Category Archives: History

The History of Charlotte Water

In 1899, Charlotte City Council purchased Charlotte Water Works Company to provide drinking water and fire protection for the City of Charlotte. 

In 1972, the City and County consolidated efforts to provide a single water & wastewater service. This department began with 72,000 customers and 2,300 miles of pipe to maintain. It provided 48 million gallons of drinking water and treated 40 million gallons of wastewater. 

During the 1980s Charlotte Water began serving all of Mecklenburg County. Over the decades, infrastructure has grown to keep pace with the community. The technology was used to switch from septic storage to state-of-the-art wastewater treatment and using chemicals like chlorine, fluoride, and ultra-violet rays to improve water quality.

History Timeline

1870 – City Council identified a need for a water supply system. 

1876 – Charlotte constructs sewer service under Trade Street.

1881 – First water supply company established called ‘Charlotte Water Company’.

1899 – 50,000-gallon standpipe (a pressure regulator) in Dilworth was built for fire protection. The City of Charlotte purchased the water and wastewater system. 

1900 – 5 million gallons a day filter plant and pumping station on Irwin Creek (less than a mile east from present Vest Water Treatment location on Beatties Ford Road).

1903 – The Original Catawba River Pump Station was opened to provide fire protection and drinking water. The pump station was impounded and flooded by Duke Power in 1920 to create Mt. Island Lake.

1903 – The first wastewater septic/treatment plants were built on property now known as Revolution Park & Freedom Park. 

1905 – First water treatment plant built.

1911 – Irwin Creek water supply failed due to a severe water shortage. Trains temporarily brought in water. Utility Department built a new water intake facility on the Catawba River. According to “Water Rates and By-laws of Charlotte Water Works,” the deposit to receive water was $1.50. The monthly rate was $.55 for 1,500 gallons or less. In 1911 customers were located in the ‘four wards,’ Dilworth, Brevard Street, and East Sixteenth.

1917 – 60 million gallon reservoir built (steam and electricity used for operation) to store water.

1920 – The population of Charlotte was 46,538.

1922 – Mt. Island Lake created by Duke Power and a new raw water intake facility built on the lake. Vest Water Treatment Plant built (On Beatties Ford Rd).

1923 – Charlotte abandoned septic tanks within the city limits.

1927 – Charlotte begins construction of two new plants on the current Sugar Creek and Irwin Creek locations. Sugar Creek (located at Park and Tyvola Road) and Irwin Creek (located on Billy Graham Parkway) wastewater treatment plants were actually miles outside of the city limits when first operated.

These plants had the capacity to treat 6 million gallons a day with a flow of 3 million gallons a day in the late 1920s.  The facilities were implemented to protect the environment and water providers downstream.

1929 – The Literary Digest proclaims “Engines Run on Sewage Gas…the first American city to obtain power upon a plant-operating scale from sewage sludge gas falls to Charlotte…the savings in power cost should pay for an engine installation within three years.”

1948 – An Industrial Waste Ordinance was adopted to provide treatment of industrial wastes that would otherwise be discharged into creeks.

1949 – Charlotte’s first use of fluoride as a dental health experiment project.  The natural level of fluoride in the water was .05 – .10 parts per million (ppm).  The experiment prescribed the dosage of 1.05 ppm.  This level was maintained for a month.

1950 –Charlotte population 134,042 served by 36,000 water meters.

1959 – Franklin Water Treatment Plant (5200 Brookshire Blvd) built.  It provided 12 million gallons of drinking water a day.  It now provides over 100 million gallons of drinking water a day.

1960 – Charlotte population is 201,564.

1963 – Cowan’s Ford Dam and Lake Norman created by Duke Power.

1966 – McAlpine Creek Wastewater Treatment Plant built and serving the southern part of Mecklenburg County.

1970 – Water use was 33.8 million gallons a day, served via 1,091 miles of water pipe, 82,478 meters, and 3,234 hydrants.

1972 – Charlotte-Mecklenburg Utility Department (CMUD) formed as a division of the City of Charlotte from existing City and County departments.

1979 – McDowell and Mallard Creek Wastewater Treatment plants built to serve the Huntersville area and University area respectively.

1984 – Agreement with six surrounding towns in Mecklenburg County to provide water and wastewater services.

1990 – 100,000th customer and 4,000 miles of pipe.

