Swim Guide Watershed Report: French Broad River

Swim Guide Watershed Report: French Broad River

Swim Guide Watershed Report: French Broad River

In the past year, the French Broad River Watershed experienced a range of highs and lows (we’re talking about bacteria counts, folks!). We’ll start with the good news, including which water testing sites had the lowest bacteria counts across the watershed. Then, we’ll give you the year’s bad news by spotlighting sites with the 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.

Good news headline: French Broad Whitewater Sites Experience Applaudable Improvement in 2021

The French Broad in Madison County was cleaner this summer than in past Swim Guide seasons. Whitewater sections at Stackhouse, Hot Springs, and Big Laurel were some of the best testing sites. These sites routinely passed the EPA’s 235 cfu/100mL safe standard, improving from 2020-2021. Another popular whitewater section — the Pigeon River in Hartford, Tennessee — was clean all summer, with most weeks showing an E. coli count of zero.

Most of our testing sites experienced slight improvement this year compared to 2020’s testing results. This is likely due to less rainfall during the Memorial Day to Labor Day sampling season.

Bad news headline: French Broad Besieged by E. coli as Bacteria Battle Babbles on

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.

The French Broad’s long and sometimes stinky history with E. coli is no secret to watershed locals. Our riverkeepers, volunteers, and Clean Waters Teams kept keen (but not pink!) eyes out for harmful strains of this belligerent bacteria while conducting water quality tests at 40 sites across the French Broad River Watershed.

We added two new testing sites along the French Broad in Transylvania County at Lyons Mountain and Island Ford this year. Unfortunately, both sites’ water quality and bacteria count ranked among the worst. Our testing site in South Asheville’s Shiloh community secured the worst spot with a season average of 3393 cfu/100mL.

Hominy Creek in West Asheville remains an E. coli haven. Through separate DNA sampling, we’ve been able to identify cow and human waste as the top sources of E. coli in Hominy and Mud Creeks. At the same time, sewer overflows also negatively impact the latter. While Mud Creek at Brookside Camp Road experienced slight improvement from 2020 to 2021, it remains one of the worst sites we sample with an average E. coli count of 1535 cfu/100mL.

The week of July 28 proved to be the summer’s worst. Just 23% of the sites passed the EPA’s safe standard with 1283 cfu/100mL as the average value per site.

Future news headline: Staving off the French Broad’s Bacteria Pollution to Save Water Quality

While we saw a slight improvement this year, there’s much work that needs to be done to reduce bacterial pollution in the French Broad River. We’re advocating for additional funding for County Soil and Water Conservation Districts to help farmers implement additional best management practices, like keeping livestock out of waterways and installing stream buffers to mitigate harmful, bacteria-laden runoff. We believe these solutions will significantly improve water quality at Hominy Creek and other agricultural areas, engendering a free-flowing domino effect that will positively impact other French Broad River Watershed sections.

Moving forward, MountainTrue will:

  • Continue to monitor sites of most concern while aiming to pinpoint and eliminate sources of E. coli pollution at our newest testing sites.
  • Leverage our connections with city, county, and state officials while further developing valued relationships with community members to combat threats posed to water quality by animal agriculture, faulty wastewater infrastructure, and septic failures.

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.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Join Us for an Annual Member Gathering in Your Area!

Join Us for an Annual Member Gathering in Your Area!

Join Us for an Annual Member Gathering in Your Area!

We are excited to be gathering in person this year to connect with our members, celebrate our MountainTrue Award winners, and see each others’ smiling faces!

Each year, MountainTrue hosts a gathering of our members to recognize and honor outstanding volunteers, vote on new board members, and reflect on a year of hard work and accomplishments. Due to the COVID resurgence, we are holding four separate outdoor events — one in each region —  in order to reduce the size of our crowd and to protect the safety of others. All attendees are required to be vaccinated. We hope you can join us. If you have questions about any of these events, please contact Susan Bean at susan@mountaintrue.org. Registration is accessible below for both the High Country and Central Region events. 

