Water & Air Quality

Surface water quality is very important to the citizens of New Hanover County.  Not only is the quality of water important to everyone that lives in our County, it is also important to the thousands of tourists that visit the County each year.  Several agencies monitor water quality on the Cape Fear River, the Intracoastal Waterway, and within the many beautiful creeks that drain into those sources.  The County is committed to compiling water quality data in order to provide this information to the public and use the information to continue our work toward restoring and protecting our water resources.

New Hanover County Creek Data

New Hanover County has contracted with a company to monitor water quality in all of the creeks located outside of the City limits. Click on the panel below to learn more about the water quality parameters measured in each creek.

The following water quality indicators are measured in New Hanover County creeks. These chemical, physical and bacterial indicators are monitored in order to measure the general water quality of each creek.

Chlorophyll a
Chlorophyll a is a measure of phytoplankton biomass in the water. High levels can indicate the presence of an algae bloom. The N.C. Standard for chlorophyll a is 40 for both saltwater and freshwater.

Enterococcus
Enterococcus is one of several indicators of the presence of bacteria in water. High values of the bacteria are indicative of human, wildlife or domestic animal feces. Both enterococcus and fecal coliform are good measures of bacteria in water, but enterococcus provides a better measure in marine waters. The N.C. standard for human health in saltwaters varies depending on the swimming designation of that area. To read more about these standards, please scroll down to the bottom of this page.

Fecal Coliform
Fecal coliform is an indicator of bacteria in water. Elevated levels can be the result of the introduction of human and animal waste or stormwater runoff from land disturbing activities. The N.C. standard for human health is 200 organisms/100 mL in freshwaters and 14/100 mL in saltwaters.

Water Temperature
Water temperature is a measure of the thermal stratification of the water table. High water temperatures can lead to algae blooms which can be harmful to aquatic life.

Salinity
Salinity is a measure of salt in the water. High levels are found near saltwater sources, however, elevated levels in freshwater can indicate the presence of saltwater intrusion.

Conductivity
Conductivity is the measure of the water’s ability to pass an electrical current. Levels are affected by the presence of dissolved solids, organic compounds and temperature. Most water bodies maintain a constant range of conductivity, so variations from that range can indicate the introduction of pollutants.

pH
The pH level in water is the measure of the water’s reactive characteristics. High pH levels may indicate algae production while low pH levels may indicate the introduction of an acidic substance. The N.C. standard for freshwater is 6.0-9.0 and the N.C. standard for saltwater is 6.8-8.5.

Dissolved Oxygen
Dissolved oxygen is a measure of the amount of oxygen dissolved in water. It is one of the best measures of the health of the water. Adequate levels of dissolved oxygen are necessary for good water quality and for aquatic organisms to live. Low levels of dissolved oxygen threaten aquatic life and cause fish kills. Low dissolved oxygen can be an indicator of wastewater, eutrophication or stagnant waters. The N.C. standard for dissolved oxygen is 5.0 for freshwater and saltwater and 6.0 for high quality waters.

Turbidity
Turbidity is a measure of suspended matter in water. Suspended matter often includes mud, clay, silt and sand. High turbidity levels can indicate the presence of sediment from land disturbing activities or an abundance of phytoplankton. The N.C. standard for freshwater is 50 NTU and for saltwater is 25 NTU.

N.C. Department of Environmental and Natural Resources Coastal Recreational Water Designations

The NCDENR classifies coastal recreational waters for monitoring, evaluation and notification purposes. These classifications are separated in three tiers which are used to determine designated enterococcus standards and swimming advisory guidelines that apply to each swimming area.

Tier I swimming area – a swimming area used daily during the swimming season, including any public access swimming area and any other swimming area where people use the water for primary contact, including all oceanfront beaches. The enterococcus level in a Tier I swimming area shall not exceed a geometric mean of 35/100 mL in a minimum of five samples taken over the course of 30 days, or a single sample of 104/100 mL.

