2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

2023 Western North Carolina Conservation Legislative Priorities

Protect Public Health – and the Jobs and Businesses that Rely on Clean Water

A recent report conducted by economists at Western Carolina University commissioned by the French Broad River Partnership found the total economic impact of the French Broad River and its tributaries is $3.8 billion annually, and river-reliant businesses create or maintain 38,554 jobs each year. In 2015, more than 55,000 people used a commercial outfitter to enjoy the French Broad, and thousands more used the river without an outfitter. 

Unfortunately, bacteria pollution threatens this economic engine by making the watershed unsafe for the thousands of people who play in it every year. Contaminated water poses health problems, including gastrointestinal, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and infections. 

Water quality testing in the heavily-used French Broad River watershed indicates the presence of E. coli and fecal coliform at levels that are unsafe for human exposure much of the time. One of the most popular areas for recreation, a 19-mile section of the French Broad River – from the Asheville Regional Airport,  through the Biltmore Estate and the River Arts District in downtown Asheville – was added to NC’s list of impaired waterways in 2022.

To protect public health and the jobs and businesses that rely on safe recreational waters, MountainTrue supports the following initiatives to reduce bacterial pollution:

  • Increase local WNC funding to help farmers improve water quality. Agricultural waste is a significant source of E. coli and other bacterial pollution in WNC rivers and streams, especially the French Broad River which, as mentioned above, was recently listed as impaired for fecal coliform. Unfortunately, demand for state funding to help WNC farmers afford improvements that would reduce this pollution far outstrips the current budget. Expanding state funding for local Soil and Water Conservation Districts (SWCDs) to meet this demand is critical to improving recreational water quality in WNC. We would like to request a $2 million nonrecurring allocation to SWCDs in the French Broad Watershed, allocated through the existing Agricultural Cost-Share Program, specifically for livestock operation improvement projects.  
  • Help property owners reduce stormwater pollution. The Community Conservation Assistance Program (CCAP) allows WNC’s SWCDs to help property owners reduce stormwater pollution in impaired waters.  Like the cost share program for farmers, funding for CCAP assistance is insufficient to meet demand. Providing WNC SWCD’s with an additional $500,000 for the CCAP program will significantly reduce stormwater pollution in rivers and streams already impacted by bacterial pollution. 


Other policy and funding initiatives that MountainTrue supports:

  • Abundant Housing Legislation – Opportunities for dense, energy-efficient housing located close to jobs reduce energy demand and transportation emissions. We support legislation to address housing availability and affordability.
  • Dam Removal Fund Implementation – The NCGA previously allocated $7.5 million to remove antiquated dams on waterways across WNC. MountainTrue is committed to advancing policies that give state agencies the support they need to advance dam removal projects efficiently.
  • Expand Transportation Funding – NC’s transportation funding relies on the gas tax, which is diminishing as people drive less and vehicles become more efficient. We support legislation that creates new sources of funding and expands the use to include stand-alone bike-ped projects.
  • Stormwater management reform for redevelopment projects – Recent amendments to G.S. 143‑214.7 deny local governments the option of requiring stormwater mitigation on redevelopment projects. We support legislation to repeal those changes.
  • Safe Passage Fund – As roadway construction creates new barriers to long-established wildlife corridors, inevitably, animals are increasingly encountering humans and their vehicles. We are joining a coalition of organizations seeking $10 million to support wildlife crossing projects.
  • Agency staffing needs and pay equity – State agencies across the board are struggling to hire and retain staff due to budget constraints and competition with the private sector. MountainTrue supports maximizing investments in state agency staff positions and salaries.

WNC Public Access and Recreation Investments:

  • Expand the Blue Ridge Snorkel Trail to include one publicly-accessible site in each WNC county, along with educational materials ($150,000 nonrecurring to Mainspring Conservation Trust).
  • Improve River Walk in downtown Murphy by building a boardwalk for Fisherman’s Loop, and extending the path to a housing development ($250,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Murphy).
  • Improve public access to the Watauga River Paddle Trail by purchasing an additional access point in Watauga County ($500,000 nonrecurring to Watauga County).
  • Expand access to the Green River and adjacent lands by developing a new access point at South Wilson Hill Road ($150,000 nonrecurring to Polk County Community Foundation).
  • Enhance Chestnut Mountain Nature Park by expanding paths and trails and improving the playground and creekside park ($450,000 nonrecurring to the Town of Canton).

