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North Carolina's River Basins


What is a River Basin?

A river basin is the land that water flows across or under on its way to a river. Just as a bathtub catches all the water that falls within its sides, a river basin sends all the water falling on the surrounding land into a central river and out to an estuary or the sea. The term watershed is used to describe a smaller area of land that drains to a smaller stream, lake or wetland. There can be many smaller watersheds within a river basin. For example, the Neuse river basin contains the Swift Creek watershed, Eno River watershed, Walnut Creek watershed, and the Crabtree Creek watershed - just to name a few! The Neuse river basin flows into the Pamlico Sound, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean.

Do I live in a River Basin?

Yes! Everyone lives in a river basin, even if you don't live near the water. The land that we live on eventually drains to a river or estuary or lake, and our actions on that land affect water quality and quantity far downstream. The topography of each basin determines the area that it drains, and for North Carolina, whether that water flows into the Atlantic Ocean or Gulf of Mexico.

When rain falls on your street, roof or yard, what creek or river will it flow through on its way downhill towards the sea?
When you drain your bathtub or sink, where does the water go?
When you turn on your tap to get a drink of water, where does the water come from?

Just like an artery connects parts of the body to one another, so too does a river thread together the creeks and streams, valleys and hills, lakes and underground springs that share a common network of water. Whatever happens to surface or groundwater in one part of the river basin will find its way to other parts. If water is diverted out of its downward course in one section, other parts will come to "know" of its absence. A river basin comes closer than any other defined area of land, with the exception of an isolated island, to meeting the definition of an ecosystem in which all things, living and non-living, are connected and interdependent.

The Office of EE, in partnership with other DEQ divisions including the Division of Water Resources and the Wildlife Resources Commission, has created informative river basin education materials that can be ordered free of charge.


Discover North Carolina's River Basins Publications

Check out our very own North Carolina River Basin publications! Click the links below for electronic versions of the materials or fill out this order form to have print copies sent to you in the mail, free of charge!

Discover NC's River Basins, a free booklet with information on what river basins are, why they matter and how people affect them.

Individual phamphlets on each of NC's 17 river basins that highlight the unique ecology, environmental concerns and success of each basin.

Poster-sized map of NC's river basins (37" x 24")

Discover Your Ecological Address, do you know your ecological address? Whether you live in a busy city, on a farm in the country or somewhere in between, you have an ecological address.

NC's River Basins Interactive Map

A GIS based webmap that allows you to locate which basin you live in!


Educator Guides

Download a guide for activities and curricula correlated to the River Basins materials and the N.C. Essential Standards! PDF or DOC

Division of Water Resources- Basin Wide Planning

Click here to see official water quality plans for each of the river basins from the Division of Water Resources, N.C. Department of Environmental Quality.