Category Archives: My Water

A Foul Odor Outside May or May Not Be Wastewater

Have you ever ventured outside and something quite astonishing assaulted your nose? It may be easy to pin the blame on a wastewater treatment plant that could be nearby. However, foul odors commonly emanate from a variety of sources in our community:

  • Landfills
  • Industries (i.e. paper or chemical plants)
  • Natural gas pipeline work
  • A wastewater spill
  • Wastewater plants
  • Even private plumbing

Let’s start inside the home…

Private plumbing systems are designed to prevent wastewater gases from entering residences. All active sewer lines contain gases, and a malfunctioning plumbing system could allow gases or odors to enter the home.

Is the odor inside?

Is the odor only coming from…:

A drain that hasn’t been used recently?

We recommend for you to pour a gallon of water down the drain and see if the odor persists.

Multiple drains that are used frequently?

It may be a blockage or clog in your plumbing. Try a liquid dissolvent, please follow directions and see if this clears the clog and dissipates the odor.

A kitchen sink?

Clean the disposal (following the owner’s manual).

What you put down the drain (grease, oils, wipes) can cause odors clogging your plumbing. If the odor does not go away and is only inside your house, consider having a licensed plumber check your plumbing and vent system.

illustration of sink showing that water sits in the trap keeping gases and odors from coming out of the drain. Houses have a vent to the room so that any odor will escape outside.

Odor Outside Home?

Every home has a wastewater vent (on the roof) that could be the source of an odor immediately outside your home (patio, deck, etc.). The odor could be caused by a clog or blockage in your plumbing. Check with neighbors to see if they are also experiencing the odor. If it is only noticed just outside your building, contact a plumber.

Another place to check is in your front yard. Most homes also have a white plastic lid called a cleanout, and that if not closed properly it may cause odor in the yard.

If you live on waterfront property or the road is higher than your house, you may have a low-pressure sanitary sewer system to pump your wastewater up to the gravity fed sewer system. It is possible that this system may be causing an odor in the pump basin if something is malfunctioning.

What Can Cause A Wastewater Type Odor?

Sewage odor may be a sign of a nearby wastewater overflow that needs immediate attention.

​If you see or suspect a wastewater overflow or spill, call 311 or 704-336-7600 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week. If calling after hours, please say or select ‘wastewater emergency’ to speak to our dispatchers.

If you live beside a wastewater treatment plant, there may be some occasions when a smell is noticeable outside the property. Wastewater odor can be noticeable during warm temperatures, buildup of debris in pipes, or low flow during some nights and weekends.

CLTWater Takes Odor Seriously

For decades, wastewater treatment plants that were once neighbors to farms and forests are now neighbors to residential neighborhoods and businesses. In fact, there’s a wastewater treatment plant in the Little Sugar Creek / South Park area! As people moved closer to our plants, CLTWater invested millions on odor reduction. We aren’t baking bread, but we try hard to make the treatment of our community’s wastewater less noticeable.

Air scrubbers, carbon filters, bio-filters, help CLTWater reduce odors that can occur during the wastewater treatment process. We are committed to safely treating wastewater and reducing odors. We appreciate your input to help us identify potential odors.

How Do I Report an Odor or Sewer Spill?

If you see or suspect a wastewater overflow, call 311 – 24 hours a day, seven days a week (say or select wastewater emergency).

  • Try to locate the source.
  • If it is coming from a manhole or a creek, call 311 or 704-336-7600 and provide the closest address.
  • A repair crew will respond quickly, investigate the cause and repair any publicly owned pipes, if needed.


Why Does Wastewater Cost More On My Water Bill?

Treating wastewater is complex, using sophisticated biological systems, multiple filters, and modern disinfection methods.

So why does your sewer part of the monthly bill cost more than water usage?

The Short Answer:

It is easier and cheaper to treat lake water to make it drinkable than to treat the community’s wastewater (industrial, commercial, and residential) and make it clean enough to reintroduce into a creek or river.

Water leaving the plant must be free of harmful pollutants to protect fish, turtles, birds, and other creatures that depend on the creek.

Below is a step-by-step guide for turning lake water into potable or drinking water.

And here are the steps to turn your wastewater into creek-able water.

There are more steps to the wastewater treatment process than water treatment process.

Charlotte Water (CLTWater) only uses water meters to measure usage, so wastewater usage is calculated based on that water usage up to a limit or cap.

Energy and chemical costs are higher for wastewater treatment processes, hence the higher cost for wastewater treatment vs. water treatment on a water bill.

The cost to treat wastewater and meet federal regulations continues to increase. Our goal is to always meet and exceed regulations to ensure cleaner water goes into our creeks.

Stop right here if you’re satisfied! The Longer Answer gets a bit technical about how your billing works.