1996 – Operation of Irwin Creek Plant (along with Vest Water Plant) put up for competitive bid.  The city developed a winning bid, beating 7 international private companies by more than 20%.

1998 – North Mecklenburg Water Treatment Plant completed. Later named Lee Dukes Water Treatment Plant.

2003 – Automated meters in use in North Mecklenburg.  Radio signals send the customer’s water usage to a computer.

2015 – Name changed to Charlotte Water (CLTWater).

Charlotte Water Highlights Our History

Charlotte Water Adds Uplights to Our Historical Vest Water Tower in Collaboration with McCrorey Neighborhood

Considered a hallmark of water facilities of the 20th century and lauded for ingenuity in function and design, the Vest Water Station symbolizes over 100 years of water and urban development history in Charlotte. In 1990, Vest Water Station received designation as American Water Works Association Landmark and is also designated by the Charlotte Mecklenburg Historic Landmarks Commission as a Historic Landmark.  

Historic Drought Threatened Charlotte

In 1911, Charlotte’s main water sources were private wells and local creeks. When a devastating drought dried up the creeks, Charlotte was forced to pay neighboring cities to haul water to the city. The drought was so significant that the city’s police were confiscating garden hoses from people’s yards. Newspapers as far north as New York City warned people to stay away from Charlotte and neighboring cities and placed ads in Charlotte newspapers talking about their clean, fresh water. While the drought eventually ended, it brought to light an area of concern for planners if Charlotte was to continue to develop into a larger city.  

As a result, city officials rapidly pursued pumping water from the Catawba River and an extensive, state-of-the-art water treatment and storage facility at Vest Water Station. Around this time, Charlotte was the most populous city in North Carolina (around 50,000 people) and growing. If Charlotte didn’t have a secure water source, the city would not last not grow. This facility was the start of an extensive and innovative water system that continues to win awards today. 

An Innovative Water Treatment Facility

The main facility held laboratories, coagulation basins, filters, a capacity of 8.3 million gallons a day, and an elevated storage tank of 1 million gallons. By the late 1930s, capacity was reached, and expansions were completed after 1939. This expansion enabled the water treatment facility to meet the needs of Charlotte’s population of over 130,000. 

Without this forethought into water supply and distribution, Charlotte would not have experienced the same degree of population and industrial growth throughout the early 20th century. A commitment to clean, drinkable water and state-of-the-art water infrastructure allowed Charlotte to boom throughout the following decades. The fire department worked closely with Charlotte Water to ensure the water infrastructure supported efficient firefighting. This led to a decrease in fire-related losses in Charlotte. 

Due to its innovative design, the Vest Water Treatment Plant runs efficiently and is a major water source in the area. In evaluating locations for the new water plant, the Beatties Ford Road corridor location was chosen for several reasons. The land was at a higher elevation and close to existing water mains. It also was at a prime location to collect water from existing water sources. It was also, at the time, undeveloped. Rev. H.L. McCrorey owned the land and had planned to use it for future African-American-owned development. After a legal process, the City of Charlotte acquired the land from McCrorey Heights.  

The McCrorey Heights Influence

While the history has been complex, the McCrorey Heights neighborhood has since been designated a historic district to protect it from other projects in the future. This allows the neighborhood to have more control over what happens within McCrorey Heights and helps protect against gentrification and other changes that threaten the integrity of its neighborhood. 

Due to the work of McCrorey Heights, their neighborhood has stayed well-preserved and intact. It looks remarkably like how it was in the 1950s when it became fully developed. Many civil rights leaders lived in the McCrorey Heights neighborhood and some of their descendants and family live there today. This neighborhood was and still is an influential hub of Black culture and leadership. 

Vest Water Tower Lighting Ceremony

It is in collaboration with the McCrorey Heights neighborhood that Charlotte Water added lights to the Vest Station water tower earlier this month. With the community’s input, more than 70 LED lights were strategically installed and positioned across the tank walls and underbody to illuminate the tower for decades. Other improvements to the area will include an electric vehicle charging area and a bench seating and placemaking location. 

Charlotte Water recognizes both the historic nature of the innovative Vest Station water tower and what it meant to the growth and development of Charlotte and this historic neighborhood that has been influential in Charlotte becoming what it is today. 

In recognition of our past, we better understand the work that needs to be done in the future. It is only through collaboration that Charlotte can progress. We are grateful for the leadership of the McCrorey Heights neighborhood and their participation in this project. 

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.


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.