Stream Restoration/Enhancement Toolkit

Stream Restoration Projects improve water quality of streams, lakes, ponds and wetlands throughout Mecklenburg County. Having a safe and healthy stream system is not only beneficial to today’s family but also essential to future generations. Our goal at Storm Water Services is to have streams that are safe and clean where children can play, fish, catch bugs and experience nature.

The following Stream Restoration Toolkit was created to help residents understand the importance properly functioning streams and the natural infrastructure they provide to move stormwater.

Material provided are related to Mecklenburg County projects and may be slightly different for City of Charlotte or Town projects.

The Benefits of Mecklenburg County Stream Enhancement Projects Brochure

Mecklenburg County's creeks and tributaries act as mother nature's stormwater infrastructure moving excess water during heavy rain events. Most of the time they function at low water levels providing the county with its most important natural resource. During heavy rain events, a creek can quickly change from a clear peaceful stream to a swift-flowing river carrying sediment and debris.

Slow-moving summer thunderstorms and tropical systems occasionally produce heavy rains in our area leading to high-velocity water flow in our streams. Combined with rapid growth in our community the increase in stormwater along with past neglect contributes to our creeks degrading and stream banks collapsing.

The following pictures show the effects of high-velocity streamflow during heavy rain events. As soil is eroded away, a tree's root mass is exposed and eventually falls. It was estimated over 650 tons of soil was eroded away annually from a one-and-a-half-mile section of Stevens Creek before the county's restoration project began in 2016.

Charlotte Mecklenburg Storm Water Services performed a stream restoration project at the confluence of Torrence Creek and McDowell Creek in northern Mecklenburg County. Notice how quickly the water rises as a thunderstorm passes over the area because the water can spread out the flow and the speed of the water is reduced; erosion is minimal and there is less debris floating in the creek.

Restoration projects result in fewer massive blockages but debris is to be expected where roads cross the creeks the debris tends to accumulate and must be frequently removed by crews after large storms.

Eventually, large trees will grow in this area to further protect the creek banks, shade the stream and filter pollutants. This becomes a properly functioning stream system.

Here are a couple of comparisons of stream banks eroded by high fast-moving stormwater to the same area after a stream restoration project has been completed.

In all the before photos, notice the high vertical stream banks that have been scoured by erosion and the tree's root mass is exposed, trees have fallen and they lay across the creek.

Compare that to the post-construction photos where the stream banks are laid back and new vegetation has been planted.

Eroding stream banks and large debris can also threaten utilities such as sanitary sewer pipes that carry waste, gas and power lines and greenway trails used for recreation. Here's a sewer line break along Stewart Creek before a stream enhancement project was started.

Many times, creeks are hidden behind homes, businesses or within forests. They are a natural infrastructure that transports large volumes of water during rain events. Floodplains are meant to flood during heavy rain events. Excess stormwater spreads throughout the flood plain.

This video of Six Mile Creek in Mecklenburg County shows how widespread stormwater can get throughout the floodplain. So, what is being done to ensure our creeks can weather the storm during heavy rains?

First-off, regulations on new construction will minimize the impact of community growth, plus we must improve our natural infrastructure system by opening up flood plains and restoring streams.

For more information about Charlotte Mecklenburg Storm Water Services go to our website StormWater.CharMeck.org.

Mecklenburg County's lakes and streams are its most important natural resource providing residents with their drinking water supply and many community amenities. However, as the county's population continues to grow, these water resources and aquatic organisms living there are increasingly threatened by the quality and quantity of the stormwater flowing into them.  

Over the last decade, Charlotte Mecklenburg Storm Water Services has been initiating efforts to protect water quality and restore degraded stream channels as a way to promote the return of various aquatic life. Elected officials thought it was important to put rules in place to help clean our streams. 

"You know back in the 90s and 2000s there was a lot of effort put together to try and come up with rules that would allow us to, in the short term as well as long term, improve water quality habitat around our creeks and streams and just make them better for people and for wildlife." David Woody, Project Manager for Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services explains why there is a need for stream restoration projects. "The fact that a new community or a new shopping center or a new roadway is being built upstream, mother nature does not account for that and over the years that is what has eroded a lot of the stream banks where we have a larger volume of water to contend with."  

The construction phase of a stream restoration project displaces the animals living both in the water and along the stream banks. During this phase of construction, large equipment may be in the stream, the stream channel may be moved and many trees and soil may be removed from the banks.  

