What do Healthy Mountain Rivers Mean to You?

What do Healthy Mountain Rivers Mean to You?

Testing Sites

River Basins



Protecting our mountain waters wouldn’t be possible without the help of members, volunteers, and supporters like you.

With your help, we will maintain E. coli sampling at 85 popular swimming areas this summer. Samples will be taken, processed, analyzed, and published on the easy-to-use Swim Guide website and smartphone app before starting your weekends!

Will you help us monitor and report water quality conditions at popular swimming areas this summer? Consider making a donation today.

Our goal is to raise $20,000 by May 30 to help fund this summer’s Swim Guide E. coli sampling program. Each sample costs $30, which includes staff time, supplies, lab analysis, and travel expenses. Businesses or organizations can fully sponsor a site for $500/year with recognition on the Swim Guide platform and social media.   

“I like to paddleboard, so water quality is important to me. People need a tool like the Swim Guide app to know when the water is safe. My friends and I care about sharing these results and letting community members know about this amazing tool. MountainTrue addresses pollutants they find in the river and advocates for better policies that will protect it.” 
-Tiffany Narron, Swim Guide Volunteer
“I love getting outside and helping our Riverkeepers by taking water samples, and it’s especially rewarding to see the results posted within 24 hours so my friends and I know the water conditions before the weekend.” 
-Erica Shanks, MountainTrue Board Member and Swim Guide Volunteer
“I’m a hardcore river enthusiast, spending a lot of time canoeing and paddleboarding. I need to know if the water I’m playing in is safe. I appreciate how local this is to the High Country. It’s awesome to know where it’s safe and have that knowledge be current for my family and dogs. I love the sampling side because I get to feel like I’m contributing.” 
Jordan Sellers, Swim Guide Volunteer
“The City of Hiawassee strives to have the best water quality. Being out on the lake and knowing it’s safe to boat, swim, and fish in is important. We really appreciate our relationship with MountainTrue.” 
Liz Ordiales, Mayor of Hiawassee, GA

We want you and your family to be able to visit publicly accessible swimming areas without having to worry about health risks. Swim Guide makes it easy for people to know when their water is contaminated and when it is safe to swim, giving our community the information needed to prevent waterborne illnesses. Our sampling will also help us identify problem areas where work is needed to improve water quality for the future.

Will you stand with MountainTrue? We need you to take action today so our waters can be healthy today and for generations to come. Help us reach our $20,000 goal by donating today.

From all of us on the MountainTrue Clean Water Team, thank you for making this summer swim season the safest one yet!

Join us for the 16th Annual Green Bash!

Join us for the 16th Annual Green Bash!

Join us for the 16th Annual Green Bash!

Get ready for an exciting day full of kayaking trips, waterfall rappelling, treks, cold beer, and good music when the Spring Green Bash — Saluda’s favorite river and block party — returns on May 7!

The whole Green River community is invited to the Spring Green Bash block party at Green River Adventures in downtown Saluda, NC. We’ll enjoy great beer from Oskar Blues Brewing and music by Aaron Burdett. We’ll also announce the winner of the charity raffle for a Liquidlogic Coupe XP kayak, a whitewater kayak valued at $1,000! Proceeds from the raffle benefit MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper –  the protector and defender of the Green River Watershed.

Join us at the Spring Green Bash at Green River Adventures on May 7, 2022, to see if you’re the lucky winner of a Liquidlogic Coupe XP kayak (you do not need to be present to win)! Ticket sales end on May 7, 2022, and tickets may also be purchased at the event. 

Where: Green River Adventures, 111 E. Main Street, Saluda, NC

When: Saturday, May 7, 5:00 to 9:00 p.m.

2021 State of the River Reports

2021 State of the River Reports

2021 State of the River Reports

The 2021 State of the River Reports are finally here! In this blog, we’ll discuss the cleanliness and water quality of the French Broad, Broad and Green, and Watauga River watersheds. 

There are four sets of data that MountainTrue uses to formulate our water quality rankings for each stream, including:

  • E. coli data taken by MountainTrue’s riverkeepers and water quality monitoring volunteers.
  • Aquatic insect (a.k.a., benthic macroinvertebrate) data — part of the Stream Monitoring Information Exchange program (SMIE) — from the Environmental Quality Institute. Learn more about SMIE here
  • Chemical data — part of the Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) — from the Environmental Quality Institute.
  • Chemical, aquatic insect, fish, and bacteria data from the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ).

The data from testing sites in streams across each watershed are weighed, and each stream is given a letter grade. The grading scale is as follows: 

A (90-100): These streams have excellent water quality, low pollution levels, and healthy aquatic insect and fish populations.

B (80-89): These streams have good water quality but some impacts from pollution or development. The aquatic life and fish populations are relatively healthy.

C (70-79): These streams have average water quality. There are some concerns about pollution inputs and development impacts. Generally, aquatic life and fish populations are healthy but could become negatively impacted

D (60-69): These streams have below-average water quality. Pollution is a concern, and aquatic life and fish populations are not as healthy as they should be.