MountainTrue Participates in Waterkeeper Alliance PFAS Study

MountainTrue Participates in Waterkeeper Alliance PFAS Study

MountainTrue Participates in Waterkeeper Alliance PFAS Study

Study shows widespread contamination of surface waters, though relatively low levels of PFAS in WNC.

MountainTrue’s Watauga, Green, and Broad Riverkeepers participated in a recently released, groundbreaking new study of cancer-causing per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) contamination across a select subset of U.S. surface waters. The study found that PFAS pollution is widespread. In samples collected from 114 waterways across the country, 83% contained at least one type of PFAS — substances widely linked to serious public health and environmental impacts.

Since the 1950s, PFAS have been widely used in manufacturing and are found in many consumer, commercial, and industrial products. Often referred to as “forever chemicals,” PFAS do not break down over time. Instead, these dangerous chemicals accumulate in people, wildlife, and the environment. As a result, PFAS have been found in surface water, air, soil, food, and many commercial materials.

“These dangerous chemicals are an emerging threat throughout our country. Here in Western North Carolina, we’ve documented relatively low levels of PFAS contamination,” explains Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell, “we have more work to do to identify sources of PFAS pollution, but often increased levels are documented downstream of industry, landfills, and wastewater treatment plants.”

MountainTrue’s Riverkeepers collected water samples upstream and downstream of wastewater treatment plants on the Watauga River and Green River and an industrial landfill on the Broad River. The results showed generally low levels of PFAS contamination throughout the mountain region compared to samples collected in the eastern part of the state. Sampling conducted by the Broad Riverkeeper found no detectable PFAS upstream of the Cleveland County landfill and the presence of four PFAS varieties downstream (download the sampling results for the Broad River). The Watauga Riverkeeper found low levels of two varieties of PFAS upstream from the Jimmy Smith Wastewater Treatment Facility and higher levels and three additional PFAS varieties downstream (download the results for the Watauga River). The Green Riverkeeper found no detectable PFAS upstream of the Columbus Wastewater Treatment Plant and found low levels of three varieties of PFAS downstream in White Oak Creek (download the results for the Green River).

“This is a wakeup call for our region,” explains Watauga Riverkeeper Andy Hill. “But we have more work to do. MountainTrue and Waterkeepers Carolina are conducting additional sampling throughout our region and the state, and we will provide a more detailed analysis of PFAS contamination of local waterways.”

A total of 113 Waterkeepers across the country collected samples from 114 waterways across 34 states and the District of Columbia (D.C.). Independent analysis indicates widespread contamination, with 94 participating Waterkeeper groups confirming the presence of PFAS in their waterways. Waterways in 29 states and D.C. were found to be contaminated by at least one, but most frequently, many revealed the presence of up to 35 different PFAS compounds.

In some places, like creeks connected to the Potomac River in Maryland, the Lower Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania, and the Niagara River in New York, the level of contamination is thousands to hundreds of thousands of times higher than what experts say is safe for drinking water. An estimated 65% of Americans source their drinking water from surface waters similar to those sampled. While the state of North Carolina has done some testing of drinking intakes, additional data is needed. It is important to note that locally in Western North Carolina, we do not suspect a threat to drinking water supplies based on current evidence.

Scientific studies increasingly link these toxic chemicals to serious health conditions such as cancer, liver and kidney disease, reproductive issues, immunodeficiencies, and hormonal disruptions. Despite serious health risks, there are currently no universal, science-based limits on the various PFAS chemicals in the United States. For many PFAS chemicals, the EPA has not even set a health advisory limit that would give the public a baseline to determine what amount of PFAS is unhealthy in drinking water. In most cases, the EPA is not doing adequate monitoring for these chemicals, which is why these findings are so unique and important.

This data plainly demonstrates that Congress and EPA must act with urgency to control persistent PFAS contamination across the country. The current lack of oversight puts the health and safety of communities and ecosystems across the nation at risk and results in costly cleanup and treatment activities to remove PFAS contamination after it has occurred. To learn more, visit waterkeeper.org/pfas.

Sewage Spill in the Broad River? Check the Classifieds!

Sewage Spill in the Broad River? Check the Classifieds!

Check the Classifieds!

Disclaimer: this is not a sewage spill warning!

