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Rain gardens clean it up

Mecklenburg County Storm Water Services encourages the use of rain gardens to improve the quality of run-off.


Huntersville, North Carolina--You may not realize it, but some of that water coming from your kitchen faucet or shower nozzle may have once been part of a dirty, oily puddle in a local parking lot.  

But with the addition of rain gardens to several huge parking areas in Huntersville, a lot of dirty water will be on its way to being clean again, benefiting residents from Davidson to Ballantyne. 

Northcross Shopping Center in Huntersville, with 60 acres of parking lot and rooftops, has gone “green” with the addition of rain gardens. This spring, 146 asphalt parking spaces were replaced with ten natural areas. While they look like fancy landscaping, rain gardens are engineering devices. Rainfall that hits the parking lot flows to the rain gardens, carrying with it oil drippings, brake dust, antifreeze and many other contaminants. Specially-selected soils and plants in the rain gardens soak up as much as 98% of some pollutants. The bowl shape of the rain gardens holds excess water. The cleaner water trickles from a drain at the bottom and is piped to a nearby stream. Slowing the flow of water reduces the risk of creek flooding and stream bank erosion. 

In addition to Northcross Shopping Center, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Storm Water Services has partnered with other private businesses in Huntersville to add a total of 16 rain gardens and wetlands at Carolinas Medical Center-Northcross, Northcross Commons, NorthPointe Executive Business Park, and in the Monteith Park residential subdivision. Known as the McDowell Best Management Practices project, the five sites are near I-77 and Sam Furr Road.  

Storm water runoff from that area is piped directly into McDowell Creek, not to a treatment plant. The creek empties into Charlotte-Mecklenburg’s drinking water source: Mountain Island Lake. Water quality where the creek meets the lake is among the poorest in the entire Catawba River chain. Studies predict the amount of pollution in McDowell Creek will triple as development continues in northern Mecklenburg County. The rain gardens are designed to remove a significant amount of water pollution at the source, such as parking lots. That will result in cleaner water in the creek and lake.   

The cost of building the rain gardens and wetlands at the five locations is $1.9 million dollars.  Nearly $800,000 of that came from Storm Water fees paid by Mecklenburg County residents. The remaining $1.1 million was funded through grants from the North Carolina Clean Water Management Trust Fund and North Carolina Division of Environment and Natural Resources. Land was donated by American Asset Corporation, Carolinas HealthCare Systems, Northcross Properties LLC, NorthPointe Realty Corporation, Saussy Burbank, and Sentinel Real Estate Corporation, thanks to partnerships with Harris Teeter, Kohl’s, and Lowe’s.

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