The ecological recovery of a stream and adjacent area happens in three stages, immediate short-term, 2-5 years or long term. Olivia Edwards, Environmental Supervisor from Mecklenburg County's  Water Quality Program says ecological recovery starts immediately after construction is completed. "Shortly after construction we get that heavy equipment out of the stream and it's now filled with all types of different habitat. The stream banks have been pulled back and are stable, there's vegetation that's been planted along the stream bank. We start seeing those bugs and those fish, they find out hey here's a great spot for us to live and we'll start seeing them come back."  

After construction, field staff will compare what has changed to the local ecology.  "Nature is great at trying to figure out what is going to work best given the habitat that's been given and what we typically see after a stream project is a good colonization by animals. It may not be the same stuff that was here before but we know that we're improving habitat  for a certain component of our wildlife."  

A primary goal of a stream restoration project is to create a habitat where bugs, fish and other organisms can find shelter. Ripples and other design features make the water move quickly, creating oxygen needed by all aquatic life. "When  we see those organisms come back it's a measure of success." Little bugs are the base of the food chain and fish eat the bugs, mammals and birds eat the fish. A whole eco-web is created and a  restoration project restores that base. "But when we are in an urban environment like we are where we have constant growth with constant development, a stream is never going to fix itself, it's never going to be able to get back to a place where it's got habitat back. It's got stream banks that are stable that it's got good vegetation. So, we have to come in and we have to engineer these  streams to get them back to a state where they are engineered but that they more mimic the natural you know a natural stream system."  

Immediately after construction, vegetation is planted along the stream bank but it's small typically you'll see a lot of open areas. In the short term and long term stages shrubs and trees will grow larger filling in the open spaces.  The vegetation buffer creates an area that other wildlife amphibians, birds and mammals can utilize making this area an ideal place for a greenway to offer an opportunity for the community to recreate and connect with nature. "I talk a lot about,  you know bugs and fish and it's hard for people to make a connection with that, you know, why should I care about a bug and a fish, but again like those organisms are the base of food webs and so us having a good population of bugs and fish it's not just about that single population it's about that it creates a system that allows us to support all types of ecological diversity. Plants and animals and we all benefit from that we and we all benefit from clean water what would happen to our streams. "If the county and our community  didn't support stream restoration projects, the banks would collapse, trees would fall in, if we get enough trees falling in, it could create a  blockage and then we get additional flooding  locally which could impact someone's house." 

Streams should be thought of as infrastructure,  just like roadways and pipes. They need repairs and improvements. Creeks are the ultimate infrastructure because they not only carry stormwater but they create the foundation for a vitally important ecosystem, neglecting them would be a terrible mistake for our community for the future in and around Mecklenburg  County. "I think that we're going to continue  to have opportunities to do aquatic restoration, be able to provide not only stream restoration  projects but also public recreation, like the greenway that we have here. Being able to combine  habitat restoration whether it's aquatic or trees and do that with a park project like a greenway  or another park, I mean it's it just really makes for a really good business and it's very smart." 

When you see bugs and fish thriving in area creeks, it's a reminder that you live in a community that cares about clean water, healthy streams, recreational opportunities and the overall safety of its residents.

