The drainage divide in North Carolina follows the Blue Ridge range on the eastern margin of the mountain region. This is called the “Eastern Continental Divide.” West of this divide, rivers drain into the Mississippi River through the Tennessee River and other tributaries of the Ohio River. The French Broad, the largest, and the Little Tennessee flow into the Tennessee River. The New River flows into the Kanawha River of West Virginia which in turn flows into the Ohio River.
Most of the state’s rivers flow southeastward across the Piedmont and the Atlantic Coastal Plain. In the mountains and in the Piedmont they are relatively swift-flowing streams. In places the rivers have cut valleys 60 m (200 ft) or more below the upland surface. Major rivers and their tributaries provide good drainage, and excellent sites to use the rivers to generate electricity are numerous. Most rivers have developed falls or rapids where they cross the Fall Line from the Piedmont into the Atlantic Coastal Plainand become sluggish as they wend their way across the flatter Coastal Plain. Floodplains are wide and river swamps are common.
The Cape Fear River, one of the principal rivers in the state, begins in the Piedmont and flows southeastward as a stream laden with yellow muds and silts until it converges with a large backwater tributary known as the Northeast Cape Fear River. From the junction point of these two rivers at Wilmington, a broad estuary is formed that flows south to empty into the Atlantic Ocean at Smith Island just west of Cape Fear.
The Neuse and Tar-Pamlico rivers flow into different arms of the Pamlico Sound. The Roanoke, Chowan, Perquimans, and Pasquotank rivers enter Albemarle Sound. The New River (which is a different river from the New River in the Blue Ridge province) empties into Onslow Bay. The Yadkin-Pee Dee, Catawba, Broad, and Waccamaw rivers originate in North Carolina and reach the ocean through South Carolina. North Carolina’s few large natural lakes are in the outer Coastal Plain. Lake Mattamuskeet, near Pamlico Sound, is the largest. Lake Phelps, nearby, is second in size. Lake Waccamaw, near the South Carolina border, is the state’s third largest lake. Of the numerous swamps, the Great Dismal Swamp, astride the North Carolina-Virginia border, is the best known. "North Carolina" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia
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