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Watershed Plan - Executive Summary

During 2002 local watershed stakeholders and city and state resource managers worked to gather data and outline a plan to restore the Ellerbe Creek Watershed. This document represents the culmination of the efforts undertaken by the Ellerbe Creek Stakeholders group to evaluate the varied sources of water quality degradation and to recommend a comprehensive set of strategies to address the water quality problems within Ellerbe Creek.


Presents the context of the Ellerbe Creek Local Watershed Plan. Ellerbe Creek is one of 28 local watersheds that drain into the Falls Lake Reservoir. The Upper Neuse River Basin Association, created in 1996, initiated a Watershed Management Plan for the entire upper Neuse River Basin, the Falls Lake Watershed. As part of the data analysis for this project, Ellerbe Creek was identified as having the highest percentage of impervious surfaces and delivering the highest nutrient loads to the Falls Lake water supply reservoir. As a result of these and other findings, the North Carolina Wetlands Restoration Program initiated the Ellerbe Creek Local Watershed Plan to analyze water quality issues within the Ellerbe Creek Watershed.


Summarizes the current conditions in the Ellerbe Creek watershed including hydrology, geology, water quality, human impacts, natural heritage and history of the watershed. The Ellerbe Creek Watershed is a predominately urban 23,526-acre watershed located within the upper Neuse River Basin in Durham County, North Carolina. Its headwaters and half of its watershed are located within Durham’s city limits. Approximately 47,540 people live within the watershed. Ellerbe Creek's watershed is 16% forested, 1.25% agricultural with the rest being urban or residential. The Ellerbe Creek watershed is currently 22% impervious and projected to increase to 27.5% by 2025. Water quality in Ellerbe Creek is not supporting its designated uses and will not improve without appropriate water quality protection measures.


Explains the Goals of the Ellerbe Creek Local Watershed Plan. The stakeholders identified the following five major goals.


This is a unifying goal that embodies all of the other goals. Ellerbe Creek is impaired because its natural flow or its hydrology (in essence, the way a stream works) has been dramatically altered. Though no urban stream can be restored to its natural condition, restoring a more natural hydrology makes achieving the remaining goals more possible.


Ellerbe Creek’s impairment is called "Biological Impairment" because its water quality and lack of natural habitat make it difficult for aquatic life to survive. Any real improvement in the creek must be measured by how well aquatic life can survive and flourish.

SECTION 3 (cont.)

Flooding is a natural process necessary to provide habitat and maintain water quality. However, in an urbanized environment such as Ellerbe Creek, flooding can be a destructive force to the built environment and the people who live there. Two keys to this plan are to find areas that can flood without causing property damage and to initiate projects that reduce the volume of stormwater entering streams.


Ellerbe Creek is an underutilized resource. Despite its water quality problems, there are many opportunities for passive recreation along its banks. To the degree that people find Ellerbe Creek to be an amenity and not an eyesore they will become more involved in its protection.


Many Durham residents know very little about Ellerbe Creek or how their day to day activities affect it. To that end the Ellerbe Stakeholders group seeks to inform the public about Ellerbe Creek.


Ellerbe Creek contributes a large pollutant load to Falls Lake. A goal of the Ellerbe Creek Watershed Plan is to reduce the amount of pollution entering this reservoir.


Outlines the recommendations to protect Ellerbe Creek. With Ellerbe Creek’s need for water quality improvement, it is the intent of the Ellerbe Creek Local Watershed Plan to identify a broad range of projects and activities that will meet these goals. The breadth of recommendations identified by this local watershed plan should enable city, county and state governments and their respective agencies as well as nonprofit organizations to take a series of actions to tangibly improve water quality in Ellerbe Creek.

