Surface Water Quality

Surface Water Improvement & Management Program


There are more than 3000 miles of creeks and streams in Mecklenburg County. Those waters have long been a vital part of the fabric of the County throughout history. History hasn't always been kind to our surface waters. Known to early settlers as an abundant source of water and for fishing, from the Industrial Age of the 18th Century until the rapid residential and commercial development of the 20th Century, pollution imperiled our waters. By the mid 1990s, only 15% of the creeks were safe for human contact. In 1996, the Mecklenburg Board of County Commissioners adopted the community's first "Creek Use Policy" calling for all surface waters to be suitable for prolonged human contact.

The policy established a Surface Water Improvement and Management program. This program sought to

  • Prevent further degradation.
  • Preserve the best waters.
  • Improve the good.
  • Remediate the worst waters.

The following principles are used to guide SWIM efforts:

  • Holistic approach to address water quality, quantity and greenspace issues;
  • Basin level community involvement and support;
  • Basin specific analysis using modeling and stream assessment; and
  • Use of proven, scientifically sound watershed management techniques.

View the details of the SWIM program implementation.


Following the implementation of the SWIM program, efforts have begun to pay off. From 15% suitable for human contact in the mid-1990s, we are well on the target of 100% suitable by the year 2020, as shown in this graph.

However, there is still work to do. Each Municipality in the County has adopted SWIM regulations specific to current and future development.

Watershed protections are also in place to limit erosion, establish buffers and prevent pollution. This includes creating post-construction ordinances to prevent pollutants from entering our surface waters. Stream and lake buffers ordinances promote the establishment of vegetated buffers to reduce pollutants on lands adjacent to streams and lakes. This placed requirements on certain properties within the County to ensure future water quality improvements.