Marking 50 years of protecting waterways

Leo Caplanides, Sharnelle Currence
leo.caplanides@charlottenc.gov, Sharnelle.Currence@charlottenc.gov
5/11/2020
The Little Sugar Creek Greenway near uptown Charlotte

​The Little Sugar Creek Greenway near uptown Charlotte

For nearly 19 miles, Little Sugar Creek flows on a winding path through Charlotte and Mecklenburg County. The creek provides habitat to a variety of aquatic life and its banks flourish with an abundance of trees and plants. A greenway trail lines the creek offering residents the chance to enjoy nature without leaving the city. However, Little Sugar Creek hasn't always thrived.

Fifty years ago, it was like an open sewer virtually void of life, and a dumping ground for untreated industrial waste and raw sewage. No one ventured down to the creek because the odors were unbearable. Residents shared their frustrations and concerns with local elected officials.

In 1970, the year of the inaugural Earth Day and two years before the Federal Clean Water Act was enacted, local leaders implemented a plan to find the sources of the pollution and eliminate them. This marked the beginning of significant efforts to protect and improve surface water quality across the City and County.

Now, after 50 years, both are committed more than ever to protecting the nearly 3,000 miles of creeks and lakes in our area. The Surface Water Quality program, housed within Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services, achieves this goal through a variety of initiatives, including education, pollution prevention, volunteer efforts and stream restoration projects.

Here is a look at just a few accomplishments:

  • Stream restoration efforts at Little Sugar Creek resulted in the return of the Tessellated Darter fish for the first time in five decades.

  • Discharges to surface waters are now regulated and controlled through ordinances and permits.

  • The City and County have restored more than 30 miles of creeks to date. Reedy Creek in north Charlotte is a recent example.

  • Collaborations with entities like Mecklenburg County Park and Recreation have helped to facilitate construction of greenways that promote recreational enjoyment of our creeks.

  • Storm Water Services partnered with more than 4,600 volunteers in FY19 (July 1, 2018 – June 30, 2019) on water quality improvement activities such as Adopt-A-Stream and the Big Spring Clean.

While it's important to celebrate the accomplishments that have been made, it's equally important to recognize that there's still much more work to do. Nonpoint source pollution, such as sediment, oil and fertilizers, remains a significant threat to our streams and lakes. Storm Water Services is dedicated to preventing water pollution but can't do it alone. Check out these water quality improvement tips. on ways that you can help eliminate pollution and improve water quality.

Learn more about Storm Water Services' efforts to improve surface water quality and ways you can get involved to assist.