Wastewater Treatment

Durham sits on a ridge line that generally runs along Pettigrew Street and the railroad track. Ridge lines and topography determine drainage areas and due to this factor, we have 2 water reclamation facilities (WRFs) serving the city and a significant portion of Durham County. The North Durham WRF on East Club Boulevard has a permitted capacity of 20 million gallons a day (MGD) and discharges into Ellerbe Creek in the Neuse basin. The South Durham WRF, located on Farrington Road near Highway 54, has a permitted capacity of 20 MGD and discharges into the upper arm of New Hope Creek in the Cape Fear basin. Although the facilities have a combined capacity of 40 MGD, they are currently running at about 50% of capacity.

Durham County owns and operates a separate facility which serves the Research Triangle Park and adjacent areas.

Water Reclamation

Formally called wastewater treatment plants, these facilities process wastes conveyed via the sewer collection system to the plants for treatment prior to discharge into the environment. Using a series of physical, biological, chemical processes to remove pollutants and solids, the facilities achieve a high level of treatment which produces a product that can be used for non-potable uses.

About the Facilities

Each facility operates under a National Pollution Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permit issue by the NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources (DENR) which limits the amounts of different substances, including nutrients such as Nitrogen and Phosphorus, which are allowed in the discharge. Each WRF is staffed 24/7 to ensure that processes are monitored around the clock. The city’s centralized state-certified Water/Wastewater Laboratory is located at the South Durham WRF. In addition to conducting analyses for the water reclamation and treatment facilities, Lab staff also analyzes samples for the Industrial Pretreatment and Storm Water Services programs. For more detailed information about the city’s permit compliance history, view the Annual Sewer System Report.


Another program managed by the WRF staff is the beneficial use and disposal of wastewater residuals/biosolids. Through the city’s approved land application program, wastewater residuals/biosolids are applied to local farmer’s non-food crop fields as a nutrient-rich soil amendment. Recent Nutrient Management Strategy Rules adopted by the state will have far reaching implications for the city’s 2 WRFs. While in compliance with current nutrient limits, in the next several years, both WRFs will undergo a number of process improvements and construction projects to enable them to meet stringent future limits.