The Chowan River Basin, which is part of the Albemarle-Pamlico Estuarine system (the 2nd largest estuarine system in the U.S.), is one of the smaller basins in North Carolina, with only 2.1% of the state's area or 1,378 square miles. There are 782 stream miles in this river basin. All of the waters in the basin are free-flowing or tidal freshwaters. Most of the surface water in this basin is derived from groundwater.
The Chowan River Basin is very agrarian, with the majority of the land uses in forestry or agriculture.
Only 0.9% of the state's population lives in the Chowan River basin although there are five counties in this northeastern basin. The counties are Bertie, Chowan, Gates, Hertford, and Northampton. Most of the river basin is contained within the state of Virginia.
In 1979, the Chowan River Basin was the first water body in North Carolina to be designated as Nutrient Sensitive. Nuisance algae blooms, caused by excess nutrients, prompted this designation. Water quality has improved slightly, but 22% of the waters are considered impaired and only partially support their uses. The pollutant of concern in this river basin is nutrients, particularly phosphorus.
The primary source of pollution in this basin is due to agricultural activities, including animal operations. In the upper portion of the Chowan River there has been a 327% increase in swine production.
Although there are no projects specific to the Chowan Basin, 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.