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How far up the Cape Fear River do you have to go to be in fresh water?

Dead trees

Dead trees line the water around Smith Creek next to the Martin Luther King Parkway in Wilmington. (StarNews file photo)

Judging the salinity content of the Cape Fear River is a bit tricky because of its proximity to the Atlantic Ocean.

“The answer to that question is a moving target. The salinity of the river is different based on whether or not the tide is coming in or going out,” said Kemp Burdette, Cape Fear River Watch riverkeeper. “When the tide’s coming in from the ocean, it’s pushing salt water in. When it turns around and goes in the other direction, it’s pushing fresh water out.”

The river’s salt content is also affected by other factors, such as the weather. For example, one side effect of the area’s super-dry summer was a decrease in the fresh water flowing into the Cape Fear.

“When we have a drought in North Carolina, that means there is a lot less water going down all the rivers and all the streams that combine to make the Cape Fear River,” Burdette said. “By contrast, in years with a lot of rain, the river is not as salty.”

Because the river’s salt-water content is dependent on so many factors, it’s difficult to pinpoint a location where the salt concentration is particularly low. However, Burdette said there’s one easy way to gauge the salinity of the river in your area – examine the cypress trees growing along the shoreline.

“They don’t tolerate salt water very well,” he said. “If you don’t see dead cypress trees in your area, that means the water is fairly fresh. It’s not completely fresh. The water is never completely fresh, but it’s mostly fresh.”

That means the river in the Port City is pretty salty, but less so near Castle Hayne.

“You don’t find a lot of dead trees up around Castle Hayne,” Burdette said.

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2 Responses to “ How far up the Cape Fear River do you have to go to be in fresh water?”

  1. On October 25, 2011 at 9:37 am John Kennedy wrote:

    It’s the Northeast Cape Fear River at Castle Hayne and has little if any salt. The Cape Fear River it’s self makes a turn North near Wilmington and becomes much less salty some where near the State Ports. I doubt that any salt ever reaches upstream from where the Black River enters the Cape fear. Low rainfall, tide tables, and wind directions has a large effect on just how far up the Cape Fear any salt might go.

  2. On October 27, 2011 at 11:30 pm k-dawg wrote:

    thank you, “john kennedy” for answering the question…
    since the “fishing report” usually shows bream, catfish, etc. caught on the N.E. c.f. river, around castle hayne, i was also curious how far up you had to go to find fresh water fish on the main branch…

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