Cooperatove Conservation Project

Neuse River Basin Cleanup Exceeds Goals

Neuse River Basin Cleanup Exceeds Goals

Location: Southeastern Region: North Carolina

Project Summary: In 1997, North Carolina adopted pollution controls in the basin. The Neuse agricultural community achieved a 42 percent nitrogen reduction, exceeding the 30 percent goal.
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Current (2003) Uses of Land in the Neuse River Basin that was all Agriculture during Baseline Period (1991-1995)
Resource Challenge

Water quality in the basin has been a concern for over a century.  High nitrogen levels from wastewater discharges, urban stormwater, and agricultural runoff have caused frequent algal blooms, hypoxic conditions, and fish kills.  In 1997 the North Carolina Environmental Management Commission (EMC) adopted the states first mandatory plan to control both point and nonpoint source pollution in the basin. The plan, backed by figures in the Neuse River Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), called for a mandatory 30 percent reduction in nitrogen from both urban and rural sources by 2003.  The North Carolina Division of Water Quality worked with the appropriate agricultural agencies to enroll croplands in nutrient reduction conservation programs.  Between 1996 and 2003, it was estimated that half of the croplands enrolled in the program implemented BMPs.  


Through 2002 more than $12 million was committed to meeting project goals. The section 319 program provided approximately $3.8 million in project funds, with more than $1 million contributing directly to the installation of BMPs on farms. Additional project funding was provided by the NRCS Environmental Quality Incentives Program ($4.7 million), North Carolina Agriculture Cost Share Program ($3.2 million), Clean Water Management Trust Fund ($2.7 million), and Pew Charitable Trust. 

Examples of Key Partners

North Carolina Division of Water Quality, North Carolina Division of Soil and Water Conservation, local Soil and Water Conservation Districts, North Carolina Cooperative Extension Service, North Carolina Farm Bureau, Duke University, Neuse River Foundation, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS), local agricultural, environmental and scientific communities and others.

Results and Accomplishments

Data for 2003 show that the Neuse agricultural community achieved a 42 percent nitrogen reduction, exceeding their 30 percent goal.  This decrease was accomplished by installing BMPs, implementing fertilizer management plans, and removing cropland from production.  The new agricultural practices also led to lower phosphorus levels and slowed erosion, while farmers benefited from savings on fertilizer.  The BMPs prevented more than 480,000 tons of soil from being washed away by erosion.  As a result of nitrogen loading reductions from agricultural activities and wastewater treatment plants, the instream concentration of total Nitrogen in the Neuse River just above the estuary was reduced by 27 percent from 1991 to 2003.  


Neuse Basin farmers contributed substantial costs, which were not tracked and should be acknowledged. The project crossed agencies (agricultural and environmental), involved area universities and - although the goal was mandatory - participation was not. The farmers' willingness to invest in and utilize BMPs made them key players in this success.

Project Contact
Chrystal Bartlett
Stormwater Awareness & Outreach Coordinator
N.C. Dept. of Environment & Natural Resources
NCDENR-Public Affairs 1601 Mail Service Center
Raleigh, NC 27699-1601
Kelly Johnson
Basin Planner
N.C. Dept. of Envirnment & Natural Resources
NCDENR-DWQ 512 N. Salisbury St.
Raleigh, NC 27604
919.733.5083 x376

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