F (<60): These streams have poor water quality. Pollution levels are often high, and aquatic life and fish populations are impacted.

When comparing this year’s report to 2018’s report, it’s important to note that the way we process our water samples for E.coli at MountainTrue has changed. Up until 2018, we used an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved method using Coliscan Easygel. The results from this method were sometimes subjective and thus could be less accurate. In 2019, we switched to another EPA-approved protocol, using the Idexx system. Those results are quicker, more objective, and more accurate. This 2021 report includes E.coli data from both analysis methods (2018 Swim Guide data using Coliscan Easygel and 2019-2021 Swim Guide data using the Idexx system).

 Now, let’s review the findings from each of the three reports.

The state of the French Broad River Watershed:

 Of the 62 testing sites across the French Broad River Watershed, 16% received an A grade, 20.9% received a B grade, 29% received a C grade, 25.8% received a D grade, and 6% received an F grade. 

Overall, we observe a general decline in water quality. We attribute this to two primary factors — climate change and increasing construction and development throughout the watershed. Asheville and the surrounding region have experienced more frequent heavy rains in the last several years. Climate change in the Southern Blue Ridge region is expected to present random “boom and bust” patterns in precipitation, seen as floods and droughts in our region. This causes increased stormwater runoff from urban areas and agriculture operations, along with more sewer overflows and saturated septic fields surrounding failing septic systems. It also brings extra sediment into our waterways from construction sites and weak riverbanks, which can smother aquatic habitats, increase water temperature, and transport toxins into our rivers. All of this is happening during a period of unprecedented recreational growth on the French Broad. 

We documented the most dramatic change in Transylvania County, as the quality of the Upper French Broad decreased significantly. We attribute part of this decrease in quality to our transition to new, more accurate E.coli sampling protocols. However, that doesn’t explain the whole picture since water quality in other parts of the watershed didn’t drop as steeply. Notoriously the wettest county in the state, this drop in water quality is indicative of the effects that a changing climate coupled with increasing development is having on our region. 

On a positive note, the Nolichucky Watershed saw increased water quality with high grades in benthic and fish samples. Such pristine waters cannot be taken for granted, which is why we’re advocating for the Nolichucky River between Poplar, NC, and Erwin, TN, to be permanently protected with a Wild and Scenic Rivers designation.

Four Cleanest Streams:

  • Cataloochee Creek (A)
  • Cathey’s Creek (A)
  • Bent Creek (A)
  • South Toe (A)

Four Dirtiest Streams:

  • French Broad River – Pisgah Forest (F)
  • French Broad River – Etowah (F)
  • French Broad River – Hominy Creek (F)
  • French Broad River – Westfeldt (F)

 Learn more about the state of the French Broad River Watershed by reviewing last year’s Swim Guide results.

The state of the Broad and Green River watersheds: 

Of the 18 testing sites across the Broad and Green River watersheds, 27% received an A grade, 61% received a B grade, none received a C grade, 5.5% received a D grade (1 site), and 5.5% received an F grade (1 site). 

The Green River is the largest tributary of the Broad River in North Carolina, and its headwaters are largely protected. From its source in Henderson County to Lake Summit, the Upper Green is significantly impacted by agriculture, poor stream management practices, and lack of appropriate riparian buffers. 

The Green River flows into the Broad River near the Polk and Rutherford County Line. Major tributaries in the lower Green River Watershed include Walnut Creek from the north and White Oak Creek from the south. In a tale of two tributaries, the former touts excellent water quality and benefits from a large nature preserve while the latter suffers from degraded water quality as a result of development, land clearing, agriculture, and other intensive land use. 

By the time the First Broad reaches Shelby, it fails to meet EPA bacteria standards nearly 50% of the time. First Broad tributary Buffalo Creek has a history of high bacteria levels and feeds Moss Lake — Cleveland County’s only public reservoir and the water supply for Kings Mountain. In June 2020, NC DEQ documented Moss Lake’s first-ever harmful algal bloom (HAB) — this is a big concern for nearby residents, recreationists, and all who depend on Moss Lake for their drinking water supply. 

Overall, water quality in the most popular recreational area on the main stem of the Broad River is pretty good. The river is so large that contaminants of concern in the tributaries are diluted, and bacteria levels at the Broad River Greenway in Cleveland County almost always meet EPA standards for safe recreation.

Four Cleanest Streams:

  • First Broad River – North Fork (A)
  • Moss Lake (A)
  • North Pacolet River – Near Tryon (A)
  • Big Hungry River (A)

Four Dirtiest Streams:

  • Buffalo Creek – Above Moss Lake (F)
  • Sandy Run Creek (D)
  • Lower Broad River (B)
  • Upper Broad River (B)

Learn more about the state of the Broad and Green River watersheds by reviewing last year’s Swim Guide results.