Tier II swimming area – a swimming area used an average of three days a week during the swimming season. The enterococcus level shall not exceed a single sample of 276/100 mL.

Tier III swimming area – a swimming area used an average of four days a month during the swimming season. The enterococcus level shall not exceed two consecutive samples of 500/100 mL.

All data is posted on this website as soon as it becomes available. Click on the panels below to view information about each creek.

The Barnards Creek watershed is located in the southwestern portion of the County, just along the City line. The watershed drains portions of Carolina Beach Road at its headwaters and flows towards River Road before entering into the Cape Fear River. Zoning within the watershed is comprised of a mix of residential and commercial uses. The land is classified as a mix of transition, urban, and conservation according to the CAMA land use plan.

Water quality samples are collected monthly at 2 locations on Barnards Creek. Samples are analyzed for Nitrate + Nitrite, Orthophosphate, Chlorophyll a, Enterococcus, Temperature, Salinity, Conductivity, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity.

CLICK HERE to view a map of water quality monitoring locations on Barnards Creek.

Water quality samples taken at Barnards Creek have been fair, with some low dissolved oxygen levels reported. Generally, physical, chemical and biological parameters have indicated good water quality within the two sampling sites on Barnards Creek. Bacteria levels have been moderate, indicating that increased development has not negatively impacted the watershed thus far.

 

Futch Creek is located on the New Hanover-Pender County line and drains into the Intracoastal Waterway. The Futch Creek watershed encompasses an area from Scotts Hill Loop Road and Highway 17 on the north and east, to Porters Neck Road on the south. Zoning within the Futch Creek watershed is predominately residential with a small business district along Highway 17. The land within the Futch Creek watershed is classified as watershed resource protection or transition in the CAMA land use plan.

Water quality samples are collected monthly by boat at 5 locations on Futch Creek. Samples are analyzed for Nitrate + Nitrite, Orthophosphate, Chlorophyll a, Enterococcus, Fecal Coliform, Temperature, Salinity, Conductivity, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity.

Click here to view a map of water quality monitoring locations on Futch Creek,

Historically, water quality in the Futch Creek watershed has been good.  However, along with increased development and impervious surface, there has been a decline in the overall water quality in Futch Creek.  Fecal coliform and enterococcus levels have exceeded the State’s standard, resulting in shellfish closures.  As a result, Futch Creek has been listed on the 303(d) list for impaired waters due to the high bacteria levels and closed shellfishing areas.

Currently, fecal coliform and enterococci levels are low and within the designated standard for each parameter.  However, levels have been high at all monitoring stations, especially during and right after rain events.  Despite the high bacteria levels, chlorophyll, and nitrogen levels have remained within their respective standards, indicating that there has not been a nutrient problem within the creek in recent months.

The Lords Creek Watershed is located in the southwestern portion of the County. Zoning within the watershed is completely residential. According to the CAMA land use plan, the land in the watershed is classified as a mix of conservation, transition, watershed resource protection and a small natural heritage resource protection designation.

Water quality samples are collected monthly at 1 location on Lords Creek. Samples are analyzed for Nitrate + Nitrite, Orthophosphate, Chlorophyll a, Enterococcus, Temperature, Salinity, Conductivity, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity.

Click here to view a map of the water quality monitoring location on Lords Creek.

Lords Creek has been showing water quality levels better then the other watersheds sampled by the County. Turbidity levels have been somewhat elevated in recent months, but the State’s water quality standards have not been exceeded.  Construction in the area is being monitored closely to ensure that erosion control techniques are in place and that turbidity levels are not exceeded.

Motts Creek is located in the southwestern portion of the County, just below Sanders Road. The Creek drains portions of Carolina Beach Road at its headwaters and then drains toward River Road before entering into the Cape Fear River. Zoning in the watershed is predominately residential with commercial business districts along Carolina Beach Rd. Land in the watershed is classified as transition, conservation or wetland resource protection according to the CAMA land use plan.

