Land that drains into Flat River is known as its watershed. The Flat River watershed is bounded by Roxboro in the north, the City of Durham in the southwest, and Falls Lake in the southeast. While the watershed is mostly located in northern Durham County, parts of it are located in Orange, Person, and Granville Counties. Most of the watershed is rural and covered in forests and farms.
Water from the Flat River flows into Lake Michie which is the city’s water supply. From there it flows into Falls Lake, the Neuse River, and then the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound before emptying into the ocean.
Stormwater Services checks water quality at three sites located well outside city limits. The first is located in the Flat River watershed. The other two are in Little River and New Hope Creek watersheds. Information and data from the reference sites can be compared to sites within the city to determine if conditions are different from a rural stream site, which typically have better water quality.
The health and cleanliness of the Flat River is reported in Durham’s annual State of Our Streams Report. In years when staff is able to take a wide variety of tests, the watershed is also given a score. The Flat River was last given a score of 92 in 2010. This compares to an "A" letter grade. While this is a good grade, the city is carefully tracking fecal coliform (a bacteria associated with raw sewage) levels and the amount of sediment in the river. There have been minor concerns with these in the past.
Water from the Flat River flows into Falls Lake. This lake has recently had problems caused by extra nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus). The state has created a special set of rules, known as the Falls Lake Nutrient Management Strategy. Once water leaves Falls Lake it flows into the Neuse River. This river also has too many nutrients and a Nutrient Sensitive Waters Management Strategy.
In addition, the state is concerned about low oxygen levels in the water (which is bad for fish and other creek life) between Lake Michie and Falls Lake. The state put this section of the Flat River on a list of impaired water bodies, also known as the 303(d) list.
Lake Michie Tributary Restoration
The North Carolina Land & Water Fund (formerly, the Clean Water Management Trust Fund) and the Durham County Soil and Water Conservation District partnered to repair 1,950 feet of stream bank in the Flat River watershed. Construction began in the spring of 2010. This stream restoration project will stabilize stream banks and prevent erosion. This will help keep dirt, or sediment, out of the water used by Durham as its water supply.
Watershed Management Plan
The Flat River is one of the major tributaries of the upper portion of the Neuse River. The Upper Neuse River Basin Association and several state departments created a plan to protect water quality in the Neuse River. This plan includes information on pollution sources in the Flat River watershed and ways to improve its health.
There are many ways for you to help protect the health of the Flat River. You can coordinate a Big Sweep stream cleanup or join one of the many groups dedicated to protecting the health of our rivers and streams. The Neuse Riverkeeper Foundation is active in this watershed.