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How we test water quality in Charlotte-Mecklenburg streams & lakes

Hip waders, fish nets, a motor boat and computers are just some of the tools Storm Water Services uses to monitor the quality of local surface water.

Watch this video to see water quality monitoring in action.

Hip waders and special gadgets
Environmental specialists tug on the boots, then wade in the water. Creek water samples are captured in small bottles and taken to the laboratory to be tested for pollutants.
During stream walks, the scientists also look for illicit discharges, dry weather flows, damaged sanitary sewer pipes, overflowing sewer manholes and other sources of water pollution. Any problems are noted on hand-held GPS devices.

The staff notes where creek bank erosion is a serious problem and reports any blockages in the stream such as downed trees. Each year, Storm Water Services staff walk hundreds of miles along local streams taking water samples and looking for possible problems.
  Two employees in a stream with handheld devices 

Fish nets
Another way of measuring water quality doesn't look at the water, but at what's living in it.
Staff in creek with dip nets    During "bugging and fishing," employees use nets to catch fish, insects and other creatures living in the stream.

Scientists can tell a lot about how clean the water is by the types and amounts of aquatic life living there. Most species of bugs and fish can't survive if the water is polluted.

Watch a video showing Storm Water Services staff "bugging and fishing."

 

Motor boat
Storm Water Services conducts both special and routine testing.Water samples gathered by hand and the real-time data received from CMANN can tell us immediately if there is a pollution problem.If water quality suddenly drops, Storm Water Services employees go to the site, look for the cause and see that the problem is addressed.Water quality data from our streams, ponds and lakes is tracked over time. This helps:

At least six times each year, the water in our three local lakes is tested for pollution such as chemicals, bacteria and sediment levels. 

A total of 28 monitoring sites are sampled each time. Those sites are only accessible by boat.

See a video of staff on the Water Quality boat sampling lake water.
 
  Water Quality boat on lake 

Computers
Dials on a computer screen    Automated devices in local streams monitor the water quality 24 hours a day. The data is sent to Storm Water Services computers. 

The network of automated stream gauges is called the Continuous Monitoring and Alert Notification Network or CMANN
Although not part of CMANN, there is also an automated water quality sensor in our lakes. The bright orange buoy is like an unmanned laboratory. If pollution levels increase, it sends an electronic message to Storm Water Services staff.

The lake sensor can be moved to different locations in our three lakes as needed. 
    

Lake sensor being checked by employee 

How often we test water quality
Storm Water Services conducts both special and routine testing.
Bottle used to collect water sample    Staff collects water samples anytime there is a potential problem. Examples could include a sewage spill that affects a stream, pond or cove. Or an overturned tanker truck that spills its contents into a storm drain--which goes directly into a creek. We also respond when residents report possible pollution in a lake, creek or pond.

Storm Water Services also does year-round testing at pre-determined times. This includes the stream walks, bugging and fishing, and lake sampling mentioned above. 

What we do with the information
Water samples gathered by hand and the real-time data received from CMANN can tell us immediately if there is a pollution problem.

If water quality suddenly drops, Storm Water Services employees go to the site, look for the cause and see that the problem is addressed.

Water quality data from our streams, ponds and lakes is tracked over time. This helps:
  • determine trends
  • measure the effectiveness of pollution-reduction efforts
  • develop effective strategies to improve surface water quality.

For more information on Storm Water Services' water quality monitoring, contact:

Senior Environmental Specialist David Buetow at 704-336-3983 or
City Water Quality Team Leader Marc Recktenwald at 704-336-3122