JOHNSTON COUNTY, N.C. — Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act. The federal legislation helps regulate discharges and pollutants in waterways all over the country.

On Monday, the organization American Rivers named the Neuse River the 2022 River of the Year. The announcement celebrates progress made since the 1990s to clean up the river. To mark the anniversary of the Clean Water Act, two North Carolina riverkeepers recently finished an 11-day kayak trip on the Neuse River.


What You Need To Know

Tuesday marks the 50th anniversary of the Clean Water Act, federal legislation created to protect waterways

Monday, the organization American Rivers named the Neuse River the 2022 River of the Year

To mark the anniversary of the Clean Water Act, two N.C. riverkeepers recently finished an 11-day long kayak trip on the Neuse River

N.C. riverkeepers say the legislation has helped improve the health of our waterways, but there’s still a long way to go


“It feels really good to be on the water after all this preparation and all this planning,” Sam Krop, the Neuse Riverkeeper for Sound Rivers, said.

Krop and Jill Howell, the Pamlico-Tar Riverkeeper for Sound Rivers, recently spent more than a week on the water as part of the Neuse River Rising paddle.

The trip required a variety of supplies, and in an ideal world they would have also been able to rely on the river for drinkable water but not this time around.

“We’re bringing our own water. We are not treating the water because we know as riverkeepers there’s a lot of pollution issues in the Neuse River, and even though the industries are regulated, a lot of the times there are violations and a lot of times we learn those regulations aren’t sufficient,” Krop said.

Their concern about the health of the river is just one of the reasons they set out to paddle more than 100 miles of the Neuse River.

“Anything that we learn just sort of helps us to understand the place that we work on to protect and advocate for every day,” Howell said.

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.

Courtesy: Sound Rivers

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 N.C. Wildlife Resources Commission and 58,000 acres are national forest.

As for the anniversary of the Clean Water Act, Krop believes there’s more that still needs to be done.

“We’ve come really, really far. However we haven’t yet, the Clean Water Act hasn’t yet, delivered on the promise of fishable, swimmable, drinkable water for everyone,” Krop said. “I think the environmental community and folks who work on water are thinking a lot about how far we’ve come but also all the work that’s yet ahead.”

The paddle was a chance for them to see areas of concern up close.

“So when we get down to Goldsboro we will be talking about Duke Energy and the Duke coal ash that’s still being stored off of the Neuse River. When we get further down we will be talking about pollution sources from sediment and erosion because of development in undeveloped areas. We will be talking about pollution from CAFOs and industrial factory farms,” Krop said.

They’re also hoping this trip entices other people to get out on the water and in turn feel more compelled to protect the environment.

“We think if recreational access is easy and more people have the ability to get out on the water in a kayak or fish from a pier or walk along the greenway next to the river, really experiencing that water and feeling proximal to it, we think that’s the way to engage people to protect the resource too,” Howell said.

According to Wake County, following the Clean Water Act, North Carolina has invested more than $140 million in improving and protecting the Neuse River watershed.

“During the '90s, the Neuse River was identified by American Rivers as threatened and endangered, so this recognition is a huge success story,” said Wake County Board of Commissioners Chair Sig 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.”

County leaders have also launched a countywide One Water Project to create a 50 year plan to provide clean and abundant water resources.