Critical Wake County Waterway Named River of the Year

View down the Neuse River as it flows through tree-lined banks
Neuse River (Photo by Vail Stewart Rumley)

Several national and local organizations that advocate for healthy rivers across the country have named the Neuse River, which helps provide clean drinking water to thousands in Wake County, as the 2022 River of the Year. American Rivers, Sound Rivers, and NC Conservation Network say this recognition celebrates the progress that has been made to clean the Neuse River and the dedication of the people who made that progress a reality. Wake County Board of Commissioners Chair Sig Hutchinson was present in Goldsboro today for this announcement.

“During the 90s, the Neuse River was identified by American Rivers as threatened and endangered, so this recognition is a huge success story,” said Hutchinson, who also serves as the Chair of the Upper Neuse River Basin Association. “With our population projected to double within the next 40 years, we are working to develop a plan that will ensure a sustainable and resilient supply of clean drinking water for all our residents. The Neuse is a regional and national treasure, and we will continue our efforts to keep it clean.”

Today’s announcement came as the nation is about to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the federal Clean Water Act passed in 1972, the bipartisan legislation that helps protect the right to clean water nationwide. The Neuse River watershed feeds the Falls Lake Reservoir, which is the water source for more than half a million residents in Wake County. Statewide, a quarter of North Carolina’s population, around 2.5 million people, currently reside in the watershed, and in total, the river provides drinking water for dozens of established communities in other counties.

In addition to serving as a drinking water source, the Neuse River is also a well-loved recreation destination and home to several species of fish. Of the 3.5 million acres that comprise the Neuse basin, 48,000 acres are state parks, 110,000 acres are game lands held by the Wildlife Resources Commission, and 58,000 acres are National Forest.

Decades ago, the Neuse River was choked with pollution, but following the Clean Water Act, North Carolina invested more than $68 million in protecting land in the watershed and an additional $75 million restoring the river and improving clean water.

“The River of the Year honor celebrates outstanding progress toward a cleaner, healthier Neuse River that is vital to every person who lives in this region,” said Tom Kiernan, President of American Rivers, in a news release. “We applaud the frontline communities and partners who speak up for the river every day and continue to push for solutions. This river is a success story that we must keep writing together.”

Neuse River’s restoration is not complete. The rapid pace of development and urbanization, pollution and floods create new challenges that require ongoing efforts to keep it clean and healthy.

Wake County leaders are committed to keep our water resources sustainable and have launched a countywide One Water Project, with the aim to create a 50-year plan to provide clean and abundant water to its residents.

Press Release