Land that drains into Little Creek is known as its watershed. The Little Creek watershed is located mostly in Orange County. It includes parts of Carrboro, Chapel Hill, and the University of North Carolina. Of the 24.6 square miles in the watershed, only 1.3 square miles are in the City of Durham. Neighborhoods in this area include parts of:
- Downing Creek
- Woodland Acres
Water from Little Creek flows into Jordan Lake. From there it flows into the Haw River and then to the Cape Fear River. This river is the only one in North Carolina that empties directly into the Atlantic Ocean.
Stormwater Services staff does not test water quality in Little Creek. Very little land within the city drains into this watershed. The Town of Chapel Hill does biological monitoring in 14 sites across the watershed. The results of this monitoring suggest that at least six of these sites have water quality issues. Issues found included low oxygen levels in the water (which is bad for fish and other creek life) and high nutrient levels that can cause too much algae to grow. A detailed monitoring report for 2014 (PDF) is available online.
Water from Little Creek flows into Jordan Lake. Jordan Lake has recently had problems with algae caused by extra nutrients (such as nitrogen and phosphorus). The state has created a plan, also called a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) (PDF), to help reduce the nutrients in the lake. Because of this, nutrients are of concern in Little Creek.
The state decided that these water quality concerns keep Little Creek from its intended uses by people and wildlife. The State has added the creek to a list of impaired water bodies, also known as the 303(d) list. 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. In the 2015 reporting year, staff investigated and controlled four sources of pollution. These included erosion/sediment and petroleum.
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 Little Creek. Residents can also call the Stormwater Hotline (919-560-SWIM) to report water pollution.
Local Watershed Plan
The N.C. Ecosystem Enhancement Program led an effort to develop a water quality protection plan for Little and Morgan Creeks. This plan recommends 25 stormwater control measures, 11 stream restoration projects, and protecting 600 acres of natural habitat. The plan also suggests that local governments change their rules to support low impact development.
There are many ways for you to help protect the health of Little Creek. You can adopt a portion of the creek or volunteer to label storm drains. There are also 2 major stream clean-ups each year. Big Sweep is the 1st weekend in October and Creek Week is the last weekend in March. Email the public education coordinator for details.