Surface Water Quality

Watershed Planning

​​Watershed Planning is the development of watershed management plans that identify why a stream or lake may be experiencing impairments and the programs and management strategies needed to improve these conditions. Impairments are areas of streams or lakes where there is degraded water quality, aquatic habitat or aquatic life.​

​A variety of watershed plans have been developed to address impairments throughout the City of Charlotte, Mecklenburg County and its six towns. Comprehensive watershed plans will be developed for all of its watersheds to prioritize and maximize watershed improvement activities for many years to come.

​For more information about watershed planning please see North Caro​lina Department of Environmental Quality's Watershed Planning webpage​ and the EPA's Handbook for Developing Watershed Plans to Restore and Protect Our Waters.

Information about impaired waterbodies in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County and the watershed plans that have been developed is organized on this page as follows:

  • Impairments
  • Goose Creek Watershed
  • McDowell Creek Watershed
  • Rocky River Watershed
  • Irwin, Little Sugar, McAlpine, Sugar Creeks and Lake Wylie Watersheds
  • Reedy Creek Watershed 


In Charlotte and Mecklenburg County, many waterbodies are designated "impaired" as a result of the impacts of urbanization on water quality and aquatic life. The State of North Carolina will typically list a stream or lake on its 303(d) list of impaired waterbodies because a pollutant in the waterbody exceeds the State's water quality standards or it lacks diverse aquatic life (biological integrity).

When the State determines a water body is impaired, it may develop a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) to address this impairment. When the state develops a TMDL, local counties and municipalities must develop a Water Quality Recovery Plan or a TMDL Watershed Plan. These plans identify a strategy for reducing the pollutant(s) of concern within the six minimum measures required by the County and municipalities' National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit. See NPDES permits for the City of Charlotte and Mecklenburg County.  Watershed plans have been developed for all water bodies in Charlotte and Mecklenburg County that currently have a TMDL.

When the State determines a water body is impaired but it has not yet developed a TMDL, a local municipality may be proactive and develop a voluntary watershed plan. If the State and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) accept this watershed plan, a TMDL will not be developed. These voluntary watershed plans are typically more comprehensive than those required by a TMDL. They usually include local data for pollutants not included on 303(d) lists or in TMDLs, and identify improvement strategies and projects that go beyond minimum requirements.

Goose Creek Watershed

Goose Creek is on the 303(d) list for impairments related to biological integrity and a TMDL has been developed for fecal coliform bacteria. The watershed also contains the federally endangered species of freshwater mussel called the Carolina Heelsplitter.

For watershed plans that have been developed see the Goose Creek Watershed Management Plan and the Goose Creek Water Qua​lity Recovery Program Plan.

McDowell Creek Watershed

The McDowell Creek watershed is located in northwest Mecklenburg County and empties into McDowell Creek Cove in Mountain Island Lake where there is a drinking water intake. McDowell Creek is on the 303(d) list for impairments related to biological integrity.

Most of the watershed has been designated as a Water Supply Watershed which means that there are several regulations that aim to reduce the stormwater impacts of new land development. The Town of Huntersville also adopted a Low Impact Development ordinance that further protects the creek. A number of stream restoration projects have been completed in this watershed. See the McDowell Stream Restoration Project Video for an example of one of these projects.

See the McDowell Creek Watershed Management Plan​ ​for the most up-to-date watershed plan.

Rocky River Watershed

The Rocky River watershed is located in the northern portion of Mecklenburg County with smaller portions in the Towns of Davidson and Cornelius.  Rocky River is on the 303(d) list for impairments related to biological integrity, turbidity and copper, and a TMDL has been developed for fecal coliform bacteria.

For watershed plans that have been developed see the Rocky River Watershed Management Plan and the Rocky River Water Quality Recovery Program Plan.

​Irwin, Little Sugar, Long, McAlpine, Steele, ​Sugar Creeks and Lake Wylie Watersheds

Seven TMDLs have also been developed for a variety of streams and Lake Wylie. Please see the following list of impaired waterbodies and the TMDLs that have been developed.

Irwin Creek
dissolved oxygen and fecal coliform
Little Sugar
dissolved oxygen and fecal coliform
McAlpine Creeks​
dissolved oxygen and fecal coliform
McKee Creek​
fecal coliform
Steele Creek
fecal coliform
Sugar Creek​
fecal coliform
Irwin, Little Sugar, Long, McApline and Sugar Creek
Lake Wylie
Waterbody's statewide

In 2015, the Charlotte-Mecklenburg TMDL Watershed Plan ​was developed to combine information from several previously developed Water Quality Recovery Plans and provide one comprehensive TMDL Watershed plan to address all of these TMDLs.

Reedy Creek Watershed

The Reedy Creek watershed is a fourteen square mile watershed located in the eastern portion of Charlotte. Reedy Creek is on the 303(d) list for impairments related to biological integrity.  Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services has also collected data that indicates pollutants of concern in this watershed. A Reedy Creek Watershed Management Plan is currently being developed that will outline a strategy and prioritized projects to address pollutants and impairments for the entire watershed.

In 2016, the Reedy Creek Stream Restoration project will begin restoring and preserving approximately 7.5 miles of streams and 5 acres of wetlands within and just outside of the Reedy Creek Nature Preserve.  Please see the Reedy Creek Stream Restoration website for more information about this project.

Watershed Planning Questions?

Jason Hunt

City of Charlotte Watershed Planner

Rusty Rozzelle

Mecklenburg County Water Quality Program Manager