The state of the Watauga River Watershed:

Of the 27 testing sites in the Watauga River Watershed, 37% received an A grade, 33% received a B grade, 11% received a C grade, 3.7% received a D grade (1 site), and 14.8% received an F grade. 

Overall, water quality is pretty good across the Watauga River Watershed, which originates at an elevation of 5,964 feet on the northern slopes of North Carolina’s Grandfather Mountain. The 78-mile-long Watauga River Basin includes the headwaters and tributaries of the Elk and Watauga Rivers, flowing northwest from North Carolina into Tennessee’s Holston and Tennessee Rivers before joining the Mississippi River and draining into the Gulf of Mexico. 

The Watauga River Watershed includes mountain bog wetlands that sit at the head of the basin and serve as an important water purification system and habitat for native wildlife. Nearly 90% of mountain bogs in North Carolina and throughout the Southeastern United States have been destroyed. The rapid elimination of mountain bogs poses a challenge for water quality and environmental conservation in the Watauga River Basin. 

Increases in development, plastic pollution, soil erosion, sedimentation, and excess nutrients are stressors on aquatic health and habitats. When combined, these stressors can significantly damage aquatic habitats and ecosystems. Much of the land disturbance in the basin takes place on steep mountain slopes, which are naturally vulnerable to soil erosion. As land is cleared due to urbanization and agriculture, rain and melting snow carry eroded sediments, pesticides, fertilizers, and road salt into the Watauga River. 

Fortunately, North Carolina has designated 18 miles along Boone’s Fork Creek for conservation to receive extra protection. More than half of the basin’s streams are classified as trout waters and thus require additional treatment at local wastewater treatment plants. In addition, 25-foot buffers of shrubs and trees must be maintained between trout streams and graded construction sites to filter runoff and prevent erosion.

Four Cleanest Streams: 

  • Watauga River @ Adam’s Apple Dr Bridge (A)
  • Watauga River @ Wilbur Dam Rd Bridge (A)
  • Watauga River @ Smalling Rd Bridge (A)
  • Elk River @ Lees-McRae Mill Pond (A)

Four Dirtiest Streams:

  • Watauga River @ Lover’s Lane (F)
  • Watauga River @ Hunter Bridge (F)
  • Watauga River @ Blevins Boat Ramp (F)
  • Watauga River @ Calloway Rd. Bridge (F)

 Learn more about the state of the Watauga River Watershed by reviewing last year’s Swim Guide results.

Henderson County Volunteer Spotlight: Fred Thompson

Henderson County Volunteer Spotlight: Fred Thompson

Henderson County Volunteer Spotlight: Fred Thompson

“MountainTrue’s Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) has some pretty terrific volunteers” says Lucy Butler, co-leader of the VWIN volunteer base in MountainTrue’s Southern Region. This month, we’re spotlighting the creative and much-appreciated work of Fred Thompson, a MountainTrue VWIN volunteer in Henderson County.

Over the years, Fred’s craftsmanship skills and dedicated volunteerism have made MountainTrue’s participation in the VWIN program much more efficient! 

About VWIN

The Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) program is a volunteer-based network that has been conducting chemical surface water monitoring in WNC streams on a monthly basis since 1990. VWIN is a major program of the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI), a longtime partner of MountainTrue. Learn more about/get involved with EQI’s VWIN work here, and click here to learn more about MountainTrue’s 30-year partnership with EQI.

Water samples taken by VWIN volunteers help us to better understand water chemistry trends in Western North Carolina and identify and quantify sources of pollution in our region’s watersheds. VWIN water samples are stored in individual bottles and many samples can be collected along riverbanks at various sampling sites. However, a few of our VWIN sites are easier to sample from atop a bridge. This “bridgetop” sampling involves the securing of sample bottles to a box which is then submerged, filled with water, and hauled back up to the top of the bridge.

Several years ago, Fred built steel boxes that allow VWIN volunteers to easily load and unload sample bottles, minimizing the possibility of samples escaping and floating downstream. When we asked him to build more boxes, he found that the price of steel had skyrocketed and his usual sources were not discarding their steel scraps… So he started experimenting with six inch PVC pipe, eventually constructing multiple efficient bridge testing boxes through many hours of trial and error. Fred and his friend, cabinetmaker Thomas Kline, fabricated a series of wooden tooling (molds) to form softened PVC plastic into Fred’s desired box shape. Fred and his wife, Andrea, then used their home oven to soften the plastic. Finally, Fred used concrete over reinforcement wire to reach the requisite five pounds (the bridge boxes must be weighted so they can properly submerge and collect water samples).

Fred’s innovative new bridge testing boxes work perfectly! 

In addition to the bridge boxes (pictured right), Fred and Thomas have developed prototypes for improved VWIN sample transport boxes. Each month, VWIN volunteer coordinators for Henderson County transport 37 boxes — each full of water samples from Henderson, Transylvania, and Polk Counties — to EQI’s lab in Black Mountain and return them to the volunteer pickup location. The weight and bulk of the current transport boxes makes this an arduous task, so plans are in place to replace the boxes with lighter, smaller, and more easily handled boxes.