Thankfully, no recent sewage spills have been reported in the Broad River. Last week’s Broad Riverkeeper social media posts about high bacteria levels in the Broad got some folks wondering about bacteria levels and sewage spills. Heavy rainfall does cause E. coli levels in the Broad to rise, and sewage spills do occasionally occur after very heavy rain events. However, higher E. coli levels do not always signify a sewage spill.

In the event of a sewage spill, state law requires the wastewater treatment plant or municipality to inform the local public by placing a classified ad in a local printed newspaper.

Stay safe and informed on your river adventures.

This classified ad was printed in the Shelby Star on October 13, 2018, after nearly 45,000 gallons of untreated wastewater were discharged into the Second Broad River on October 11. The wastewater treatment plant was not required to directly notify your Broad Riverkeeper, the Broad River Greenway, or downstream neighbors. The treatment plant was also not required to place any signage downstream where folks might be accessing the river.

The protocol is an antiquated system for public notification of potentially dangerous pollution events. NC riverkeepers are urging the state to upgrade this system by utilizing more current communication methods like social media posts, email and text alerts, or a website. We’ll keep working to bring about a better system, but until then, make sure you know where to find potential future sewage spill notices in your local paper.

What do Healthy Mountain Rivers Mean to You?

What do Healthy Mountain Rivers Mean to You?

Testing Sites

River Basins

Counties

States

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!

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.

Swim Guide Watershed Report: Upper French Broad, Green & Broad River Watersheds

Swim Guide Watershed Report: Upper French Broad, Green & Broad River Watersheds

Swim Guide Watershed Report: Upper French Broad, Green & Broad River Watersheds

While the past year has been unkind to the French Broad River, the Green River Watershed — a headwater tributary of the Broad River — had a great year. Alternatively, the larger Broad River Watershed’s 2020-2021 highlight reel is less glamorous, but we’re happy to report commendable water quality improvement across this important watershed. 

We’ll split this blog post into three sections, starting with a summary of our upper French Broad River Watershed data. Then, we’ll discuss the data we collected across the Green River and greater Broad River Watershed, summarize the good and bad news for each, and spotlight the water testing sites with the lowest and highest bacteria counts. We’ll conclude with achievable solutions for the future and a call to action so you can continue to help us protect the places we share.

Before we dive into our water quality summary, let’s review important terminology to help us better understand the data our Riverkeepers, volunteers, and Clean Waters teams worked so hard to collect, analyze, and report. Cfu, or colony forming unit, is a data metric scientists use to estimate the number of microbes present per 100 milliliters of a singular water sample. Microbes (also known as microorganisms) include bacteria, algae, and fungi. Like most things, some microbes are good for human health and some aren’t. We test for E. coli bacteria because it’s the best indicator for the presence of microbes that pose threats to human health.

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), 235 cfu/100mL is the safe standard for primary recreational waters, where people are most likely to engage in recreational activities involving underwater immersion and potential water ingestion.

First, let’s talk about the Upper French Broad River

About Our Swim Guide Program

Swim Guide is an international program used by Riverkeepers and other advocates to provide up-to-date recreational E. coli data for beaches, lakes, and rivers worldwide. E. coli is a bacteria found in the fecal waste of warm-blooded animals, including humans, and indicates contamination in our waterways. E. coli levels increase with rainfall events due to surface runoff and sewer overflow events.

Samples are collected every Wednesday from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Volunteers collect surface water samples in a 100mL sample bottle and drop samples off at the lab, to be processed by MountainTrue staff. Results from samples are measured in MPN, the most probable number of colony-forming units (cfu). The EPA’s limit for recreational water quality is 235 cfu/100mL. The EPA estimates at that concentration, 8 in 1,000 people will contract an illness.

Pass/Fail results are updated every Friday on www.swimguide.org to inform the public about local water quality. We use the data generated from our Swim Guide Program to identify sites for follow-up sampling. We sample in both urban and rural areas. Determining the location and source of E. coli in our waterways is one way we can hold polluters accountable.

News headline: Upper French Broad Bedevilled by Bad Bacteria

The French Broad’s turbulent history with E. coli is well-known among watershed locals. Our two new testing sites along the upper French Broad at Lyons Mountain and Island Ford secured the top spots for worst water quality and highest bacteria count

In Henderson County, Mud Creek at Brookside Camp Road experienced slight improvement from 2020 to 2021, but remains one of the worst sites we sample with an average E. coli count of 1535 cfu/100mL. Our data suggests a mix of animal agriculture, septic failures, and sewer overflows are the primary sources of E. coli pollution in Mud Creek. 

