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Cornelius News

Catawba Riverkeeper: LKN water quality is ‘excellent’


Brandon Jones | Photo: Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation

Aug. 24. By Dave Yochum. Over the past three years there have been more than a dozen sewage spills in and around Cornelius into the waters of Lake Norman, a most regrettable series of events that caused plenty of negativity on various Facebook pages, but no long-term efffect, according to Catawba Riverkeeper Brandon Jones.

“There are no long term effects once the bacteria levels return to normal,” he said.

For a region that depends on the lake in countless ways, economic or otherwise, the sewage spills are like a public relations campaign in high speed reverse.

As Riverkeeper, Jones focuses on threats to clean water, including coal ash issues, pollution discharges and stormwater runoff.

In light of the sewage spills, we asked Jones these questions. He responded promptly, despite being on vacation.

Question: How significant are the sewage spills that have occurred during the last couple of years on Lake Norman? Is there a lasting effect?

Jones: The spills are significant, but localized and temporary. It is unsafe to swim in the immediate area of discharge until the fecal bacteria concentration is reduced. There are no long-term effects once the bacteria levels return to normal.

Question: Of course it varies by size, but how long does it take to dissipate?

Jones: Spill dissipation depends on a number of factors including size, location, and weather. Dilution, exposure to sunlight, and colder temperatures all speed up the process. Elevated fecal bacterial numbers from spills generally return to background levels within 2-5 days.

Question: The water in LKN looks clear, especially in the winter. Is that a sign of a clean body of water?

Jones: In general the water quality of Lake Norman is excellent. Clear water (low turbidity) is one indication of clean water. However certain types of contaminates (like heavy metals) will not change the water clarity. Conversely clean waters may be discolored due to harmless algae and tannins.

Question: Is there any danger in swimming (not drinking) near a coal ash site?

Jones: No samples of lake water have shown elevated levels of coal ash related contaminates.

Question: Are PCBs dispersed throughout LKN? Do PCBs affect swimmers?

Jones: PCBs usually bond with the lake bottom soils in very low concentrations. They can bioaccumulate and biomagnify in certain species such as largemouth bass. Swimmers have little to no exposure to the compounds.

Jones received his M.S. in Earth Science from UNC Charlotte; his studies focused on hydrology, specifically water chemistry. He completed his undergraduate education at UNC Chapel Hill, graduating with a B.A. in Economics & a minor in Environmental Science. Jones joined the Catawba Riverkeeper Foundation in 2017 as director of technical programs before being promoted to Riverkeeper in November 2018.

Sewage spills in 2021-23


150 gallons on Yachtman Drive in February

458 gallons on Blakely Shores in March

405 gallons on Paradise Cove in June

200 gallons on Paradise Cove in July

50 gallons on Peninsula Club in September

2,695 gallons on Queensdale in December


520 gallons on Davidson Street in February

84 gallons on Mainsail in March

120 gallons on Peninsula Club in March

A no swimming advisory for part of Lake Davidson. Griffith Street runs along the bottom of the map

630 gallons on Spinnakers Reach in April

600 gallons on Meta in June

515 gallons on Holiday Lane in July

93 gallons on Belle Isle in October


460 gallons Torrence Chapel Estates Circle May 30

8,000 gallons 21328 Nautique June 11

700 gallons 18630 Jetton July 4

(Gallons unknown) 21328 Nautique Aug. 8

Lake Norman hosts the Basspro.com Bassmaster Southern Open Sept. 23-25. Photo by Andy Crawford/B.A.S.S.

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