In 1991, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) began to implement a full-scale National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program. Long-term goals of the NAWQA program are to describe the status and trends in the quality of a large, representative part of the Nation's surface- and ground-water resources and to provide a sound, scientific understanding of the primary natural and human factors affecting the quality of these resources. In meeting these goals, the program will produce a wealth of water quality information that will be useful to policy makers and managers at the national, State, and local levels. Study-unit investigations constitute a major component of the NAWQA program, forming the principal building blocks on which national-level assessment activities are based. The 60 study-unit investigations that make up the program are hydrologic systems that include parts of most major river basins and aquifer systems. These study units cover areas of 1,200 to more than 65,000 square miles and incorporate about 60 to 70 percent of the Nation's water use and population served by public water supply. In 1991, the Albemarle-Pamlico drainage was among the first 20 NAWQA study units selected for study under the full-scale implementation plan. The Albemarle-Pamlico drainage study will examine the physical, chemical, and biological aspects of water quality issues in a coordinated investigation of surface water and ground water in the Albemarle-Pamlico drainage basin. The quantity and quality of discharge from the Albemarle-Pamlico drainage basin contribute to some water quality problems in the biologically sensitive waters of Albemarle and Pamlico Sounds. A retrospective analysis of existing water quality data will precede a 3-year period of intensive data-collection and analysis activities. The data resulting from this study and the improved understanding of important processes and issues in the upstream part of the study unit will enhance understanding of the quality of water in Albemarle-Pamlico Sounds, the second largest estuarine system in the United States.