About Fred

Fred moved to Henderson County in 1993 and retired in 2019. He worked as a maintenance supervisor at NC State and has an Associate’s Degree in Ceramic Engineering. He and Andrea volunteer at the Park at Flat Rock where they maintain the park’s 22 bluebird houses. 

Pictured: Andrea and Fred Thompson

Many thanks to Fred, Andrea, and Thomas for improving the VWIN program and supporting efficient, reliable citizen science in Western North Carolina!

Take Action Against Single-Use Plastic Pollution in Asheville and Buncombe County

Take Action Against Single-Use Plastic Pollution in Asheville and Buncombe County

Take Action Against Single-Use Plastic Pollution in Asheville and Buncombe County

Plastic pollution: we’ve all seen it littered on the side of the road, blowing in the wind, floating down rivers and streams.


Plastic pollution is a global problem, but we all have to be part of the solution. Together, we can stop plastic pollution at its source. Let’s enact common-sense laws at the state and local levels to limit the use of single-use plastics before they end up as litter in our rivers, lakes, and streams.

Our water quality testing concludes that microplastic pollution is widespread throughout the French Broad River Basin and other Western North Carolina waterways. Together, we can stop plastic pollution at its source. That’s why we’re working with nonprofit partners to implement a single-use plastic ban in Buncombe County. We can and should enact common-sense legislation at the local level to limit the use of single-use plastics before they end up as litter and microplastic pollution in Buncombe County’s rivers, lakes, and streams. Visit the Plastic-Free WNC website to learn more about our plastics-focused work in Western North Carolina and Buncombe County

MountainTrue Watershed Outreach Coordinator Anna Alsobrook clearly remembers the day she and French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson were confronted with the dismal reality of the plastic pollution crisis: “It was the final straw — figuratively and literally. A few years ago, Hartwell and I were paddling the Swannanoa River. Plastic was everywhere — thousands of plastic shopping bags littered the trees around us, and plastic bottles floated in the river like rafts of ducks. These weren’t new sights for us by any means, but they were the ultimate kick in the gut to start making more permanent changes to protect our rivers and streams.”


Want to join us in taking a stand against plastic pollution in Buncombe County? Add your voice below:

Take Action Against Single-Use Plastic Pollution in Boone

Take Action Against Single-Use Plastic Pollution in Boone

Take Action Against Single-Use Plastic Pollution in Boone

Plastic pollution: we’ve all seen it littered on the side of the road, blowing in the wind, floating down rivers and streams.


Plastic pollution is a global problem, but we all have to be part of the solution. Together, we can stop plastic pollution at its source. Let’s enact common-sense laws at the state and local levels to limit the use of single-use plastics before they end up as litter in our rivers, lakes, and streams.

Our water quality testing concludes that microplastic pollution is widespread throughout the Watauga River Basin and other Western North Carolina waterways. Together, we can stop plastic pollution at its source. That’s why we’re working to implement a single-use plastic ban in the Town of Boone. We can and should enact common-sense legislation at the local level to limit the use of single-use plastics before they end up as litter and microplastic pollution in Boone’s rivers, lakes, and streams. Visit the Plastic-Free WNC website to learn more about our plastics-focused work in Western North Carolina and Boone

Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill on plastic pollution: “We’ve spent years conducting river cleanups, engaging hundreds of volunteers and partner organizations. We spend a lot of time on the Watauga, New, and Elk Rivers collecting water samples, planting trees, and tracking pollution. I thought we had a good handle on the plastic problem. A watershed change and paradigm shift for how I considered the issue came about when we partnered with the Town of Boone and Asheville Greenworks to install a passive litter collection device known as a Trash Trout. The data we began collecting on the type and amount of single-use plastics — including styrofoam and other littered items — truly blew us away.” 


Want to join us in taking a stand against plastic pollution in Boone? Email Boone Town Council using the form below:

Asheville’s Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration

Asheville’s Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration

Asheville’s Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration

Merrimon Avenue is dangerous – not only for pedestrians and cyclists but also for drivers. Has anyone else sat in your car waiting to turn left off Merrimon and watched your rearview mirror in horror as another driver comes flying up behind you and then swerves into the right-hand lane just barely missing your bumper? Or have you been the unfortunate victim of a situation where that driver didn’t quite swerve in time and crashed into you? We don’t want this to happen anymore. People should be able to walk safely along the sidewalks or bike into town without risking their lives.

Luckily, right now we have the opportunity to influence the North Carolina Department of Transportation (NCDOT) to improve the design and make the road safer for all users! NCDOT is considering streamlining the road to add both bike lanes and a center turning lane, which would create a calmer and safer experience for everyone. You can provide your input by taking NCDOT’s Merrimon Avenue Survey by March 22, 2022. 