The Longer Answer:

CLTWater pays for water and wastewater services via usage and billing fees, not taxes (contrary to popular belief). CLTWater posted the official Revenue Manual that details all fees.

How can I help reduce my water / sewer bill and rate increases?
Toss all trash in the trashcan, not down a drain. Did you know that ‘flushable’ wipes clog pipes and require manually pulling them out of pumps? Wipes can cause expensive repairs and maintenance.

Additional resources:

What Happens When I Flush? A Story About Your Poop…

It isn’t magic, it is your water bill working for you…

When you wash, brush, or flush, the water leaves your home and flows mostly by gravity down pipes to one of our wastewater treatment plants.

There are over 4,600 miles of pipe used to collect the wastewater in the collection system. Utility crews clean pipelines to prevent blockages and spills. They also clear blocked pipes, maintain pumping stations, repair damaged pipes, and connect new customers. Our plant operators work 24/7 to protect public health and the environment.

What is wastewater, and where does it go?

Used water (wastewater) from inside homes and businesses flow through thousands of miles of pipes to one of five wastewater treatment plants. The used water includes detergents, food, paper, and industrial & human waste. The collection system includes pipes, manholes, and pumping stations.

But how does it all work? Below is a quick explanation:

Pumping Influent

Wastewater flows by gravity from homes and businesses to the wastewater treatment plant. It enters the plant at a low elevation, usually near a creek. The wastewater is pumped uphill to begin treatment. Gravity moves water through the treatment process.

Preliminary Treatment

Screens remove large objects such as bottles,  branches, wipes, and trash. Grit chambers remove grit, sand, sediment, and gravel.

A big part of the wastewater treatment process is to separate the solids from the liquids and the liquids from the solids…


Primary Treatment

Wastewater flows slowly through large tanks called primary clarifiers. This allows the heavier organic solids to settle down to the bottom of the tank. The settled material or primary sludge is pumped from the tank to a digester for further treatment.

Secondary (Biological) Treatment

Air bubbles are forced through the wastewater to encourage certain types of useful bacteria and microorganisms (microscopic single-cell organisms, think amoeba) to grow. These ‘bugs’ consume organic pollutants in the wastewater. They break pollutants (i.e. ammonia) into simpler forms (nitrates).

Final Clarification

The bacteria and microorganisms from the biological treatment phase are settled out of the wastewater in large tanks called final clarifiers. The bacteria/bugs are reused again in the treatment process…

Very similar to the primary clarifiers, the water moves slowly to allow the settling process to occur. Settled material or sludge that is pumped from the bottom of the clarifiers goes to digesters for further processing.


Even though the wastewater flowing from the final clarifiers appears to be clear, there may be very tiny particles remaining. The flow is passed through a bed of sand or fine mesh screens called an effluent filter. This filter removes these particles.


The processed wastewater (effluent) is disinfected with ultraviolet (UV) light to neutralize any remaining harmful microorganisms.

Cascade Returns Water to Creek

The final stage of treatment is disinfection and then the water flows over a cascade of steps to the creek. The cascade steps looks and acts like a large waterfall putting oxygen from the atmosphere back to the water. The water may have a foam look as it travels down the creek due to the oxygen.



Digesters are large tanks where the solids removed from the clarifiers are heated, mixed, and treated with biological processes to remove harmful bacteria, break down fats and oils, and overall reduce the volume of solids. 


The solids removed from the digesters still contain a large amount of water. This water is removed for treatment. The treated biosolids are collected and returned to the environment. The biosolids are nutrient-rich byproducts of wastewater treatment. Biosolids are land applied on agricultural or farmers’ fields to as soil amendments and a source of fertilizer. 

Wastewater treatment operators and our laboratory professionals test both the water and solids throughout the process.

Did you know…

  1. Our oldest plants were built in the 1920s.
  2. Part of designing for treatment plants includes ensuring space for expansion for generations.
  3. Staff can take parts of the wastewater plant offline for cleaning, repairs, and upgrades all while treating the constant flow.

Additional resources:

What does a growing city mean to wastewater treatment plants?

Why does wastewater cost more than water on my bill?

How does CLTWater respond to a wastewater overflow?

Is the odor from a wastewater plant or sewer manhole?


Taken by Cam Coley, employee City of Charlotte, Charlotte Water

Charlotte is a rapidly growing city, in an equally rapidly expanding region. Investments in vital resources and infrastructure will not only support that growth but allow everyone to have a quality of life that is only capable through access to a safe, clean and reliable water system. Each of the 1,200 Charlotte Water system employees work hard to support that vision. Charlotte Water does this by increasing capacity through improvement and enhancement projects and by working 24/7/365 to maintain, repair and replace foundational infrastructure across the region.

Why are Water Rates Increasing?

