2017 Survey of Public Opinion

In November of 2017 the Lake James Environmental Association launched a survey to better understand public opinion around Lake James. The survey consists of 20 questions ranging from how the respondents use the lake to what they feel are the biggest issues around the lake. The survey allows for both ranking and rating and includes free form fields for responses. View / Take the survey here.

The survey has 181 respondents. Attributes of those respondents are:

  • 64% live on the lake or own a vacation home there
  • 40% are members of LJEA
  • 83% are over 50 years old
  • 50% have primary residences on the shoreline
  • 44% are from McDowell County / 26% from Burke County
  • 20% are from another NC county/ 10% out of state

The respondents reflected their use of the lake as follows:


Overall, the survey results reflect that respondents believe that Lake James has good water quality but are generally concerned about the impact of increased development, boat traffic and industry in the watershed. Interestingly, there is a disparity between those responding from Burke County (Eastern Linville side) and McDowell County (Western Catawba side) in that the McDowell survey results are somewhat less optimistic.

Below are some of the findings of the survey:

Water Quality:

87% of respondents considered the water quality of the lake generally good to excellent. However, when broken down by county, McDowell County residents view water quality less favorably than Burke County residents:

  • 51% of Burke Respondents rated water quality as Excellent / 38% Generally Good/ 11% Don’t Know
  • 29% of McDowell Respondents rated Excellent/ 54% Generally Good/ 5% Marginal/ 12% Don’t Know


44% of respondents feel like water quality has remained the same or improved over time in Lake James. However, when broken down by county, more McDowell County residents believe water quality has declined than Burke County residents:

  • 9% of Burke Respondents say water quality has declined
  • 30% of McDowell Respondents say water quality has declined


Erosion and Sedimentation

Respondents believe that residential development, unprotected shorelines and increasing boat traffic are the primary concerns for silt pollutants in the lake.  Respondents are most concerned about erosion and sedimentation of Lake James, the Catawba River, and the North Fork Catawba River as flood events impact our area. Click here to learn more about what LJEA found in the Sedimentation and Erosion section of the State of the Watershed Report (link to report).



Chemical Pollutants

Respondents believe that the biggest threat of chemical pollutants to the lake is from discharge of industry upstream, failing septic tanks, and sewage spills. Click here to learn more about what LJEA found in the Chemical Assessment section of the State of the Watershed Report.


Invasive Species

Respondents showed concern that invasive species introduced by individuals and trailered boats and equipment pose a threat to the lake.


Water Quantity

Respondents showed concern about water quantity issues as a result of population growth and downstream demands for water.



Respondents believe more can be done by local government, businesses and individuals to protect the watershed. They also believe that having a strong independent organization advocating for the lake and its watershed is important.



Survey Comments

The survey allows for open comments in various sections. All of the comments are captured here.

Key observations respondent comments are as follows:

  1. There is great concern about the impact of the growth of the population around the lake and in our watershed.
  2. A strong focus should be on educating those developing and moving into our area that may have an impact on our watershed in the future.
  3. Increased boat traffic and larger wakes are having an impact on the lake.
  4. The North Fork of the Catawba river is a concern for pollutants, trash and silt.
  5. The Catawba side of the lake has more trash and silt issues than the Linville side.
  6. Our local governments and businesses that have an impact on the lake should take a higher stake in protecting the lake.
  7. We need to balance our advocacy for the lake with the needs of economic growth in the area. (By the way, we agree and feel like cooperation between ourselves, businesses upstream and local government is the best path forward for all concerned).


Public opinion from the survey tracks very closely with observations in other parts of the State of the Watershed Report. Industry, increased development, and sedimentation around the lake and watershed present the largest concerns according to survey respondents. Respondents believe local government, industry, and individuals can do more to protect the watershed and, as reflected in other parts of the State of the Watershed report, there is more concern for the McDowell County (Western – Catawba River) side of the lake. Lake James Environmental Association plans to incorporate feedback from this survey into their 5-10 year plan.

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