Hi, I'm John Wendel Senior Communication  Specialists at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. In this video, I want to describe what a property owner can expect when a stream restoration project is constructed in your neighborhood. Mecklenburg County has approximately 3,000 miles of creeks all of which originate in the county, the Catawba River is the only exception. These creeks are extremely important to the well-being of our environment economy and citizens. Stream restoration provides erosion control and improves water quality. David Woody, Project Manager describes the work done during one of these operations. Sediment is the number one pollutant in Mecklenburg County and a lot of that is due to a lot of the vertical banks. Where the stream gets up it carves the bank out the trees are falling in there's no vegetation, no root mass or the lack of root mass and that sort of continues. So we want to slope the banks back, plant new vegetation. Get some new growth going, new root mass on that to basically protect the stream long-term. Mecklenburg County Storm  Water Services launch new projects every year to improve and protect the water quality of local creeks. How is a creek pick for restoration? First, we start out using our Water Quality Department who do stream walks annually so they have the eyes and the boots on the ground to sort of give us a heads-up of what's going on, but at the same time, we also look at it from a  public standpoint. Number one, how many houses or properties are tied to that project, is it a long county property where we may have easy access to get into the stream. Number two, is it long enough to actually benefit spending the dollar clearing falling trees. Removing blockages can help reduce the threat of flooding. A lot of the times we see a lot of debris blockages that you may see behind me right now. These are trees that were actually in the bank at one time and overtime as that erosion has happened these trees fall in and get washed downstream with a lot of the storms that occur. Now a lot of times distance causes a backwater event where you have a lot of debris that it starts piling up and that can create some localized flooding. Project managers will ask for easement rights from property owners directly affected by the stream restoration project. Why is a signed easement from a property owner so important to the project? Typically, it's privately owned so we want to get an easement so we have access to get on the property, partner with that property owner so we can make improvements that are gonna benefit both the stream and the property owner and protecting them long term and getting new vegetation established. Before construction begins there are planning meetings and workshops to explain to stakeholders the work to be performed.  Project engineers will use multiple techniques during construction. For construction, we try  to recycle as many materials as we can for the stream project itself and that involves clearing some of the trees but actually taking the logs of the trees and putting them back into the banks to help protect from future erosion. Another option that we use is rock as the focus as opposed to the trees and natural material. We create riffles just by using small rocks to increase the oxygen flow through the stream, we use boulders to create rock toe to help preserve the toe of the slope along the stream bank. As we build and reconstruct the stream we want to put new seed down and we cover that with straw that's out and then we come back with a coconut fiber mesh or net. That covers is biodegradable and eventually, it's going to rot away and become part of the topsoil but in the early stages of the vegetation that holds all the seed to the ground. So as the water gets up during frequent storm events, it can stay in place and get rooted in so we can get roots established. What can a property owner expect during construction? There will be some noise and mud, work will be done during weekly business hours, trees will be removed and land near the creek will be cleared. Crews will only operate in easement areas and County-owned land. For a project to be completed under ideal circumstances, we can typically do about a hundred feet a day. For construction, now that is limited on the amount of dirt we have to move or how we're redoing the creek again. Weather plays a huge factor in what we do, unlike construction of roadways these are natural projects that will look different each year as the creek and floodplain mature. Native species of trees and shrubs will be planted, the creek will be inspected annually and repairs made as needed. Property owners should call Storm Water Services to report any maintenance issues. Bottom-line, what does a stream restoration project look like before trees fall into the stream banks eroding and poor water quality. After debris is removed, stream banks are sloped back and natural vegetation planted. We rely on property owners to grant us access so we can improve our creeks and our floodplains. It's with your cooperation that we can make our streams and creeks healthy and safe. For more information about Storm Water Services,  go to our website stormwater.charmeck.org.

​The Torrence Stream Restoration Project transcription coming soon.

EASEMENTS - What is an Easement? Brochure

Hello, I'm John Wendel Senior Communications  Specialist at Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services. Today, I want to talk about easements and how important they are in keeping our streams safe, clean and reliable. What is an easement? Lead Project Manager Crystal Goode of Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services explains.  Basically, the easement is just a legal document that gives us permission to be on the property,  so it allows us to come on to the property so that we're not trespassing onto the property and gives us permission to construct the project, to maintain the project if we ever need to come back.  The waters of Mecklenburg County are extremely important to the well-being of our environment,  economy and citizens. Properly functioning streams provide cleaner water, improve aquatic habitat,  and in some cases reduce the threat of flooding.  Typically, with a stream restoration we come in and we want to stabilize the stream banks because usually when we come in to do problems the stream banks are eroding and the sediments falling into the creek. So to improve water quality, we come in and stabilize those banks and to do that we'll lay them back slope them back to a more gentle slope stream enhancement work may include removal of blockages, stabilizing the stream bank, adding boulders and other structures and planting native vegetation. The easements are all voluntary so if someone does not want us doing the work on their property or doesn't want to give us an easement that's okay a lot of times we'll just skip that area. So we'll try to work the engineering design so that we can address the properties that we do that's on and so we'll come in and do work on those properties and try to blend it as best as we can but if we don't have that easement and then we can't go in and do that work. Storm Water Services invest tens of thousands of dollars improving areas along a creek at no cost to the property owner.  Most owners find this personally beneficial and aesthetically pleasing. Typically, in an easement what that includes will have an idea of the work that we're going to do so we typically try to stay within that stream channel, in the buffer area on the stream. So we stay pretty close to the creek but it allows us to come in and with our equipment to get into the creek and it will allow us to build the project and then we can come in and maintain it later. What services are not provided within a Storm Water Service easement area? Storm  Water Services does not clean up sticks, leaves or trash after heavy rain. Storm  Water Services does not repair or replace private property damaged by stormwater runoff or flooding. Storm Water Services does not guarantee the property will be free from all flooding or erosion. After granting an easement, it is still your property and does not include public access like a Greenway. With the signed easement, Storm Water Services can provide a safe clean and reliable stream system at no cost for property owners for more information about Storm Water  Services go to our website stormwater charmeck.org.

What we're doing is we're taking our natural infrastructure, which is our creek systems throughout the county, and we're going in we're trying to improve them. We're trying to do work, physical construction work on those natural systems to basically try to fix their damaged components, the eroding banks and the debris and the collapsing banks, and the lack of riffles and pools and different natural features that you would see. We try to build it back to a more natural condition so it can convey and clean our stormwater.