Water quality samples are collected monthly at 3 locations on Motts Creek. Samples are analyzed for Nitrate + Nitrite, Orthophosphate, Chlorophyll a, Enterococcus, Temperature, Salinity, Conductivity, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity.

Click here to view a map of water quality monitoring locations on Motts Creek.

Low dissolved oxygen levels and high bacteria levels have been reported in Motts Creek at the Carolina Beach Road monitoring station where the land is fully developed. This monitoring station has reported some of the poorer water quality at all sites monitored in the County. Generally, the downstream monitoring station at River Road has reported good water quality, in part due to the large wetland areas and sawgrass communities that have remained intact along the creek – providing a natural filter for pollutants.

 

Located in northeastern New Hanover County, Pages Creek drains into the Intracoastal Waterway, north of Middle Sound Loop Road. Zoning within the Pages Creek watershed is predominately residential, with commercial zoning along Highway 17.  The land within the Pages Creek watershed is predominately classified as watershed resource protection and conservation, with a small portion classified as transitional according to the CAMA land use plan.

Water quality samples are collected monthly by boat at 3 locations on Pages Creek.  Samples are analyzed for Nitrate + Nitrite, Orthophosphate, Chlorophyll a, Enterococcus, Fecal Coliform, Temperature, Salinity, Conductivity, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity.

Click here to view a map of water quality monitoring locations on Pages Creek.

Along with increased development and impervious surface in the watershed, there has been a decline in the overall water quality in Pages Creek.  High fecal coliform and enterococcus levels have been reported and shellfish harvesting areas have been closed as a result.  During recent sampling events, bacteria levels have been particularly high during and after rain events, indicating the impacts of stormwater runoff on this watershed.  Pages Creek has also been listed on the State’s 303(d) list for impaired waters due to high bacteria levels and shellfish closures. Recent monitoring results show a low dissolved oxygen level around the Bayshore area, which is an indicator of poor water quality or water that is not flowing enough to stimulate oxygen production.  Recent monitoring results have also shown high bacteria levels near Bayshore Drive.  New Hanover County Engineering Department and New Hanover County Health Department staff are in the process of ruling out human contamination in the vicinity and searching for possible sources of contamination.

Prince George Creek drains into the Cape Fear River.  The Prince George Creek watershed is approximately 11,300 acres and drains most of Castle Hayne, extending eastward across I-40 into the Blue Clay Road area.  Zoning within the Prince George Creek watershed is predominately residential with some business and light industrial districts within Castle Hayne.  Most of the land within the Prince George Creek watershed is classified as aquifer resource protection, conservation or transition according to the CAMA land use plan.

Water quality samples are collected monthly at 3 locations on Prince George Creek.  Samples are analyzed for Nitrate + Nitrite, Orthophosphate, Chlorophyll a, Enterococcus, Temperature, Salinity, Conductivity, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity.

Click here to view a map of water quality monitoring locations on Prince George Creek.

Water quality samples taken at Prince George Creek have indicated low dissolved oxygen values – often exceeding the State’s standard. These low oxygen levels could be attributed to the swamp conditions and lack of circulation within the water at the monitoring locations.  In addition, high bacteria levels have been reported at all locations after and during rain events.

Located in north-central New Hanover County, Smith Creek drains into the lower Northeast Cape Fear River, just north of the Isabelle Holmes Bridge.  The watershed drains land within the City limits and the unincorporated County, including the Wilmington International Airport.  Zoning within the Smith Creek watershed is a mix of industrial, residential, and commercial.  The land within the watershed is predominately classified as urban and transition, with a small portion classified as conservation.

Water quality samples are collected monthly from land at 5 locations on Smith Creek.  Samples are analyzed for Nitrate + Nitrite, Orthophosphate, Chlorophyll a, Enterococcus, Temperature, Salinity, Conductivity, pH, Dissolved Oxygen, and Turbidity.