If you’d like a guide that can help explain parts of this survey and give tips on how to respond to some of the open-ended questions, we encourage you to review this excellent resource created by our organizational partner, Asheville on Bikes. For more information on the project from a local perspective, check out this Asheville Citizen Times op-ed written by MountainTrue’s Community Engagement Director and North Asheville resident, Susan Bean.

The City of Asheville is seeking resident input on the Merrimon Avenue Reconfiguration Project. The City’s comment period — open until March 22, 2022 — aims to gather public feedback about a proposed 4-3 conversion (road diet) for Merrimon Avenue. This conversion would take place as part of an upcoming NCDOT repaving project, a project which had been delayed, until now, by the pandemic and by discussions between NCDOT and the City about the future of Merrimon Avenue. Repaving projects include re-striping between the curbs, and that re-striping can be designed to create a different traffic configuration, as is proposed for Merrimon.

This repaving and subsequent 4-3 conversion is a once-in-a-decade opportunity to make Merrimon Avenue better fit the needs of the community. Like our friends at Asheville on Bikes, we recommend that Asheville residents follow this project and discuss it with their neighbors. 

Asheville — the tenth largest city in North Carolina — continues to rank #1 in pedestrian and bicyclist death and injury. As the Citizen Times reported earlier in March, between 2010-18, Asheville ranked first in the state per capita in both total pedestrian crashes per year and in pedestrian crashes that result in injury or death. 

MountainTrue supports a 4-3 conversion for Merrimon Avenue north of downtown for many reasons — and one of the best reasons is that it will make the road safer for all users.

Here’s what we know about Merrimon Avenue as it stands right now:

  • Merrimon Avenue is dangerous and doesn’t work well for any road user, including motorists.
  • Four-lane undivided highways are dangerous by design — resulting in conflicts between high-speed through traffic, left-turning vehicles, and other road users.
  • Merrimon Avenue averages a crash almost every other day.
    • 20% of those crashes result in injury.
    • Between 2010-18, Asheville ranked first in the state per capita in both total pedestrian crashes per year and in pedestrian crashes that result in injury or death.
  • Merrimon Avenue is dangerous. More dangerous than other comparable streets across the state. Accidents happen almost daily, frequently causing injury and sometimes even death. A safer design is possible and would create a calmer AND safer experience for all road users – drivers, pedestrians, emergency vehicles, cyclists – everyone.

Based on what we know about 4-lane roads that are reconfigured into 3-lanes with a center turn-lane:

  • An improved Merrimon Ave will be safer for all users and all abilities: pedestrians, drivers, and bicyclists alike
  • An improved Merrimon Ave will slow down traffic without making trips significantly longer, and make for a more pleasant experience for local users of the corridor
  • Businesses will benefit as it will be easier and safer for customers traveling both directions to turn left into them
  • New bike lanes would create a buffer of space between pedestrians on the sidewalks and vehicular traffic
  • 15 years of transportation planning by various agencies have all supported this conversion

Let’s support a safer multi-modal Merrimon Avenue. Take action today and let the NC Department of Transportation know that you support a better, safer Merrimon Ave

MountainTrue FAQ: SMIE Volunteering

MountainTrue FAQ: SMIE Volunteering

MountainTrue FAQ: SMIE Volunteering

Let’s chat bugs! Last December on the MountainTrue blog, we considered What’s Bugging Our Rivers. Today, we’ll take a deeper dive into our participation in the Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE) program and our partnership with the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI), based in Black Mountain, NC. We’ll split this blog post into two main sections: we’ll start with a summary of the SMIE program and our partnership with EQI and conclude with a brief SMIE volunteer FAQ.  

About SMIE

SMIE is a collaborative, volunteer-based biological water quality monitoring program that analyzes aquatic macroinvertebrate population data from across Western North Carolina (WNC). The SMIE program was developed in 2004 by Clean Water for North Carolina (CWFNC) (as creative lead), EQIHaywood Waterways AssociationRiverlink, and two of MountainTrue’s predecessor organizations: the Environmental Conservation Organization (ECO) and the WNC Alliance. 

 Benthic macroinvertebrates — including aquatic stream bottom-dwelling insects like stoneflies, caddisflies, hellgrammites, and more — are excellent indicators of the comprehensive water quality of a stream because they have limited mobility, specific habitat requirements, and distinct pollution tolerance levels. You could say that aquatic macroinvertebrates are artists — they paint a revealing picture of the overall health of aquatic ecosystems. As the metaphorical art historians of the SMIE world, experts at EQI and their partner organizations analyze the physical cues left by these tiny yet essential aquatic insect artists. The expert analyses of SMIE data across multiple watersheds help us better understand our region’s vibrant water quality history and present reality. 

