Lick Creek

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Impacted Waters

Land that drains into Lick Creek is known as its watershed. The Lick Creek watershed lies on the southeastern side of the city limits, next to the densely developed Brier Creek area in Wake County. The watershed includes the area north of U.S. Highway 70 to Falls Lake. A large portion of this watershed is outside of the City of Durham within Durham County.

Water from Lick Creek flows into Falls Lake, then it follows the Neuse River into the Albemarle-Pamlico Sound before emptying into the Atlantic Ocean.

Lick Creek watershed includes the area north of US HWY 70 to Falls Lake.


There are many ways for you to help protect the health of Lick Creek. You can adopt a drain or participate with  NC Stream Watch. There are also two major stream clean-ups each year.  Big Sweep is the 1st weekend in October and Creek Week is the third week in March. Email the public education coordinator for details.

You can also join some of the many groups dedicated to protecting the health of our rivers and streams. Sound Rivers is active in this watershed.

Stormwater Services encourages neighbors to discuss and discourage putting trash, wash water, grease, or other pollution into storm drains. Anything that goes into storm drains does not get treated and, in this watershed, eventually washes into Lick Creek. Residents can also call the Stormwater Hotline (919-560-SWIM) to report water pollution.

Water Quality

The health and cleanliness of the watershed 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. Lick Creek was last given a score of 79 in 2022. This compares to a "C" letter grade. This is down from 81 in 2020. This score was due to: 

  • Poor bacteria levels
  • Good nutrient levels
  • Fair turbidity levels
  • Good-Fair aquatic life levels

These water quality concerns keep Lick Creek from its intended uses by people and wildlife. The state added the creek to the 303(d) list of water bodies with impaired biological integrity. This means the city will need to take steps to find and reduce sources of pollution in the creek.

Water Pollution Investigations

Stormwater Services staff investigates water pollution reported by other city employees and Durham residents. This is a list of the pollution sources our team found based on investigations and stormwater hotline (919-560-7946) tips. The top sources of pollution identified within the city in 2022 were:

  • petroleum spills
  • improper yard waste disposal

See past summaries: 

Stream Bank Plantings

This project involved planting more than 200 trees and shrubs along river banks in the Lick and Little Lick Creek watersheds. Plants along stream edges help keep banks stable. They naturally filter pollution out of the water running into the stream. Trees shade creeks and keep them from getting too warm and provide important habitat. Plants along the water’s edge are known as buffers. Learn more about how to improve buffers on the N.C. Clean Water Education Partnership website. Funding for the project was provided by a grant from the Home Depot Foundation via the Center for Watershed Protection. The Upper Neuse River Basin Association coordinated the project and the city provided mulch and planting tools. Volunteers from Duke and the community helped with the plantings.

Lick Creek Restoration Project

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 3,550 feet of stream banks in the Lick Creek Watershed. Construction began in the spring of 2010. This stream restoration project stabilized stream banks and prevented erosion. It will keep about 1,500 tons of dirt per year out of Lick Creek.

Watershed Restoration Plan

Lick Creek is part of the Neuse River basin. The Upper Neuse River Basin Association (in partnership with the city and many other groups) created a watershed restoration plan for Lick Creek. This plan includes information on pollution sources in the Lick Creek watershed and ways to improve its health.