Linking Land Use and Water Quality: Guiding Development Surrounding Durham County’s
By Katie Rose Levin
Cities and Counties have an obligation to provide water to their citizens in the quality
and quantity necessary to support a viable existence. To meet these demands, in 1929
Durham City dammed the Flat River, creating the reservoir named “Lake Michie” in the
far north eastern part of Durham County. Although located in a primarily rural area,
there are signs that stormwater runoff is having detrimental effects on Lake Michie.
The reservoir has already lost a quarter of its holding capacity to sedimentation,
and was recently classified as Eutrophic by the USGS. Development pressure will only
increase, as for the last ten years Durham County’s population has grown faster than
the average across the state.
To address development concerns, Durham county and city created the Unified Development
Ordinance (UDO) which provides enhanced protection for the land in the Lake Michie
Watershed. The UDO limits the amount of impervious surface allowed on any one parcel
in the watershed to 6%, while allowing a transfer of development between parcels to
discourage urban sprawl. In addition to the protection afforded by codes, Durham managers
are interested in creating a unified conservation scheme, based on preserving parcels
as forested areas.
This Project provides information and maps that can be used for conservation planning.
Through combining topography, soils, and land use, areas likely to have highest impact
on water quality are highlighted. Using this information, parcels can be evaluated
based on their relative impact on water quality. Likewise, parcels can be compared
against each other for the relative impact they have on water quality, informing
transfers of impervious surface areas to meet development code. By combining the scientific
evaluation of land use effects with the political boundaries of parcel ownership officials
can easily translate science into the politics of conservation and development. Just
like the New Hope Creek and Eno River conservation maps, now Lake Michie has a scientifically
based conservation map to help officials and land managers preserve water quality
into the future.
Adviser: Dr. Dean Urban