 About EQI and MountainTrue’s partnership

 Our partnership began in 1992 when EQI partnered with ECO — one of MountainTrue’s three predecessor organizations — to conduct surface water monitoring in Henderson County as part of EQI’s *Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) program. Thirty years (and a whole lot of water quality testing) later, MountainTrue continues to collect and deliver monthly water quality samples to EQI, and we now provide EQI with our SMIE data for analysis. 

One of EQI’s primary goals is to increase public awareness about regional water quality and environmental issues across WNC. Involving the public in the SMIE data collection process allows EQI and MountainTrue to significantly expand our sampling capacity and add credibility to citizen science programs.

EQI currently coordinates SMIE sampling at 49 sites in five WNC counties (Buncombe, Madison, Haywood, Mitchell, and Yancy). EQI also provides technical support for its partner organizations using the SMIE protocol throughout WNC and Eastern TN. As an EQI partner, MountainTrue coordinates SMIE volunteer training and sampling in Henderson, Polk, and Cleveland counties. SMIE sampling efforts occur each spring and fall, typically in April and October.

Check out EQI’s Water Quality Map to see sampling locations and review data from the past 30 years of water quality monitoring!

*One of EQI’s major programs, VWIN is a volunteer-based network that has been conducting chemical surface water monitoring in WNC streams on a monthly basis since 1990. Learn more about and get involved with EQI’s VWIN work here

 Why our partnership matters

The North Carolina Division of Water Resources (NC DWR) monitors water quality throughout the state, prioritizing testing sites with existing and pressing issues. The agency’s minimal number of testing sites and low sampling frequency have both continued to decrease over time due to lack of capacity — this means that water quality in many WNC streams is not regularly monitored… That’s where we come in! 

The SMIE program monitors the water quality of urban, rural, and forested streams in priority WNC watersheds and tributaries without existing watershed plans or projects. By consistently monitoring WNC streams, EQI and MountainTrue can assess long-term water quality trends that highlight the interrelated relationship between the health of local waterways and resident aquatic insect populations. 

This comprehensive knowledge provides valuable insights into the effects of *pollution in our local waterways. Essentially, WNC streams with higher pollution levels have fewer aquatic insects and are less hospitable to other aquatic and riparian species, like native fish, salamanders, and streamside plants. Alternatively, the presence of pollution-sensitive aquatic insect species indicates cleaner, healthier streams with greater biodiversity. 

*The most common types of pollution include:

  • Stormwater runoff from impervious surfaces like parking lots, roads, buildings, and other structures. Littered trash is frequently swept up in the flow of running stormwater, quickly making its way into local waterways.   
  • Bacteria and chemical pollution, often caused by sewer and septic system overflows, agriculture runoff, and industrial effluent. 
  • Sediment pollution, often caused by erosion of stream banks, some animal agriculture practices, and runoff from construction sites and plowed fields. 
  • Wastewater human and animal waste, industrial effluent, and trash. 

SMIE Volunteer FAQ 

Q: Why should folks want to volunteer for SMIE?

It’s a super fun way to connect with the environment and your community through citizen science and shared experience. SMIE volunteers get hands-on experience with a unique and essential facet of environmentalism (aquatic insects!) and make meaningful contributions to environmental protection!

Q: What does a typical SMIE volunteer day look like?

MountainTrue or EQI’s SMIE experts meet volunteers at our sampling sites and provide all the supplies needed for a day of aquatic insect sampling: nets, buckets, filters, ice cube trays, forceps, datasheets, and waterproof waders. A group leader accompanies each volunteer group, completing all aquatic insect identification and ensuring proper SMIE protocol is followed. The data collected by SMIE volunteers is recorded and sent back to the EQI or MountainTrue labs, where it’s entered into our long-term database. 

In total, sampling an SMIE site takes between one and a half to three hours. Volunteers are expected to sample at least two SMIE sites each spring and fall season. We collect our samples using the three collection methods detailed in the SMIE protocol: 

Kick Net Collection

One volunteer holds the large net while another kicks just upstream. The kicking disturbs the stream bed, dislodging aquatic insects from the sediment and off of rocks before they’re picked up in the stream’s flow and caught in the net. SMIE protocol calls for two volunteers to collect macroinvertebrates from the net for 20 minutes.

Leaf Pack Collection

Fallen leaves are an important source of nutrients and shelter for many aquatic insects. As the leaves move downstream, they collect on rocks, fallen sticks and logs, and along stream banks — as they decompose, insects move in. Volunteers fill a bucket with decomposing leaves and sort through the leaf pack to find insects. Volunteers can also collect insects with a strainer used to filter water from the soggy leaves. Volunteers typically spend five minutes collecting insects from the leaf pack. 

Visual Collection

A volunteer wades through the stream and examines various microhabitats for aquatic insects. Insects are typically found under rocks, along river banks where tree roots interact with the stream, and in leaf packs. They can also be found by filtering stream water through a strainer.

Q: Do I have to be trained to volunteer? Where can I sign up for a training/when is the next one? 