The Corps of Engineers came through Charlotte back in the 1920s and 30s and actually dredged a lot of our creeks and straightened them. If we just let that continue to go, our creeks would end up being a source of pollution. Basically, contributing to poor water quality in the streams, they wouldn't be aesthetically pleasing,  we would have issues related to, you know, drinking water quality actually too because some of our creek systems drain into Mountain Island Lake, which is our drinking water supply.  So, there'd be a widespread series of issues, but certainly, there are some projects where time is of the essence. You know we have actively eroding channels. 

We have other infrastructure that's in and around our creek systems, you know power distribution systems. Our sewer system is a gravity-fed system that drains along a lot of our creek corridors and so in some areas project delays or delays in actually getting the design complete or getting easements from property owners can result in more time that goes on and more erosion and can ultimately lead to failure of additional infrastructure that's in and around our creek. So, the timing is pretty important, that we move forward.

Boy, we've done a lot of great creek projects.  Probably the most dramatic transformation, if you go near Uptown Charlotte along Kings Drive.  In that particular part of town, it was a complete transformation. Back in the 50s, the creek was buried and a mall was built on top of it and it was degraded, there were flooding issues. So, we worked about 10 years ago in the early 2000s and opened up the creek, we uncapped it, we let in natural daylight. We reforested that corridor, added a greenway. A lot of partnerships with developers to redevelop the Midtown area and so now there are shops and residential overlooking the greenway and this more natural creek system and that's probably our most dramatic transformation that we've had in the last 20 years.

Fortunately, in Mecklenburg County, we have a  stormwater utility and everyone pays into the stormwater utility based upon their runoff from their property. The impervious surface on their property, because all of that water it contributes to and trickles downstream and eventually flows into our creeks. So, we use that money to fund a lot of our work. We do chase after federal and state grants to help supplement that and bring more value to the citizens of Mecklenburg County, but our predominant funding source is a stormwater utility. Much like the water bill that you pay for drinking water or sewer, you're paying for that service and in Charlotte Mecklenburg, you're paying for a service to maintain our stormwater infrastructure.

Yeah, really the main thing that we do on most of our projects is we try to put the creek back to a more natural condition. A lot of our creeks are kind of vertical and they look like a box and they're collapsing banks and they're eroding in. We try to take them and make them like you would see in a more natural stream. We narrow the bottom of the creeks in so that the base flow of the creek, you know, moves along and you can actually hear and see some of the riffles and pools that you would see in a  stream. We slope it back to where the creek where it floods. It starts to get out of its banks and it starts to spread out a little more naturally.

What that does is it slows down the water and allows it to create less erosion and less property damage. In the future and in some cases it can modestly reduce flooding.

Stormwater does run into our natural creek systems and so it's important that we invest in those great systems, make them beautiful, make them functional, and make them so that we can actually all enjoy them as well.

In an area just north of Charlotte, lies the McDowell Creek watershed where years of fast-paced growth has damaged the stream channel and affected water quality. While developing communities have positively impacted this area in many ways, urban growth also has led to less available space for excess rainfall absorption. More runoff is piped as a concentrated flow directly into the creek resulting in eroded stream banks and degraded water quality. 

In response, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services along with support from numerous partners in the community has made a commitment to improve the water quality and biological habitat within this watershed. Their commitment will reach beyond the ecological benefits by also having positive impacts on both the drinking water and the natural surroundings of neighboring communities. 

Stream restoration involves the process of repairing creeks damaged by erosion. The primary goals are cleaner water, stable banks and improved habitat for aquatic life and wildlife. The restoration projects in the McDowell Creek watershed are part of Mecklenburg County's overall Surface Water Improvement and Management Plan aimed at restoring and maintaining surface water quality throughout the County. As restoration progresses, damage to the stream is repaired, risk of future erosion is reduced and the stream is adapted to the increasingly urban environment.  

This project will redesign the stream to naturally respond to storm events while repairing decades of damage done from erosion. Several soil and spoil piles from past dredging will be removed to create a natural channel design with more meandering curvature in the stream helping to diversify streambed habitats. Together these efforts will improve water quality and aesthetics.  

It is anticipated that this project will be completed in the next year, allowing current and future generations of residents to enjoy this natural resource. 

Following these improvements an adjacent Greenway will be created to provide both educational and recreational experiences for the public and communities near McDowell Creek.  The greenway is anticipated to be developed from 2016 to 2017. adding the final touches to what will be a valued project in a long line of stream projects throughout the County.  These stream projects are great examples of Mecklenburg County making investments that benefit its citizens as well as the environment.