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Radioactivity & Water

There’s been a lot of talk recently about radioactivity in water due to nearby power plants and, in particular, coal ash. The question we want to discuss today:

Does the community need to worry about radioactivity in Charlotte Water’s drinking water?

The answer is no. Charlotte Water routinely monitors for radioactive materials and the test results do not detect any radioactive materials above testing detection limits or public health goals set forth by the EPA. 

Sources of Radioactivity

Radioactivity can be naturally occurring from rocks or minerals, or artificial. Recent articles in the news are citing radioactivity found in coal ash monitoring wells adjacent to coal powered power plants. According to a fact sheet written by the US Geological Society (USGS), “Some trace elements in coal are naturally radioactive. These radioactive elements include uranium (U), thorium (Th), and their numerous decay products, including radium (Ra) and radon (Rn). The vast majority of coal and the majority of fly ash are not significantly enriched in radioactive elements, or in associated radioactivity, compared to common soils or rocks.” It is possible that groundwater or surface water can become contaminated with radioactive elements from coal ash. However, the USGS study also stated “Limited measurements of dissolved uranium and radium in water leachates of fly ash and in natural water from some ash disposal sites indicate that dissolved concentrations of these radioactive elements are below levels of human health concern.”

Charlotte Water Monitoring

Even though dissolved concentrations of these radioactive elements in coal ash are very low, Charlotte Water monitors for signs of any kind of contaminants in our raw water sources (Lake Norman and Mountain Island Lake), throughout the treatment process, and in the finished drinking water. Charlotte Water monitors for dozens of contaminants including indicators of radioactivity such as alpha and beta particles. All drinking water quality monitoring data can be found on the Charlotte Water website. More than 220,000 laboratory tests are run every year to continuously ensure our community’s drinking water is safe for our community.

Drinking Water Treatment


Charlotte Water uses a multi-stage treatment process at all three drinking water treatment plants. We can remove physical contaminants as well as dissolved contaminants.

In Summary

  1. Coal ash contains extremely low levels of radioactive materials.
  2. According to public reports, power plant monitoring indicates radioactive materials have only been observed in groundwater monitoring wells adjacent to the coal ash basins.
  3. Lake monitoring and drinking water monitoring results do not detect any radioactive materials above detection limits or public health goals set forth by the EPA.
  4. Charlotte Water treatment plants can remove particulate and dissolved contaminants.
  5. More than 220,000 monitoring tests are conducted each year to ensure our community continuously receives safe, clean drinking water.

Lee Dukes Water Treatment Plant Turns 20

Twenty years ago North Mecklenburg County looked a lot different than it does today. Talk of toll roads and Whole Foods markets were not even on the radar. But Charlotte Water knew this region of the county was growing and with that came an increase in the need for water. At the time, all the water for the county was supplied by water from Mountain Island Lake, treated at Franklin and Vest and pumped up to residents in Northern Mecklenburg. With the addition of a new intake on Lake Norman at Blythe Landing and the treatment plant across the street, Charlotte Water could better serve the residents of north Mecklenburg with a closer water source.

Originally Lee Dukes, or North Mecklenburg Water Treatment Plant as it was once called, was built to be a community center in addition to a treatment plant. Unlike most treatment plants, the lobby area was designed to look aesthetically pleasing and shows off mosaics made by local children and artists and houses the extensive collection of woodcarvings made by Lee Dukes himself. Unfortunately due to increasing need for security after 9/11, community events in the facility had to be minimized. Though Blue Planet was not in the original plans, due to an EPA grant the environmental learning facility was built within Lee Dukes plant and served residents for ten years before being closed.



Example of Mosaic Artwork Found at Lee Dukes


The plant opening was delayed a year due to difficulties installing the 60” diameter concrete pipe under Highway 73, this pipe connected the pump station at the lake to the treatment plant.

Three plant operators that were part of the inaugural staff on that day in 1998 still work at Charlotte Water, with two of them still working at the same plant. The science behind water treatment hasn’t changed much in 20 years and except for some updated office technology, the plant hasn’t changed much either.


Lake norman at blythe 43 copy

Pump Station at Blythe Landing on Lake Norman

Currently, Lee Dukes treats about 18 million gallons a day but the land purchased by Charlotte Water in the mid 90’s has room for much more equipment that would increase the capacity of the plant significantly if needed. This treatment plant is in it for the long haul and will continue to play an integral role in the growth of Huntersville, Cornelius, and Davidson.


Cold Weather and Water Main Breaks

Charlotte Water encourages all customers to protect plumbing from freezing weather. Did you know that the water in the 4,300 miles of water mains doesn’t freeze? But, when temperatures are well below twenty degrees (20o) outside, soils may shift causing an increase in water pipe repairs.

