Tar-Pamlico River Basin
The Tar-Pamlico River Basin is made up mostly of wetlands and forested areas, covering about 55 percent of its area, with about one-quarter made up of agriculture and a small portion urban developed areas. This basin is rural when compared to the Neuse, which is similar in size and hydrology.
A gateway to the coast, the Tar-Pamlico feeds into a highly productive estuary that is a nursery for more than 90 percent of all the commercial seafood and recreational fish caught in North Carolina. The Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds comprise the second largest estuary system in the U.S.
Sadly, the Pamlico River has been plagued with environmental problems. Excessive growth of algae and increasing numbers of diseased and dying fish over the past two decades suggest a decline in water quality. Municipal treatment plants discharge wastewater into rivers and streams and runoff from nonpoint sources, such as farmland, timber operations and urban areas, also contribute pollution. These sources increase levels of the nutrients in the watershed – primarily nitrogen and phosphorus – resulting in an unbalanced ecosystem.
Neuse River Basin
Among the biggest threats to water quality in the lower Neuse River is also large quantities of nutrient pollution, especially nitrogen and phosphorus. This type of pollution results from large, diffuse areas that contain fertilizers and animal waste washed from lawns, urban developed areas, farm fields and industrial meat production facilities discharging into our rivers and streams. Swine operations, for example, contribute 60 percent of the excess nitrogen and phosphorus.
Some nutrients can be beneficial to aquatic life in small amounts, but large amounts can contribute to excessive plant growth, algae blooms and low levels of dissolved oxygen in the water.
To a lesser degree, water quality in the Neuse River Basin is being affected by pollution from more than 400 sites that are allowed by state permit to discharge treated wastewater into streams and rivers. Yet, both of the above situations can be harmful to fish and other aquatic life.