Mecklenburg, Gaston, & Lincoln Counties

Citizens to the Rescue

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Acting Entity: Trust for Public Land
Contact Person: David Brown
Cost: $35 million
Population Served: 720,490

Water Supply: Reservoir, Catawba River, City of Charlotte/Mecklenburg County

PWS ID: 0160010

Helping Organizations:
· Catawba Lands Conservancy
· The Community Foundation of Gaston County
· Foundation for the Carolinas
· Centralina Council of Governments
· Carolinas Lands Conservation Network
· Crescent Resources
· Gaston County
· Lincoln County
· Mecklenburg County
· North Carolina Land and Water Fund

Funding Sources:
· $6.15 million from North Carolina Land and Water Fund
· Gaston County
· Mecklenburg County
· Community Foundation of Gaston County
· Foundation for the Carolinas

· Public awareness and action produced results.
· The affected area of this project spans three counties, Mecklenburg, Gaston and Lincoln.
· Project features many groups of people with differing interests working together toward a common goal.
· Protected water source provides drinking water for approximately 8% of NC's population.

Summary: Mountain Island Lake, a water-and-power reservoir on the Catawba River, northwest of Charlotte, provides drinking water to more than half a million people - 1 in every 8 North Carolina residents. But the lake's water quality is endangered by rapid development spreading through bordering Mecklenburg, Lincoln, and Gaston counties. Conservation efforts by Mecklenburg County and Charlotte Mecklenburg Utilities began in the 1970s and succeeded in preserving much of the lake's eastern side for watershed protection and recreation as part of Mecklenburg County's system of Nature Preserves.
The western side of the lake remained unprotected, and conservation efforts began to intensify with increasing development pressure. The lake's neighboring counties were particularly anxious to prevent development along the 80-mile lakeshore and 254 miles of tributary stream banks, some of which already carry large quantities of silt from upstream development. Armed with a computerized model of the watershed, scientists determined which parcels needed to be protected to guarantee maximum water quality in the reservoir.
In 1998, the Catawba Lands Conservancy, the Community Foundation of Gaston County, the Foundation For The Carolinas, and the Trust for Public Land, and Gaston, Lincoln, and Mecklenburg Counties formed the Mountain Island Lake Initiative to help protect this critical resource. The initial partnership has grown to include a broad coalition of local governments, funders, and nonprofit organizations, including the city of Gastonia, the Carolinas Land Conservation Network, the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation Inc., and the Knight Foundation, among others.
A $6.15 million grant from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund kicked off the program's land acquisition efforts in 1998. This critical funding, the largest dollar amount ever spent by the Fund at the time, enabled Gaston and Lincoln counties, working with the Trust for Public Land and the Centralina Council of Governments (COG), to protect 1,231 acres along the lake's western shore, including six miles of lake frontage.
The second property protected by the Initiative, known as Water's Edge, was scheduled to be developed for 400 homes and 80 boat docks less than 1,000 feet from the water intake for Gastonia and Mt. Holly. The City of Gastonia committed to sell revenue bonds to secure the $9.4 million needed for the purchase price, and this debt is being repaid with a $1.20 Mountain Island Lake Protection Fee on the water bills of Gastonia residents. Funding from the North Carolina Land and Water Fund was instrumental in completing the protection of the Waters Edge shoreline. In 2000, a $1 million grant to the City of Gastonia funded a conservation easement valued at $3 million to the state of North Carolina.
Another important source of public funding was created in November 2000, when voters in Mecklenburg County passed a $220 million Land Purchase Bond by 64%; $15 million was designated for land acquisition along the shoreline and tributaries of Mountain Island Lake.
Now in its fourth year, the Initiative has, through 14 acquisitions, protected 2,361 acres of the lake's watershed, including 9 miles of shoreline and more than 15 miles of stream banks. But the work of protecting the water quality of Mountain Island Lake is ongoing. The Catawba Lands Conservancy is focusing its acquisition efforts on Gar Creek, and the Trust for Public Land is working to acquire land on McDowell, Torrence, and Catawba Creeks and along the shoreline of the lake.