An understanding of the magnitude and frequency of low-flow discharges is an important part of evaluating surface-water resources and planning for municipal and industrial economic expansion. Low-flow characteristics are summarized in this report for 67 continuous-record gaging stations and 121 partial-record measuring sites in the Cape Fear River Basin of North Carolina. Records of discharge collected through the 1998 water year were used in the analyses. Flow characteristics included in the summary are (1) average annual unit flow; (2) 7Q10 low-flow discharge, the minimum average discharge for a 7-consecutive-day period occurring, on average, once in 10 years; (3) 30Q2 low-flow discharge; (4) W7Q10 low-flow discharge, similar to 7Q10 discharge except that only flow during November through March is considered; and (5) 7Q2 low-flow discharge.
Low-flow characteristics in the Cape Fear River Basin vary widely in response to changes in geology and soil types. The area of the basin with the lowest potentials for sustained base flows is underlain by the Triassic basin in parts of Durham, Wake, and Chatham Counties. Typically, these soils are derived from basalt and fine-grained sedimentary rocks that allow very little infiltration of water into the shallow aquifers for storage and later release to streams during periods of base flow. The area of the basin with the highest base flows is the Sand Hills region in parts of Moore, Harnett, Hoke, and Cumberland Counties. Streams in the Sand Hills have the highest unit low flows in the study area as well as in much of North Carolina. Well-drained sandy soils in combination with higher topographic relief relative to other areas in the Coastal Plain contribute to the occurrence of high potentials for sustained base flows.
A number of sites in the upper part of the Cape Fear River Basin underlain by the Carolina Slate Belt and Triassic basin, as well many sites in lower areas of the Coastal Plain (particularly the Northeast Cape Fear River Basin), have zero or minimal (defined as less than 0.05 cubic foot per second) 7Q10 discharges. In this area, the poorly sustained base flows are reflective of either (1) thin soils that have very little storage of water to sustain streams during base-flow periods (Carolina Slate Belt), or (2) soils having very low infiltration rates (Triassic basin). As a result, there is insufficient water stored in the surficial aquifers for release to streams during extended dry periods. Within the part of the study area underlain by the Carolina Slate Belt, streams draining basins 5 square miles or less may have zero or minimal 7Q10 discharges. The part of the study area underlain by the Triassic basin has a higher drainage-area threshold at 35 square miles, below which streams will likely have zero or minimal 7Q10 discharges.
Occurrences of zero or minimal 7Q10 discharges in the Coastal Plain were noted, though on a more widespread basis. In this area, low flows are more likely affected by the presence of poorly drained soils in combination with very low topographic relief relative to other areas in the Coastal Plain, particularly the Sand Hills. In eastern Harnett County and northeastern Cumberland County, basins with less than 3 square miles may be prone to having zero or minimal 7Q10 discharges. Soils in this area have been described as a mixture of sandy and clay soils. In the Northeast Cape Fear River Basin, particularly on the western side of the river, streams draining less than 8 square miles may have zero or minimal 7Q10 discharges. The poorly drained clay soils along with very little topographic relief results in the low potential for sustained base flows in this part of the study area.
Drainage area and low-flow discharge profiles are presented for 13 streams in the Cape Fear River Basin; these profiles reflect a wide range in basin size, characteristics, and streamflow conditions. In addition to the Haw River and Cape Fear River main stem, pro