College of Agriculture and Life Sciences
NCSU Water Quality Programs


River Basin CharacteristicsClick here

The Cape Fear River Basin, which is completely contained within the state of North Carolina, is the largest river basin in the state. The basin starts in the north central piedmont region, near Greensboro and High Point, and ends on the coast.There are 9,324 square miles in the basin or 16.5% of the total land area. The Cape Fear also contains the largest number of stream miles - 6,204 miles.

Land uses in the Cape Fear drainage area are quite diverse. In addition to the large urban populations that reside in such cities and towns as Wilmington and Greensboro, the basin includes one of the most concentrated turkey and hog production regions in the country. Two counties in the basin, Duplin and Sampson, produce more hogs than any other counties in the United States.

Counties Within the Cape Fear River Basin

The Cape Fear River Basin contains all or part of 27 counties. The counties are Alamance, Bladen, Brunswick, Caswell, Chatham, Columbus, Cumberland, Duplin, Durham, Forsyth, Guilford, Harnett, Hoke, Johnston, Lee, Montgomery, Moore, New Hanover, Onslow, Orange, Pender, Randolph, Robeson, Rockingham, Sampson, Wake, and Wayne. Over 21% of the entire state's population (1,465,451 people) reside in the Cape Fear River basin. Much of this population lives in the 114 municipalities that lie within the drainage area.

Water Quality in the Cape Fear River Basin

About 35% of the streams in the Cape Fear River Basin are considered threatened and 18% are impaired by pollution. Sediment is the major pollutant, but other types of pollution which pose significant threats to water quality include nutrients, oxygen-demanding wastes, and toxic substances. The pollution comes from different sources: urban stormwater, construction, agriculture, and wastewater treatment plants.

Approximately 27% of the basin's estuarine waters are use-impaired. This impairment is due to fecal coliform bacteria and low oxygen levels. There has been an increase in the number of shellfish bed closures because of pollution caused primarily by urban development.

North Carolina State University Water Quality Projects & Programs

North Carolina State University researchers are conducting 15 water quality related projects or programs within the Cape Fear River Basin . The projects are diverse in nature, ranging from animal waste control to pesticide fate to watershed management and demonstration projects. Most of the projects are related to agricultural activities, but a few target protection of urban water resources.

In addition to the large number of basin-level projects, North Carolina State University researchers are conducting 17 regional projects that are directly applicable to this river basin. Some of these projects target the effects of water pollution on the aquatic resources, while other projects focus on the control of polluted runoff from agricultural land uses. There are also urban stormwater control projects.