In order to ensure our data is reliable, the SMIE program requires all volunteers to be trained. EQI and MountainTrue host SMIE training workshops twice per year in the fall and spring. Training workshops are broken into morning and afternoon sessions. Morning sessions are education-focused — volunteers learn about the basics of stream ecology, aquatic insect identification, SMIE protocol, and the history and importance of the SMIE program and water quality monitoring in general. Afternoon streamside sessions offer volunteers the chance to put their newfound knowledge to the test — volunteers are trained in all collection methods and get hands-on practice with aquatic insect identification. 

Additionally, EQI offers group leader training to especially passionate SMIE volunteers. Group leaders receive additional training in SMIE protocol and insect identification. 

Both EQI and MountainTrue are hosting SMIE training workshops this spring! MountainTrue will be training volunteers for Henderson and Polk counties on March 5. EQI will be training volunteers for Buncombe, Madison, Haywood, Mitchell, and Yancy counties on April 2. Stay tuned for updates on upcoming training workshops in MountainTrue’s High Country Region! 


Have other SMIE questions? Feel free to reach out to our SMIE experts and SMIE Volunteer FAQ co-authors:

Smart Growth and Henderson County’s 2045 Comprehensive Plan

Smart Growth and Henderson County’s 2045 Comprehensive Plan

Smart Growth and Henderson County’s 2045 Comprehensive Plan

The state projects that in the next 25 years, over 39,000 people will move to Henderson County. To put that in perspective, that’s more than the current populations of Hendersonville, Flat Rock, Fletcher, Laurel Park, and Mills River combined. Furthermore, when they get here, they’ll require 17,000 new homes — that equates to nearly 700 new homes per year!

How will we accomplish that? Where will those houses go? Fortunately, we have an opportunity to answer those pressing questions, as Henderson County is now developing a 25-year plan for future development. 

This long-range plan, called a comprehensive plan, provides a significant opportunity for residents and businesses to inform the next 25 years of growth and development in Henderson County. Community input in the comprehensive planning process will ensure the county is better equipped to meet the challenges of a growing population, climate change, and increased pressures on our built environment.

When we think of how we typically meet a huge demand for housing, we envision sprawling subdivisions and massive apartment complexes.

Smart Growth: limiting the expansion of infrastructure and building only where infrastructure such as water, sewage, and electricity already exists is one of the most effective ways to combat urban sprawl, protect green space, and ensure higher density and more functional communities.

On February 10, MountainTrue Healthy Communities Program Director Chris Joyell chatted with us about smart growth in relation to Henderson County’s 25-year Comprehensive Plan. Taking the county’s predicted population increase into consideration, Joyell outlined how we can realize a vision for growth that encourages economic development, respects our natural resources and agricultural heritage, and enhances our communities’ quality of life for generations to come! Presented in partnership with Conserving Carolina, this free webinar was the first of four Special Edition Green Drinks series webinar, entitled Good Growth Makes Good Sense. Click here to watch the webinar recording!

Those projects usually require extending new water and sewer lines into rural and undeveloped land. Instead of expanding our infrastructure into rural landscapes, we can choose to invest in our existing communities by improving aging infrastructure to accommodate the growth that cities and towns are designed to absorb.

Focusing development in established neighborhoods protects our farmland and natural areas and represents a sound financial approach to the problem. By encouraging development in existing communities, the county reduces the long-term maintenance obligation of new infrastructure. Investing in our communities supports our neighbors and is ultimately more efficient, saving the county money and strengthening its tax base.

A greater focus on providing a wide range of housing options can serve as an antidote to sprawling development patterns that perpetuate gridlock, auto emissions, and the climate crisis. These housing options don’t always have to be 200-unit multi-family apartment buildings. Instead, we can encourage modest forms of infill development that are comparable in size and scale to large homes. These “middle housing” types include duplexes and courtyard apartments and have been largely missing from housing production since the 1970s.

If you visit any pre-war neighborhood in the region, you’ll find modest brick-faced townhouses and courtyard apartments blending in seamlessly with single-family homes. These middle housing types can provide a wide range of affordable options for, say, seniors looking to downsize or young adults looking to strike out on their own; for service workers, public servants, and school teachers looking to live closer to where they work. 

Accessible, affordable housing options can help us build a community that accommodates all walks of life. To do this, we need a fair and predictable set of rules to guide development. When we leave these decisions to the discretion of a county board or a judge, the only people who benefit are the lawyers. Instead, we need to streamline the permitting and approval process to make development decisions more timely, transparent, and predictable for developers and residents alike. 

If we want to preserve Henderson County’s farmland, forests, and heritage, we need to find a better way to accommodate the anticipated influx of new residents while supporting our existing communities. Henderson County’s ongoing comprehensive planning process allows county residents to articulate what middle housing options could look like and how they could fit in/around existing neighborhoods and town centers while preserving their unique character.

Visit Henderson County’s 2045 Comprehensive Plan website to learn more and get involved.

