North Carolina TMDL Program 

The Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) Program is a Federal program authorized under the Clean Water Act to address waters that are not meeting water quality standards. A TMDL is a calculation of the maximum amount of a pollutant that a waterbody can receive and still meet water quality standards. The TMDL is then used to establish limits on sources of the pollutant which are classified as either point sources (waste load allocation), and non point sources (load allocation). The TMDL must account for seasonal variation in water quality and include a margin of safety to ensure that the TMDL allocations will adequate to protect the body of water.

How do I receive important 303(d) or TMDL announcements?

Send a blank email to then reply to the confirmation email you receive.

Why Is North Carolina Developing TMDLs? 

  • All states are required by Section 303(d) of the 1972 Federal Clean Water Act (CWA) to develop TMDLs for water bodies that are impaired (too polluted to maintain their beneficial uses). The list of the lakes, rivers, streams, and estuaries in North Carolina that need TMDLs or TMDL Alternative plans are listed in the North Carolina Clean Water Act Section 303(d) List.
  • Federal regulations prohibit the addition of certain new sources and new discharges of pollutants to waters listed on the North Carolina 303(d) List until a TMDL is established.
  • If a State chooses not to develop TMDLs on a timely basis or if the TMDLs are unacceptable to EPA, EPA has a role under the Clean Water Act to develop the TMDLs in cooperation with the State.

How are TMDLs Developed?

Please visit EPA's Introduction to TMDLs for more information on the TMDL development process.

How is TMDL Development Prioritized?

TMDL development is prioritized in accordance with the NC DWR Draft Priority Framework that describes how NC DWR will prioritize waters on the 303(d) list. The Draft Priority Framework was developed in accordance with Prioritization element of the US EPA Long-Term Vision for Assessment, Restoration, and Protection of waters under the Clean Water Act Section 303(d) Program.  This Vision focuses on six elements including 1) Prioritization, 2) Assessment, 3) Protection, 4) Alternatives, 5) Engagement and 6) Integration. North Carolina’s 2020 Prioritized list can be viewed here

How do TMDLs Improve Water Quality?

Addressing Point Sources:
Once a TMDL is approved by the US EPA the pollution limits calculated for the waste load allocation (point sources) are enforced under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES). For example, if there are two point sources discharging a pollutant on interest, the TMDL will assign each of the point sources a waste load allocation which will be reflected in the new NPDES permit for the facility. This may require wastewater treatment plants to implement additional and sometimes costly new treatment technology.

Addressing Non-Point Sources:

The TMDL load allocation is calculated for all non-point sources that are contributing to the pollution. Depending on the sources identified in the TMDL, the load allocation may apply to septic tanks, fertilizer runoff from agricultural and residential areas, or sediment runoff from new construction sites. Unlike point sources, the TMDL does not have authority in most cases to force a reduction of pollutants from non-point sources. 

TMDLs are usually only effective at addressing non point sources when enough interest is present from the community, local governments, or water quality advocacy groups, to implement the TMDL. 

Funding is available to public and non-profit organizations through the NC Nonpoint Source 319 Grant Program to help address nonpoint source concerns identified in TMDLs.

Who Should Help Develop TMDLs?

Anyone whose interests may be affected by a TMDL project should be involved. Examples of participants include permitted wastewater dischargers, municipal and county governments, agricultural producers and groups, environmental and recreational groups, or other water users. State and federal agencies, as well as experts from universities, should also participate to provide technical and scientific support.

The TMDL process is an excellent opportunity for you to get involved in improving water quality in your local watershed. As a resident, you have unique insights into the conditions that influence water quality in your area. Your local expertise is needed to identify site-specific problems, target them for water quality cleanup, and help determine what measures will be most effective.

How Can You Help?

Public participation is an integral part of the TMDL process. In fact it is a required part of the process. Here are a few of the ways you can get involved:

  • TMDL documents are available for public review and comment. All TMDLs developed for the Division of Water Resources are available for comment for a period of 30 to 45 days.
  • As the Modeling and Assessment Branch develops the current North Carolina 303(d) List, you are given a chance to review the report and provide comments.

One way to be involved is to read the North Carolina 303(d) List; identify waters in your area that are listed; find out what is being done, when, and what help is needed; and spread the word in your community.