  1. Critical Area Protection
  2. Riparian Area Management
  3. Stream and Riparian Buffer Restoration Projects
  4. Better Site Design for Stormwater Management
  5. Code and Ordinance Improvements
  6. Stormwater Retrofits
  7. Reduce Illicit Discharges
  8. Stream Monitoring
  9. Watershed Education and Stewardship Programs
  10. Erosion and Sediment Control


Watershed Plan

Between February 2002 and March 2003 ECWA drafted a plan that identified its goals for preserving the watershed and listed specific recommendations to meet these goals. The initial version of the plan is available for your review and comments.

This page contains a brief introduction to the organizational context for the plan and names the stakeholder group responsible for this plan. The links below provide access to the plan's executive summary, the full plan (in Adobe © PDF format), and an email link for you to make your questions, comments, and suggestions known to the ECWA Board of Directors.


An Executive Summary of the Plan

The Complete Watershed Plan (PDF)

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In February of 2002, the NCWRP convened the Ellerbe Creek Stakeholders Team. The stakeholders met sixteen times, finalizing the Ellerbe Creek Local watershed Plan in March of 2003. The following stakeholders participated in the watershed planning process and were party to the final plan:

  • John Cox - Durham Stormwater Services
  • Chris Dreps - Upper Neuse River Basin Association
  • Stephen Hiltner - Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
  • Julie Holmes - Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
  • Jane Korest - Durham City/County Planning
  • Robert Louque - Durham Stormwater Services
  • Noland Martin - Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
  • Michele Nowlin - Friends of South Ellerbe Creek
  • Chris Outlaw - Durham Stormwater Services
  • Joshua Rose - Ellerbe Creek Watershed Association
  • Leigh Scott - Durham Central Park
  • Melissa Vernon - Duke University

The Upper Neuse River Basin Association (UNRBA) was formed in 1996 to provide an ongoing forum for cooperation on water quality protection and water resource planning and management within the 770-square-mile watershed that drains into Falls Lake. The 8 municipalities, 6 counties, and local Soil and Water Conservation Districts in the watershed voluntarily formed the Association. The mission of the UNRBA is to preserve the water quality of the Upper Neuse River Basin through innovative and cost-effective pollution reduction strategies, and to constitute a forum to cooperate on water supply issues within the Upper Neuse River Basin.

In 1998, the North Carolina Wetlands Restoration Program (NCWRP) in cooperation with the UNRBA received an Environmental Protection Agency Wetlands Program Development Grant. One of the grant deliverables was development of the Upper Neuse River Basin Watershed Management Plan. The intent of this plan was to analyze current and future water quality conditions and strategies to address water quality concerns.

During the development of this plan, municipal and county government representatives identified water quality within water supply reservoirs as their highest priority along with limits to recreational use and habitat protection as other priorities. Based on these ranked priorities, the UNRBA and the NCWRP determined that the Ellerbe Creek watershed, located within the Upper Neuse River Basin, was an appropriate candidate for a Local Watershed Plan (LWP) (see Figure 2 on page 3). The goals of this plan will work to address Ellerbe Creek’s long-term poor water quality and protect water quality in the Falls Lake water supply reservoir.

The Ellerbe Creek Local Watershed Plan development was initiated in February 2002 to provide more detailed information pertinent to the Ellerbe Creek Watershed. All information prepared and presented in the Ellerbe Creek LWP compliments the purposes outlined in the Upper Neuse River Basin Watershed Management Plan. For more information about the Upper Neuse River Basin Watershed Management Plan, see

Watershed residents and other stakeholders played a vital role in the creation of a Local Watershed Plan. Local Watershed Plans provide an important opportunity for local stakeholders to shape the future of their watershed. Through the local watershed planning process, these groups, like the Ellerbe Creek Stakeholder Team, work cooperatively to identify issues, set priorities, develop strategies, secure funding and implement protection and restoration projects within their communities. By integrating stakeholder participation into plan development and implementation, the local watershed plan for this Ellerbe Creek Watershed becomes a blueprint for strategically implementing local projects through partnerships with local governments, citizens, nonprofit organizations, and state and federal agencies.