The week of July 28 proved to be the summer’s worst. Just 23% of our French Broad River testing sites passed the EPA’s 235 cfu/100mL safe standard for primary recreational waters. 

For more information about the larger French Broad River Watershed, check out this blog post

Let’s move on to the Green River Watershed.

Good news headline: Green River Watershed Report Concludes ‘It’s Actually Pretty Easy Being Green’

We’re happy to report the past year saw the Green River Watershed boast no worst sites. With the exception of the week of August 18 during Hurricane Fred, all seven testing sites routinely passed the EPA’s safe standard throughout the summer. 

Overall, the Green River’s water quality remains excellent for recreational users and fares much better than the French Broad River’s water quality. Out of 98 total samples, only nine failed to pass the EPA’s safe standard. Our data shows the Green River was clean 90.8% of the time we sampled it this summer. 

Bad news headline: Rains of Climate Change Pose Threats to Overall Clean Green River

Users of the Green River Watershed enjoy a largely clean present. Still, the future is less certain with the potential for negative changes due to heavier summer rains. This summer saw Hurricane Fred wreak havoc across the watershed in mid-August, immediately resulting in poorer water quality. With an average value of 951.9 cfu/100mL per site, the week of August 18 proved to be the summer’s worst with six out of seven testing sites failing to pass the EPA’s safe standard. 

Stormwater runoff pollution remains a formidable threat to the Green River Watershed and the whole of the Southern Blue Ridge. Without immediate and direct action, the Green River’s water quality will suffer as higher annual amounts of stormwater runoff enter the watershed due to climate change.   

Now, let’s discuss the state of the Broad River Watershed. 

Good news headline: Broad River Somewhat Less Bacteria-laden in 2021 than 2020

Sampled weekly from Memorial Day to Labor Day, our data concludes slight water quality improvement at all nine testing sites across the Broad River Watershed in both Rutherford and Cleveland counties from 2020-2021. We’re happy to say that the river continues to be a safe, reliable recreation spot.

Cleveland County’s Moss Lake maintains the title of best testing site, passing the EPA safe standard 100% of the time over the past two years.  

Bad news headline: Development and Manure are Broad River’s Biggest Bacteria Blunders

Buffalo Creek has remained our worst testing site for two years, failing to pass the EPA’s safe standard 81% of the time. The high bacteria concentrations in Buffalo Creek are attenuated in Moss Lake, just 15 miles upstream. The nutrients associated with Buffalo Creek’s high bacteria levels continue to pose a risk for algal blooms in Moss Lake. Not all algal blooms are dangerous, but those with the potential to form in Moss Lake would pose a severe risk to water quality and surrounding biodiversity. 

Lake Lure and the Rocky Broad have mixed testing results. Coupled with existing agriculture, ongoing development surrounding the Rocky Broad is likely causing an increase of bacteria-laden runoff during rain events. 

Data from our two testing sites along the First Broad River indicate that the water is unsafe for recreation roughly 33% of the time. Poor agricultural practices like inadequate stream buffers and abundant cow and poultry manure in the river are the likely sources for the First Broad’s high E. coli levels.  

Let’s wrap up our water quality discussion with two future news headlines: 

1) Governments Must Step in to Mitigate Green River’s Worsened Water Quality

Existing stormwater infrastructure is outdated and inadequate. Local and state government action is needed to protect the Green River’s water quality from threats posed by climate change. 

2) Remedying Broad River’s Bacteria Problem with Sound Policy, Infrastructure and Agriculture Investments

Despite incrementally improved water quality at each testing site, data collected from the Broad River Watershed still produced less than ideal results. The prevalence of E. coli in the watershed illuminates a dire need for workable solutions to lackluster development policies, poor agricultural practices, and deficient stormwater infrastructure. 

Moving forward, MountainTrue will:

  • Encourage government officials to implement policies addressing land use and development impacts and make worthy investments to improve existing stormwater infrastructure.
  • Continue to monitor sites of most concern while aiming to pinpoint and eliminate sources of E. coli pollution at our newest testing sites in the near future.
  • Further develop valued relationships with community members to combat threats posed to water quality by poor animal agriculture practices. 

Want to learn more about our efforts to bring about clean water for all? Check out our ILoveRivers webpage and join MountainTrue’s dedicated community of volunteers to help us protect the places we share.