US Army Corps of Engineers
Norfolk District Website

Chowan River Basin, VA/NC Comprehensive Watershed Study


The reconnaissance study is authorized by way of Committee Resolution of the U.S. House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure, dated 2 May 2007.

Location and Description:

  • Approximately 65 miles south of Richmond.
  • 2000 Census population (approximately): 215,000.
  • 2020 Forecast population: 240,000.
  • Per Capita Income (approx.): $16,500.

The Chowan River Basin is approximately 130 miles long and drains an area of 5,000 square miles in southeastern Virginia and northeastern North Carolina. Sixteen counties or portions thereof are in the Chowan River Basin: Southampton, Greensville, Brunswick, Mecklenburg, Lunenburg, Nottoway, Dinwiddie, Sussex, Prince George, Surry, and Isle of Wight in Virginia and Chowan, Gates, Bertie, Hertford, and Northampton in North Carolina.

The Chowan River itself is located entirely in North Carolina and flows from the confluence of the Nottoway and Blackwater Rivers at the State line for 50.6 miles to empty into Albemarle Sound. The third major tributary, the Meherrin River, empties into the Chowan River about 36 miles above the mouth.

There are four authorized Federal navigation improvements in the basin. These include a 10-foot-deep channel along the Meherrin River, from the mouth to Murfreesboro, NC, for a distance of approximately 10.5 miles; a 12-foot-deep channel along the Chowan River, between the Meherrin River and the confluence of the Blackwater and Nottoway Rivers, a distance of 11.4 miles; and a 12-foot-deep channel on the Blackwater River from the mouth to Franklin, VA, a distance of about 13 miles.

All of these projects are considered inactive and have never been maintained. In addition, there is a 15-foot-wide naturally deep recreational navigation channel in the Nottoway River, which does not require dredging. It should be noted that the portion of the Chowan River south of the Meherrin River is under the jurisdiction of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Wilmington District.

There are no Federal flood control projects in the Chowan River Basin. In many locations within the basin, six of the top 10 historical high water marks have occurred from 1998 forward, including the flood of record (Hurricane Floyd in 1999), October 2006 cold core upper level low (second highest), and Hurricane Isabel in 2003 (5th highest).

On May 2, 2007, the United States Congress House Transportation and Infrastructure committee provided a survey resolution authorizing the corps to review conditions and recommend whether flood damage reduction, environmental restoration, navigation, erosion control, and associated water resources in the Chowan River Basin are in the federal interest.

A reconnaissance study would evaluate ways to protect the water resources of this highly-productive basin, with particular emphasis on restoring wetlands and forested buffers lost from erosion and flooding, reducing flood damages throughout the basin, improving navigation, and determining the Federal interest in conducting a more detailed feasibility study. The District has a capability to initiate the Reconnaissance Phase in Fiscal Year 2008, should funds become available.