Fresh Waters/ Oceans

Fresh Waters

What is the story?

Let’s talk about water. Why?

    • It’s all around us.
    • It’s under us.

  • It’s in us.

Water is so important to our lives that, without it, we can’t live. In fact, our bodies are made up of 75% water.

We tend to think that water is a never-ending resource and will always be there. Think again.

Did you know?

Only 3% of all the earth’s water is not salty, which leaves 97% of the earth’s water as salty (in the oceans).

Out of that 3% non salty water, only a third is in our rivers, lakes, and underground. The other two-thirds is frozen ice in the Artic and Antarctic.

Water and our ecosystem

Changes in fresh water affect many parts of the ecosystem, such as:

  • Coastal waters
  • Plants and animals that depend on clean water
  • Our fisheries

The availability of clean, fresh water has a huge impact on our homes, agriculture, forestry, fisheries, and in turn, our economy.

Where are we now?

Nearly half the folks in North Carolina pump their water from wells. We know quite a bit about underground water in some areas of the state, such as in the coastal plain. Yet for other areas, we know very little about:

  • The speed with which water flows underground

  • The way in which water is replenished in underground sources

  • The way in which water moves from one level to another

In some places we are now removing deeper water that has been there for thousands of years. And in some areas, the water underground is not refilling fast enough. Once removed from some of the deeper sources, it might never fill up again.

North Carolina has 17 river basins. Some are fed from Virginia and many flow into South Carolina. Whatever gets into our lakes and rivers affects not only ourselves, but thousands of others downstream.

How does this affect me?

Scientists and other researchers have identified most single (so called “point”) sources of water pollution. For example, industrial waste from a factory could wreak havoc with our fresh water if allowed to escape.

Yet, we still need to research the effects of the following materials that regularly come into our rivers:

  • Human and livestock waste

  • Fertilizers from agricultural, horticultural, and gardening operations

  • Oil, rubber, and grease from our cars, coming off roads and parking lots

North Carolina hosts many rare and unusual animals, such as freshwater mussels and a variety of amphibians (frogs and salamanders). Alarmingly, they are disappearing quickly as a result of these types of contamination in our rivers. Disappearing freshwater mussels and amphibians provide clues about the quality of our water — and in some areas, it’s not good news.

Our water purification facilities catch most bacteria, viruses, and mineral/chemical contaminants, but these facilities don’t catch everything. We risk our health if we use polluted water to drink, cook with, and even swim in. Many risks to surface water also affect our underground and therefore well water.

Many North Carolina industries need clean water. If they have to clean the water themselves rather than use our natural water, the companies must purchase decontamination materials. So their costs to produce clean water go up. When companies’ costs become too high, companies may leave and employees lose their jobs.

Although North Carolina has plentiful freshwater resources above and below ground, many newer developments have and could continue to run short of water during droughts. Development planning does not always consider where the water is going to come from and water is not only needed by humans. All living organisms and systems need it.

Did you know that North Carolina is the 8th most visited state by tourists? Tourism is a very valuable industry. But, polluted water detracts from our state’s attractiveness, leading to reduced tourism and loss of jobs. That impacts our economy. 

North Carolinians are changing the way that our ecosystem puzzle fits together. When we pollute our rivers and lakes, we ultimately affect:

  • The wetlands,

  • Animal life,

  • The plants,

  • The fisheries,

  • The oceans,

  • Tourism,

  • Water supplies to our homes, and

  • Our health.

What can I do?

  1. Encourage developers and local leadership to match water resources with development.

  2. Monitor your water use and encourage use of the many water-saving mechanisms available for homes and yards.

  3. Get involved in local creek clean-up operations. Find out how clean your local creek is (many schools/colleges now monitor their local water quality). If it isn’t clean, ask your local leadership (city, county) to do something about it.


What is the story?

Water is so important to our lives that, without it, we simply can’t live. So, it only makes sense that water is an important topic to us.

The ocean’s salty water comprises 97% of all our water. Only 3% of the earth’s water is not salty.

Did you know?

Did you know that oceans help regulate the production and release of oxygen and carbon dioxide into the atmosphere?

The oceans influence our climate. How, you ask? There is a constant exchange of gases (oxygen and carbon dioxide) and heat between the surface of the ocean and the air immediately above it. The sun warms the sea, which is capable of “holding” heat much longer than land. Strong currents and surface winds effectively “move” this warmer water around the globe, impacting the local climate where the sea meets the shore.

Additionally, oceans provide the protein (mostly in the form of fish) for about a sixth of the world’s population.

Where are we now?

North Carolina is unique in that it has both an inner and outer coastline. These coastlines are created by a series of shifting sand islands (known as the Outer Banks) and the edges of huge bodies of saltwater (called the Sounds). These inner and outer coastlines offer a wonderful place for fish to grow. In fact, we host huge fish nurseries that support much of the East Coast’s fisheries. Whatever we put into our creeks, rivers, and lakes makes its way ultimately into the sounds and oceans.

Changes in fresh water affect many parts of the ecosystem, such as:

  • Coastal waters
  • Plants and animals that depend on clean water
  • Our fisheries

This has a huge impact on us, our coastline, our state, and our economy.

Let’s look at these key issues: declining fisheries, coastal construction, changes to natural processes, and natural coastal protection.

Although we are getting better at managing our fisheries in the U.S., we directly affect the balance of our coastal ecosystem by depleting the fish stocks. Increased coastal commercial fishing and the burgeoning recreational fishing industry both put considerable pressure on our fish stocks, which have to be constantly monitored.

Two thirds of the world’s main fisheries are being fished too much. Overall, we are removing more fish than are being replaced by natural reproduction. This leaves too little fish for the world’s future needs!

Unplanned coastal construction

Unplanned coastal construction:

  • Adds to contamination of fresh water resources,
  • Increases our drainage needs, and
  • Reduces the beauty of our natural landscapes.

Alteration of natural processes

Some coastal communities are shifting sand largely to suit settlement and recreation. These efforts to change natural sand-shifting processes provide only short-term benefits and often have to be repeated at considerable cost.

Nature will eventually challenge man’s best engineering abilities.

Natural coastal protection

Despite man’s efforts to alter it, nature does try to take care of itself.

Predicted global warming may increase average sea levels by several feet over the next century. More frequent and violent storms are expected along the coast as a result of ocean warming. These challenge the long-term existence of many coastal communities.

How does this affect me?

Coastal pollution close to the shore may impact beach use and tourism. In fact, we have seen that pollution sometimes forces beaches to close.

North Carolina is a vital breeding area for many East Coast fish stocks, so the way in which we manage the fishery resource in North Carolina has an impact well beyond our shores.

Coastal development, man-made changes for erosion control, and increased pollutants significantly affect the survival of all wildlife. Wildlife that dies then decreases the numbers and diversity of wildlife.

Think of it. How would you feel if half the birds or plant varieties in your community were gone?

Animals and plants affect our lives, the beauty in our community, quality of life, tourism, and ultimately, the economy. We cannot take them for granted.

What can I do?

Check at the supermarket or restaurant that the fish you are buying comes from a sustainable fishery. That means where the species, number and size of fish caught leaves sufficient adult fish behind to produce the next generation in equally large numbers. It is like putting money in the bank. Using only the interest, keeps your capital intact. But if you start using the capital (the money you originally invested) as well, you will ultimately spend all your money and have nothing left. Most locally caught fish stocks in North Carolina are managed sustainably. Several institutions provide data on which fish in which areas are produced sustainably and without contaminants. See our Resources page for a list.

Encourage coastal and state management to balance the needs of natural resource management with development.