Charlotte Water is legally required to operate as a “cost-of-service provider.”  This means, as a utility, CLTWater must strictly use fees and rates to support, maintain and grow the water system. That requires us to operate as good water stewards and as a business operation that does not make a profit, but also can not legally operate at a loss.

Charlotte Water does not use property tax or sales tax to operate or fund capital improvements. The Charlotte Water system is supported entirely by water and sewer rates and fees paid by customers. Each dollar in rates has a specific purpose in how it goes to work in the water system. These rates allow Charlotte Water to:

  • Provide clean, safe and reliable drinking water
  • Maintain more than 9,000 miles of water and wastewater pipes
  • Rehabilitate, replace, and invest in aging infrastructure
  • Exceed regulatory requirements
  • Support regional growth
  • Safely transport and treat wastewater

To achieve this, each year, Charlotte Water systematically evaluates its existing infrastructure, upcoming capital needs (such as capacity), and other industry and economic variables. This helps determine if a rate adjustment is necessary. Potential adjustments are presented to the City Council, explaining how each dollar will be used and where it will go. If City Council approves, the new rates typically go into effect in July of that year.  “FY,” or fiscal year, is identified as July of the current year into June of the following year.

For FY2024, (July 2023- June 2024) Charlotte Water rates will increase an average of 4.25% , which equals approximately a $3.10 monthly increase for average Charlotte Water residential customer bills.

To learn more about the 2024 rates and fees, visit our webpage.

How are Rate Adjustments Decided/Calculated?

CLTWater uses a nationally-recognized rate consultant to evaluate and audit our rate model. This complex model uses many variables, such as regulatory, personnel, industry costs, etc., to create a ten-year projection.

Capital Improvement Plan

A large part of rates are used towards investing and funding Charlotte Water’s Capital Improvement Projects (CIP). Each year, CLTWater identifies and prioritizes several projects that are needed within a five-year period. Projects selected must meet certain requirements, such as fulfilling capacity needs, supporting future development, or improving the quality of life for the community.

The goal of the CIP is to:

  • Line up with CLTWater’s Mission and Vision to serve customers
  • Identify the right projects
  • Identify the funding needs
  • Maintain consistent annual funding levels
  • Ensure financial viability
  • Balance our goals against supporting municipal vision plans, economic development and regulatory requirements

For the fiscal year 2024-2028, CLTWater plans to invest $2.63 Billion back into the community’s utility. The investment can be broken down into key groups:

Capacity for Growth
$1.5B to expand and upsize pipes and plants to maintain service for a growing community

Rehab and Replacement
$645M to replace some of the oldest infrastructure

Regulatory Requirements
$279M to complete projects related to new state or federal regulations

Commitments to Public Projects
$115M to relocate pipes before NCDOT, City of Charlotte, or town-funded projects

Utility Support
$70M towards advancement in technology, security and updates to current facilities

Lawsuit Settlement Update

Charlotte Water previously shared with media and customers that a recent lawsuit settlement would impact the CIP program and possibly lead to a higher-than-normal rate adjustment in July. (You can learn more by reading the blog article here.)

Since January 2023, Charlotte Water restructured the Capital Improvement Plan (CIP) to instead absorb the lawsuit damages. This means the settlement costs will not be passed along to customers as previously proposed.

FY 24 Industrial Sewer Rates

CLTWater recently worked with a utility consulting firm to complete a rate study and better understand our rates and cost of treatment.  During the evaluation, we learned some of the industrial sewer rates had not been updated since 2011. This meant a rate recovery was needed for:

  • increased costs of treatment
  • treatment plant improvements
  • operational costs and program costs

Industrial Fees are different than regular customer sewer rates because industries usually have different/stronger compositions of certain chemicals.  Treatment plants are designed and regulated for domestic (residential) strength wastewater.

Each industry/business is unique in its usage and discharge. For most commercial and utility users, your bill is calculated based on how much water you use and your wastewater composition. In general, the more you use, the more you pay. For monitored industries, the higher the concentration of chemical oxygen demand (COD), total suspended solids (TSS) or ammonia discharged, the more you will pay.

Non-monitored industries, e.g., breweries and restaurants, incur the high strength volume charge.

To mitigate the impact of the rate recovery, rates are proposed to increase in three phases:

  • July 1, 2023
  • January 1, 2024
  • Incremental increases annually expected to start July 1, 2024

To learn more about the different industrial and commercial rates, view these one-pagers below.

Charlotte Water Cares

CLTWater is always looking for ways to connect customers to resources and available financial aid programs. We work closely with several community partners, including Crisis Assistance and the Department of Social Services, to connect residents to resources. Learn more about our “Dream Team” by reading our blog article.

Financial assistance is available for families in need. Charlotte Water encourages customers to contact 3-1-1 or visit to learn more about the many financial assistance programs available.