The Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin drains the watersheds that empty into the Yadkin-Pee Dee River. The basin takes its name from the Yadkin-Pee Dee River. which has its headwaters as the Yadkin River outside Blowing Rock and flows eastward toward Winston-Salem and then southeast. Below Badin, the Uhwarrie River joins the river and it changes names to the Pee Dee. It continues to flow southeast, passing into South Carolina southwest of Rockingham.
The North Carolina portion of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin covers an area of about 7,221 square miles and takes in all or parts of 24 counties, making it the second largest river basin in North Carolina. The majority of the basin is within the Piedmont area of the North Carolina, but it also covers parts of the mountains and the coastal plain.
Within North Carolina, the basin has approximately 5,990 miles of freshwater streams and rivers. In Wilkes County, the Yadkin is impounded to form Kerr Scott Reservoir. Below Salisbury, the river is impounded four more times for man-made lakes: High Rock Lake, Badin Lake, Lake Tillery, and Blewitt Falls Lake.
Although the most of the land within the basin is forested or used for agriculture, urban areas within the basin continue to grow.
More than 1.7 million people use the waters of the Yadkin-Pee Dee River Basin every day, for drinking water, for industry, for growing crops, for generating power and for recreation. Twenty-five public utilities draw water from the river. They, plus four private industries, hold permits to discharge treated wastewater into the river.
Agriculture is a major land-use in the basin. Iredell County, which lies entirely within the basin, has more dairy cattle than any other county in the state and the basin, as a whole, contains 42 percent of all the dairy cattle in North Carolina.
Protected lands within the basin include Uhwarrie National Forest, the Pee Dee National Wildlife Refuge, the Carolina Sandhills National Wildlife Refuge, and Hanging Rock and Stone Mountain state parks.
The population within the basin is projected to grow significantly. In 2008, the state demographer projected that Forsyth County’s population will grow from 351,000 to 471,000 in 2030, a projected increase of 120,000 people. Union County, which is part of the Charlotte metropolitan area, is projected to grow from 201,000 in 2010 to almost 300,000 in 2030. Over the same period, rural counties are projected to slowly decline in population.
This concentration of population in urban areas, and the housing, road, commercial and industrial development that comes with it, is increasing the amount of impervious surfaces within the basin, which in turn increases stormwater runoff into the basin’s waterways. This non-point-source pollution, along with an increase in nutrient levels in the basin’s waterways and wetlands, is putting pressure not only on the rare and endangered aquatic species found within the basin, but on the more mundane aquatic species by which we gauge water quality.