Click here to view a map of water quality monitoring locations on Smith Creek.

Along with increased development and impervious surfaces, water quality in Smith Creek has declined in recent years.  High bacteria levels have been reported, as well as low dissolved oxygen levels.  As a result, Smith Creek has been listed on the 303(d) list for impaired waters due to impaired biological integrity.  Scroll down to the bottom of this page to learn more about efforts to protect and improve water quality in Smith Creek.

To learn about water quality monitoring on the creeks within the City limits, please contact the City of Wilmington Stormwater Services at (910) 343-4777.

Water Quality Monitoring Reports

The New Hanover County Health Department monitors bacteria levels in the Cape Fear River at Riverside Park in Castle Hayne.

Lower Cape Fear River Program

Administered by the UNCW Center for Marine Science, the Lower Cape Fear River Program is funded by government (including New Hanover County), industry and the public.  The objectives of this important program are to “develop an understanding of the fundamental scientific processes shaping and controlling the ecology of the Cape Fear River system and provide a mechanism for information exchange and public education.”  Chemical, biological and physical parameters are measured at 34 sampling stations, several of which are located within New Hanover County. To learn more about the Lower Cape Fear River Program, CLICK HERE to access their website.

UNCW Water Quality Reports

UNCW monitors water quality at various locations around New Hanover County. CLICK HERE to access the UNCW website for past water quality monitoring results and reports.

Beach and Shellfish Closure Contact Information

For information about water quality data on County beaches, contact N.C. Recreational Water Quality Division at (252) 726-6827, or access information on beach closures on Recreational Water Quality’s website.

For information about shellfish closures, contact N.C. Shellfish Sanitation Division at (252) 726-6827, or access information about shellfish closures on Shellfish Sanitation’s website.

Low Impact Development (LID) – A different way to manage stormwater runoff that focuses on water quality protection. Please visit our Low Impact Development page to learn more.

Riparian Buffer Land Acquisition Projects – New Hanover County is actively pursuing riparian land donations to preserve land and protect water quality.  One of the current initiatives involves piecing together tracts of land to create a Smith Creek Greenway.  Click here to learn more.

The Clean Air Act requires that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set national air quality standards for certain pollutants.

What is SO2?

Sulfur Dioxide (SO2) is one of a group of highly reactive gasses known as oxides of sulfur. It is largely produced by volcanic eruptions and industrial processes, with coal and petroleum combustion facilities being the largest industrial contributors. The EPA began regulating S02 as an air quality pollutant in 1971 due to the chemical’s affect on human health and the ability of S02 to form acid rain. In New Hanover County and the surrounding areas, the majority of S02 is emitted from industrial sources.

In June 2010, EPA strengthened the national standard for SO2. This change was brought about as a result of scientific studies that provided strong evidence for a link between short term exposures to S02 and adverse respiratory outcomes. In revising this standard, EPA believes that they will improve public health, especially for children, the elderly, and people with asthma – which are the groups most susceptible to the health problems associated with breathing S02. The County has been actively working to decrease levels of S02 in the air to ensure that public health is protected, and the good news is that S02 levels have decreased as a result of changes to industrial facilities. As a result, air quality levels in New Hanover County have continued to meet the new standard.

What other pollutants are monitored in New Hanover County?

The North Carolina Division of Air Quality (DAQ) monitors levels of air quality pollutants across the state. Aside from S02, in New Hanover County DAQ also monitors ground level ozone and particulate matter. Currently the monitor in New Hanover County is meeting the designated standards for both of these pollutants.

CLICK HERE to view all current air quality data for New Hanover County.

Additional Links:

 

230 Government Center Drive, Suite 110 • Wilmington, NC 28403
Planning & Land Use: Phone 910-798-7165 • Fax 910-798-7053
Building Safety: Phone 910-798-7308 • Fax 910-798-7811
Engineering: Phone 910-798-7139 • Fax 910-798-7051