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N.C. Department of Environment and Natural Resources

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Water Quality - Surface Water Standards

Water Quality

North Carolina's Surface Water Quality Standards

What are North Carolina's Surface Water Quality Standards and How are they used?

North Carolina's Surface Water Quality Standards are state regulations or rules that serve to protect the lakes, rivers, streams and other surface waters of the state from pollution. These surfaces waters are  protected based on their designated "best uses" as defined in the classifications established in Title 15A of the North Carolina Administrative Code (NCAC) subchapter 02B. For more information on surface water classifications please see the Surface Water Classifications webpage.

Surface water quality standards are implemented in a number of ways, but most importantly through the issuing of permit limits to facilities with National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permits. Other methods of implementation include establishing water quality benchmarks for the Stormwater Permitting Program and developing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL).

Surface water standards are also used to determine the use status of a water body.  Waters that are meeting all the surface water standards and that have good biological communities are considered to be supporting all of their uses. For more information on the status of particular water bodies, please see the Biological Assessment Branch website

North Carolina's Legal Obligations & Responsibilities

Under the Federal Water Pollution Control Act (Clean Water Act), states are required to review their water quality standards and classifications every three years and make any modifications necessary to meet EPA guidance or to protect the waters of the state. During this process, known as a Triennial Review, DWR staff review current EPA guidelines, scientific data, and public comments and make recommendations for any changes to the North Carolina surface water quality standards to the Environmental Management Commission (EMC). Following stakeholder comments, public hearings, derivation of a fiscal note and acceptance by the EMC, the Triennial Review package proceeds to the Rules Review Commission for final approval and adoption into rule.

Documentation of current and past Triennial Reviews can be found below.

Surface Water Quality Standards Reference Tables

What are the surface water quality standards reference tables?

The surface water quality standard tables are resources that are meant to be used as a quick reference to look up water quality standards or criteria for the waters of North Carolina. They do not substitute for any written regulations, nor are they regulations themselves.

How do I use these tables?

First, locate the pollutant of interest in the left column. Then, read across the table to the right to find the water quality standard or criteria related to the designated use associated with the water body of interest. If a water body has multiple designated uses, the most protective (i.e. lowest) standard or criteria will be applied.

The following surface water quality standards reference tables are currently in use:

The following surface water quality standards tables are pending approval of the 2007-2014 Triennial Review by EPA:

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