MountainTrue and The Creation Care Alliance of WNC on Eco-Grief

MountainTrue and The Creation Care Alliance of WNC on Eco-Grief

MountainTrue and The Creation Care Alliance of WNC on Eco-Grief

It’s hard to keep up with the news and harder still to process. 

We see images of fires raging across the American west, driving both human and non-human communities from their generational homes. We hear farmers speak, in choked sobs, of unpredictable growing seasons and lost crops. We shake with the knowledge that we are losing species at 10 to 100 times the rate considered “natural” by scientists. We witness persistent environmental racism inflicted upon BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) communities. We live in a reality in which BIPOC and low-income communities are the most affected by climate change and most frequently excluded from climate conversations. 

Many of us find ourselves numb with grief and overwhelmed by the pain of the world we love. In other words, many of us are experiencing ecological grief and climate anxiety — completely reasonable responses to deeply challenging truths. 

As we grapple with our changing climate and the devastation of natural spaces, we may feel fear, sadness, anger, or a sense of despondency. We may feel burnt out. It may be challenging to plan for “the next thing.” It may be difficult to do anything other than try to “fix the problem,” making it impossible to rest. This is why recognizing and processing ecological grief is so important. 

Together, we can learn to navigate and be present in the world as it is — grounding our lives and our activism and perhaps discovering hope and community in the process. As Francis Weller says, “grief and love are sisters.” By honoring our grief, we can develop a clearer understanding of why we care for this world in the first place and ultimately reconnect to our love for it. 

Those working at the intersections of climate and environmental justice often suffer from depression and anxiety. The impacts of climate change — like increasingly frequent and severe storms and the damage they leave in their wake — can lead to panic attacks and PTSD in impacted populations. Activists, educators, and vulnerable communities all deserve support in addressing the mental and physical health aspects of being climate-informed and climate-impacted. We and many others are striving to provide that support to all in our mountain communities who are in need and interested. 

The Creation Care Alliance of WNC — MountainTrue’s faith-based program — began offering seven-week-long Eco-Grief Circles virtually in the fall of 2020 to help meet the needs of our community members struggling with ecological grief and climate anxiety. These Eco-Grief Circles are led by environmental advocates, counselors, and pastors, and sessions are inspired by the work of Francis Weller and Joanna Macy. In past meetings, participants provided mutual support, healing, and insight as they explored grief and sorrow, anxiety and fear, guilt and shame, anger, despair, and emotional integration. Participants expressed profound gratitude for being among people who could talk honestly about grief, suffering, and the ecological and social challenges of our time. 

Since 2020, our grief group offerings have evolved substantially. What began as a local, online effort to offer support has blossomed into an initiative supported by various organizations and individuals internationally and throughout the United States. We’ve hosted in-person and virtual groups (serving more than 150 individuals), offered training and curriculum to support others as they lead their communities in this work, and we’ve spoken on panels for national organizations about our offerings and learnings. 

Click here to learn more about eco-grief and our Eco-Grief Circles and click here to learn more about our current eco-grief efforts. Because our current Eco-Grief Circles have limited capacity, we continue to consider the next iteration of this work and how we can achieve that developing vision. 

We know the need for this work continues. We know that many others are championing this necessary work in their own communities, both physical and online. We’re deeply inspired by the thought-leaders, educators, creators, innovators, and activists at:

  • The All We Can Save Project, whose mission is “to nurture a welcoming, connected, and leaderful climate community, rooted in the work and wisdom of women, to grow a life-giving future.” The All We Can Save Project offers an anthology of helpful and empowering resources, including resources for educators, climate emotions, and information on starting your own All We Can Save Circles
  • Marine biologist and climate solutions communicator Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson — The All We Can Save book co-editor, along with Dr. Katharine Wilkinson. 
  • Intersectional Environmentalist (IE), who provide accessible and inclusive, educational, and empowering resources — “IE is a climate justice community and resource hub centering BIPOC and historically under-amplified voices in the environmental space.” 
  • Earthrise Studio, whose “goal is to humanize the impacts of the climate crisis by sharing the diverse experiences of those living on the frontlines of climate change and the activists who have devoted their lives to tackling it.” 
  • The Work that Reconnects Network, whose mission is to “help people discover and experience their innate connections with each other and the self-healing powers of the web of life, transforming despair and overwhelm into inspired, collaborative action.”
  • The BTS Center, whose mission is to “catalyze spiritual imagination with enduring wisdom for transformative faith leadership.” The BTS Center offers various programs providing support in eco-grief and is also one of the partners supporting the Creation Care Alliance’s upcoming Eco-Grief Circles.

Have additional resources you’d like to share? Want to learn even more about our eco-grief offerings? We invite you to reach out to us! In the meantime, we’ll continue to learn from and listen to the climate activists, community educators, and creators leading the charge (including those mentioned above) so that we’ll be better equipped to engage with our communities as we process ecological grief and climate anxiety together.