The Nanticoke River begins its journey in southern Delaware, flowing southwest to the Chesapeake Bay through the Lower Eastern Shore of Maryland. One of the Chesapeake's healthiest rivers, its 725,000-acre watershed provides excellent habitat of national significance for many threatened plants and animals. From Delaware, the main stem of the river flows west into Maryland.
The Nanticoke watershed has a low population density with focused development in a few small towns, including Seaford, Delaware.
Wildlife and Fisheries
The Nanticoke is the most biologically diverse watershed on Delmarva. It is free of dams and supports excellent fisheries. It also has the highest concentration of bald eagles in the northeastern United States.
Located in the Coastal Plain, the Nanticoke River watershed historically was very rich in wetland resources which covered an estimated 46 percent of the land area. In 1998, the area of wetlands declined by 38 percent leaving 28 percent of the watershed land area as wetland. Artificial drainage through ditching and channelization of streams and direct conversion to agriculture accounted for the majority of wetland loss.
The data collected by the Nanticoke River Assessment is being used to develop restoration and protection plans for the watershed's wetlands and their adjoined habitats. Outreach is being conducted to share the results of the study with the public in order to foster their support for and participation in restoration and protection initiatives. For more information regarding DNREC's Wetland Initiatives in the Nanticoke Watershed visit here!
The designated uses for the Nanticoke include primary recreation, secondary recreation, fish, aquatic life and wildlife, industrial water supply, and agricultural water supply. The waters of the Nanticoke are also designated as Waters of Exceptional Recreational and Ecological Signficance. There are nutrient and bacteria TMDLs for the Nanticoke watershed requiring nonpoint source reductions of 30% of nitrogen loads, 50% of phosphorus loads, and 3% of bacteria loads.
EPA established a Total Maximum Daily Load for nitrogen, phosphorus, and sediment for the entire Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This TMDL requires reductions of approximately 24% for nitrogen and 20% for phosphorus between 2009 and 2025 from all of the Chesapeake watersheds within Delaware. Sediment loads from Delaware's portion of the Chesapeake must remain at 2009 levels under this TMDL.
If you would like to view reports for any of the sites in the SIRS program please follow the link the DNREC Environmental Navigator to search by map for the Nanticoke River Watershed.
Geology and Soils
The topography of the Nanticoke is characterized by extremely flat lands with slight localized relief, most of which is along the middle sections of the watershed and next to the river. The soils are generally sandy and porous and consist of the following major associations: Tidal Marsh, Fresh, Association; Sassafras-Fallsington association; Evesboro-Rumford association; Fallsington- Sassafras-Woodstown association; and Fallsington-Pocomoke-Woodstown association. The Fallsington-Sassafras-Woodstown and Fallsington-Pocomoke-Woodstown occur in the upper most reaches of the Nanticoke River.
The Nanticoke region has a rich history including sites, structures, and various other evidence of human occupancy or activity. There is an abundance of evidence for both Native American and European-American settlements containing many interesting artifacts.
Captain John Smith set off on the Chesapeake Bay around 6 June 1608, determined to discover the mythical treasures of the Far East. While on his adventure, he came upon the river we now call the Nanticoke. He became acquainted with the Native Americans residing near the River, calling them the Nantaquak. Unable to successfully farm on the marshy ground, they thrived predominately on hunting and fishing. The Nanticoke were accomplished canoeists, and their close ties to the River inspired their name, which means "those who ply the tidal stream," "sea shore settlers," or "tidewater people."
Evidence of Native American habitation can be found along the river systems in the Nanticoke watershed. The Nanticoke tribe established a network of villages and encampments, which persisted until the area was taken over by European settlers. Artifacts include piles of discarded oyster shell called shell middens. There are additional deposits that contain stone tools and property. Over 300 archeological sites have been documented in the Nanticoke River.
The same bounteous environment that supported the Nanticoke native american tribe supports most recreation, such as fishing and hunting, today. Many people also enjoy bicycling, canoeing, and hiking in the area to enjoy the lovely surroundings.
Flora and Forest Communities
The Nanticoke Watershed is one of four watersheds in Delaware that have a population of naturally occuring bald cypress trees.