Spotlight: The Upper Neuse

by Matthew Starr, Upper Neuse Riverkeeper

As the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper or as anyone who has paid attention to the news over the years, it’s easy to get lost in the negativity around all the pollution threats that the Neuse River faces. As the list of those threats grows it’s important to remember to enjoy the pure beauty of the River. The Neuse is a magnificent river, and yes, I am a little biased to the upper part of the river, but it is truly special. You can literally and figuratively immerse yourself in the river’s rich history, importance and the water itself.

The Upper Neuse – Things to Know!

Population: 1,687,462 for Neuse River basin (2010 census)
Places to see: Eno River State Park, Falls Lake Recreational Area, Cliffs of the Neuse State Park, Historic Yates Mill County Park, Milburnie Falls, Howell Woods Environmental Learning Center and many more!
Rare Fauna: 19 rare & threatened mussels, 7 rare fish. The Neuse River Waterdog (pictured right).

The Neuse River has a humble beginning as the Eno and Flatt Rivers combine, forming the Neuse and now Falls Lake. From the time the Neuse is formed, it plays an important role in our lives, supplying over half a million people with drinking water throughout Raleigh and surrounding communities. Just below Falls Lake dam is a favorite spot that many families and fishermen visit year-round. Drive a few minutes from one of the busiest roads in Wake County and you can be playing in a beautiful river, escaping the stresses of everyday life.

The Neuse is home to some of the most special (and very cute) species in the state. Sound Rivers is hard at work trying to protect species like the Carolina Madtom (a small catfish) and a personal favorite, the Neuse River Waterdog (a permanently aquatic salamander). Protecting these species and their habitat is no easy task, as they are under constant threat from everyday pollution. One of the more pressing threats is sediment pollution from mismanaged construction sites. The upper Neuse and these important habitats are also under attack from mega pollution projects such as the unnecessary Atlantic Coast Pipeline (ACP) and the completion of Highway 540. Money for the extremely expensive 540 project could easily be used to improve traffic flow while keeping our waters safe at the same time. The ACP and 540 projects would have catastrophic impacts on some of the most important sections of the Neuse River basin, which is why Sound Rivers will do everything in our power to protect these bodies of water.

New or previously unexplored sources of pollution continue to rear their ugly heads, such as pesticides and unregulated chemicals. Emerging contaminants caused by unregulated chemical dumping are being discovered throughout our state. We at Sound Rivers have begun sampling for and researching these chemicals in order to understand their impact on our waters and to stop the dumping.

While the work of fighting for swimmable, drinkable, fishable water is never done and seems like an ever growing mountain to climb, it’s important to remember some of the battles we have won.

Through years of hard work, Duke Energy is now required to remove all of the coal ash off the banks of the Neuse River just outside of Goldsboro. This past year Sound Rivers worked to secure funding to begin the voluntary removal of the 62 industrial swine facilities that are still located in the floodplain of the Neuse.

The history of the Neuse is extensive; famous explorers like Arthur Barlowe and John Lawson crossed its path, remarking on its beauty and vastness. The native peoples, the Neusiok, for whom the river was named, relied on the river daily. The first Neuse Riverkeepers fought to stop fish kills in the 1980’s and 90’s. Remembering this history is important in the fight for clean water. We cannot be deterred in the fight for our river; we must persist, so our waterway can continue to be a resource for future generations.