipe treatments that are a common solution to point sources of pollution are not an option to address non-point sources. No matter how big the challenge is to address non-point sources of pollution, recent changes to interpretations of the CWA require state and local governments to address these pollution sources. Mechanisms to Address Non-Point Source Pollution There are various methods to remove many non-point source pollutants from storm water runoff before the contaminants reach our streams. Storm water treatment devices such as wet ponds and constructed wetlands control the quality and amount of runoff. The devices are designed so that the rate of runoff leaving a new development is equal or less to the rate of runoff from the same site before development. These devices also are designed to decrease the amount of pollution in runoff from the site. Other provisions to address non-point sources of pollution Urban Environment continued on page 92
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air surface water land solid waste Urban Environment continued from page 91
include adequate stream buffers and setting aside “no-build” zones to maintain a percentage of natural area on a planned development. The measures, commonly referred to as best management practices (BMPs), are constructed at individual development sites as a way to minimize the overall costs of protecting surface waters from pollution as runoff travels to streams, rivers, and lakes.
What is a BMP? The Environmental Protection Agency defines a Storm Water Best Management Practice as: “technique, measure or structural control that is used for a given set of conditions to manage the quantity and improve the quality of storm water runoff in the most cost-effective manner.” Storm Water BMPs include: • Rain gardens • Wetlands • Green roofs • Retention ponds A structural BMP is a storm water management system based on nature’s best designs. These systems are built into the ground. BMPs can be constructed near pollution sources such as parking lots, large buildings, or residential developments. BMPs are also effective along streams or other bodies of water. By their design, many BMPs remove selected pollutants. That prevents the contaminants from being carried by flowing water into creeks or lakes. Some BMPs absorb or temporarily retain excess storm water runoff, reducing flood risks. Different BMPs have different purposes. Choosing the right BMP depends on the amount of storm water runoff, types of pollutants in the runoff, and land features such as slope, soil type, and development density. BMP Retrofit - Rain gardens were added to this shopping mall parking lot on Freedom Drive
2008 State of the Environment Report
Costs of Not Implementing Non-Point Source Controls Many storm water management studies indicate that the most cost-effective approach is to plan and design for the minimization of pollutants in storm water discharges. In looking at the costs to retrofit degraded streams, the choice becomes obvious. A recent analysis conducted by CharlotteMecklenburg Storm Water Services (SWS) was designed to identify the gap between current conditions and water quality standards. Water quality data was analyzed from four urbanized watersheds to determine an order-of-magnitude cost to SWS to remove the excess pounds of sediment to meet the water quality standard. According to data in our most developed watersheds, it could cost on an order of $1 billion to meet water quality standards in those four basins alone. This dollar figure does not include the costs to fix flooding problems. The cost to retrofit and restore a degraded stream to meet its designated use is high. According to data from the SWS BMP Pilot Program, it costs on average $10,000 per acre of drainage area to design and construct a water quality retrofit BMP. This cost does not include the cost of land to build the BMP as, until this point, the land for these pilot projects was obtained by SWS through donated easements. The costs to retrofit a degraded stream in an urban setting are significant. The storm water utility spends an average of $450 per linear foot of stream to design, construct, and restore a degraded stream reach to a more natural condition. When these costs are aggregated to the watershed scale, one can begin to see how reversing degraded stream conditions can become very
expensive. SWS recently completed a watershed retrofit project of the Edwards Branch Watershed, which is a tributary of Briar Creek. The costs to design and construct various BMPs and perform stream restoration in this one square mile watershed were over $3 million. Other recent stream restoration projects completed by Storm Water Services include: •
Irwin Creek is one of many in Charlotte-Mecklenburg that was straightened decades ago
Little Sugar Creek near Westfield Road at a cost of $2.4 million (not including $12 million to acquire floodplain land) Little Sugar Creek at Hidden Valley at a cost of $3.1 million (not including an additional $1.3 million to acquire floodplain land) Bruns Avenue Wetland at a cost of $500,000 Shade Valley Pond Retrofit at a cost of $228,000.
Stream restoration on Little Sugar Creek
Many similar projects must be built before our community begins to see a reversal in our degraded stream conditions. Challenges in an Urban Environment It is particularly challenging to manage storm water in a rapidly urbanizing environment. Because density is often a goal, land planners try to get the most yield out of a parcel of property. As natural areas are converted to rooftops and parking lots, there is more storm water to manage. When the stream has more water than it can handle and cannot spill the excess into a natural floodplain, the result is streambank erosion. Another challenge is dealing with historical land development practices. Until the late 1970s, development inside local floodplains was not restricted. Until 1998, local stream buffers were not protected. Local streams with the highest pollution levels and highest risk of
flooding are those without buffers and where buildings were constructed in the floodplain. Altered stream channels also create storm water management problems today. The paradigm for dealing with storm water in the past was to send the water downstream as fast as possible. In the mid-20th century, the Army Corps of Engineers straightened local streams to move water quickly. The technique did not stop flooding. Instead, it removed the naturally occurring twists and turns that are indicative of a healthy stream. Without meanders and access to a floodplain, the amount of water in a stream during storm events can rise very high, sometimes to the point where the water becomes destructive. Severe streambank erosion and downcutting are commonly seen in streams that have been altered from their natural condition. Urban Environment continued on page 94
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Uncapping and restoring Little Sugar Creek near uptown will cost more than $4 million, not including the cost of acquiring land and building a greenway
Urban Environment continued from page 93
Regulatory Environment Despite these challenges, the regulatory climate suggests local governments must take a proactive approach to meet water quality standards and avoid restoration mandates. As our community continues to grow, there is a need to provide necessary regulatory mechanisms to ensure that growth takes place in an environmentally sustainable fashion. If the regulatory measures are not in place, it could jeopardize the ability of municipalities to annex new areas or redevelop areas that are already urbanized. State officials look to see if adequate ordinances are in place before issuing permits for utility expansion in suburban areas or expanding capacity of utilities within the urbanized area of the community. Quality of Life Irrespective of the consequences of meeting regulatory requirements, there are many quality of life issues that should be considered with regards to water quality management. Who is affected by a degraded environment? What is the value of clean streams and lakes? When does the level of environmental impairment start to affect economic development? How should towns, cities and counties address environmental issues? These are some of the questions that should be considered when determining the level of environmental protection that is appropriate for an urbanizing area. Anecdotal evidence, backed up by scientific studies, suggests citizens want to live in environmentally sustainable communities. A recent 94
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analysis completed by the City of Charlotte found that “Increasing numbers of people are concerned about the natural environment ... A healthy environment, rather than viewed as an added bonus, is now seen as one of an area’s prime economic assets.” The study also identified the value capture of open space and stream buffers to economic development and property values. Ordinance provisions such as open space and stream buffer protection “... provide an opportunity to leverage environmental protection into an additional value creation from the perspective of project cost.” With regards to attracting talented workers, communities are “... competing for the best people, and if you don’t have the quality of life and quality of place, you won’t get talented people. Skilled talent calls the shots in where and how they want to work.” Public Costs Every year, SWS receives thousands of requests for service regarding erosion, flooding, stream blockages, and pollution. The costs to address these problems are shared by the entire community. We have choices of whether to be proactive or reactive concerning flooding and sustainability. We have made a progress since the Clean Water Act of the 1970s and since the first State of the Environment Report in 1987. However, we still face significant challenges to meet water quality standards. These challenges and choices must be carefully considered as elected officials make decisions about our development practices and how our region supports sustainable growth.