Here are a few other reasons why pipes may break:

  • Construction crews hitting mains during groundbreaking, Call 811 before you dig to locate the pipes
  • Ground movement
  • Corrosive soil conditions
  • Weaknesses where two pipes are joined together, that start as slow leaks and can lead to big problems
  • Weight of soil constantly pushing down on pipes
  • Aging infrastructure, this is a national problem and will require huge amounts of money and political will to fix
  • Weak seals.
  • Temperature changes that can cause the soil to expand and contract, putting stress on pipes.
  • Normal aging
  • Surprisingly, even water has corrosive properties and can break down the inside of the pipe over a long period of time

Unfortunately, since the breaks occur underground, in most cases we can only speculate as to how exactly the pipe broke.

Regardless of the reason, we know that:

  • Crews are repairing pipes including service lines, hydrants, and water mains in 100+ locations on an average week and 4,000+ locations annually.
  • During freezing temperatures, Charlotte Water experiences a slight increase in emergency repairs.
  • Public streets may be salted near water leaks to reduce slippery conditions.
  • Lanes may remain closed until temperatures are warm enough to make asphalt for repaving.
  • Charlotte Water prioritizes leaks and water main breaks
  • Before repairs can be made, Charlotte Water calls 8-1-1 (NC-One Call) to have underground gas and other utilities marked (spray painted).
  • To repair drinking water pipes, Charlotte Water temporarily shuts off water to the broken pipe.
    • Customers may experience air in their pipes or cloudy, discolored water after service resumes.
    • Customers should run the cold water for up-to-10 minutes.
    • If conditions do not improve, please call 311 or 704-336-7600.
  • Charlotte Water proactively rehabilitates or replaces pipes that are nearing the end of their life cycle.
  • Charlotte Water staff work 24/7 to provide drinking water and wastewater services to Mecklenburg County and beyond. Call 311 or 704-336-7600 if you are experiencing a water emergency.

Life in 1927 vs. 2017

No one can dispute that a lot has changed in 90 years. One thing that hasn’t changed is Charlotte Water’s commitment to safeguarding public health and protecting our waterways.  Our twin wastewater treatment plants, Sugar Creek and Irwin Creek are celebrating their 90th birthday this year (they were built in 1927). While these two plants have expanded and advanced in technology throughout the last 90 years, they continue to be an award-winning treatment plant that serves the Charlotte community 24/7.

Let’s compare the world in 1927 to now.

1927 2017
President: Calvin Coolidge President: Donald Trump
Top Film: The Jazz Singer

Jazz Singer

Top Film: Beauty and the Beast

Beauty and the Beast

Top Song: Ain’t She Sweet by Gene Austin

Listen Here

Top Song: Shape of You by Ed Sheeran

Listen Here

Average Household Income: $1,358 Average Household Income: $56,516
Gallon of milk cost: $0.56 Gallon of milk cost: $3.30
Gallon of Gas: $0.21 Gallon of Gas: $2.32
Postage Stamp: $0.02 Postage Stamp: $0.49
Top Book: The Complete Sherlock Holmes By Arthur Conan Doyle

Sherlock Holmes

Top Book: Hillbilly Elegy: A Memoir of A Family and Culture in Crisis By J.D. Vance

Hillbilly Elegy

Top Baby Name: Robert (m) Mary (f) Top Baby Name: Liam (m) Emma (f)
Average College Cost per year: $400 Average College Cost per year: $33,480


90 Years of Safeguarding Public Health

What do Rome, the Indus Valley civilizations and Charlotte have in common? They were all cities that thrived due to the installation of water and wastewater infrastructure. Without clean water to drink and sanitation systems, people fell prey to disease.

Before Irwin and Sugar Creek wastewater treatment plants (WWTP) were built, Charlotte residents dumped raw sewage directly into nearby creeks and streams. These practices were the root cause of outbreaks of cholera, typhoid, infectious hepatitis, and polio. In 1924, Sugar Creek Wastewater treatment plant was built on Little Sugar Creek and began partial treatment of wastewater. In 1927, Sugar Creek WWTP was expanded and Irwin Creek WWTP was built, and both were the first modern-style plants in the state. They used the highly-effective activated sludge treatment process to remove nutrients and organic materials from the wastewater before it was put back into the creeks and streams.


aiwrin creek Water 1923 laboratory

Laboratory at Irwin Creek WWTP- 1920’s


This technology allowed for an increased quality of life for the residents of Charlotte, less polluted waterways and supported the consistent economic and population growth of the Charlotte region.

Many sectors of the economy are reliant upon water, and any disruption of water/wastewater services can cost businesses a significant amount of revenue. Since 1927, Sugar and Irwin WWTP’s have been treating wastewater 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, and due to many plant expansions are now able to treat up to 20 and 15 million gallons, respectfully, of wastewater per day.


Sugar & Irwin Creek Wastewater Treatment Plants Celebrate 90 Years!

Protecting Charlotteans public health and waterways is something to celebrate. Sugar Creek and Irwin Creek Wastewater Treatment Plants do just that and are celebrating their 90th birthdays.

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Charlotte Water is repairing a 42-inch drinking water pipe at I-77 near I-277

Charlotte Water is repairing a 42-inch drinking water pipe at Interstate 77 near Interstate 277.

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UPDATE-Secondary Spill At Repair Site

Pumping operations have resumed after a streambank collapsed early Thursday morning at the repair site of a 36” wastewater main.

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