Check here to confirm that your membership is current, and if you are not a member you can join or renew when you RSVP!

Vaccination Required

Due to the high rate of COVID infections and hospitalizations across our region, we are requiring that all attendees be fully vaccinated in order to participate. Please come prepared to show proof of vaccination when you arrive. If you are not vaccinated, you will have an opportunity to vote for new and returning board members online.

October 7th – High Country Region
Valle Crucis Community Park in Banner Elk, NC
4:30 PM – 6:00 PM

October 20th – Western Region
Big Bear Pavilion in Downtown Franklin, NC
4:30 PM – 6:00 PM

 

October 26th – Southern Region
Guidon Brewing Company in Hendersonville, NC
4:30 PM – 6:00 PM

October 28th – Central Region
HiWire Brewing Bier Garden in Asheville, NC
4:30 – 6:00PM


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

July 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

July 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

July 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

Jackson County Wins the 2021 Bioblitz

After two weeks of hard-nosed competition, Jackson County won the 2021 Bioblitz, beating Watauga and Transylvania Counties. Overall, 46 people contributed 2,947 observations, and 317 people helped with the identification of 1,228 species. While Jackson County had 1,403 observations to Watauga County’s 1,068, the competition for the most species was much tighter – Jackson county prevailed 738 to 681. Transylvania County came in a distant third with 472 observations and 279 species. Check out our blog post to read more about our Bioblitz results and see photos of the winning observations.

Sarah Ogletree Joins MountainTrue as the Director of the Creation Care Alliance

The Creation Care Alliance is pleased to announce that Sarah Ogletree will be our next director. Sarah comes to us from our close partner, NC Interfaith Power and Light, where she has been for the last three years. Her dedication to seeking justice for both people and planet shines through in all aspects of her life, and she has consistently been recognized with awards for her leadership, dedication and excellence. Join us in welcoming Sarah! Read more.

We’re Hiring! MountainTrue Seeks a Great Environmental Communicator

MountainTrue seeks a bright, organized, and outgoing individual with strong communications skills, experience in online advocacy, and development writing. The Communications Associate will report to the Director of Communications and work closely with our Community Engagement Director, program directors and regional directors to (1) promote our programs through member outreach and correspondence, public relations, social media, and marketing; (2) support our advocacy goals through online organizing/advocacy; (3) provide writing and communications support for our fundraising activities. The deadline to apply is Sunday, August 15, 2021. Read more and apply.

August 29: Michael Franti and Spearhead Concert to Cleanup and Protect the French Broad River

MountainTrue, French Broad Riverkeeper and 98.1 River are proud to present Michael Franti and Spearhead for a benefit concert to support MountainTrue’s work to clean up and protect the French Broad River.

Sunday, August 29, 2021
Doors: 5:00 p.m., Starts: 7:00 p.m.
All Ages are Welcome
Tickets: $35 in advance; $39 general admission

French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson says, “Michael Franti is the perfect artist to bring us back down to the banks of the French Broad to celebrate our beautiful river. Come to enjoy a night of inspiring music and support our ongoing work to make our river cleaner and healthier.” Read more and buy tickets.

High Country Regional News

For Alleghany, Ashe, Avery, Burke, Caldwell, Watauga and Wilkes counties

Sparking a Love for Clean Water and Healthy Ecosystems at High Country Forest Wild

Our Water Quality Administrator, Hannah Woodburn, visited High Country Forest Wild, an outdoor experiential learning school. She gave an instream lesson on aquatic insects and water quality to about 45 students. It was an excellent way to get young minds thinking about freshwater ecosystems and water quality.

MountainTrue Reports Water Quality Violation for Development Along Watauga Lake

While conducting routine sampling of Watauga Lake for our Harmful Algal Bloom Study, we spotted a new development lacking erosion control. We promptly contacted the Tennessee Department of Environment & Conservation, which issued a notice of violation. We hope to see improvements on the construction site and continue monitoring this development to help keep our waterways free of sediment pollution.

Bottomley Farms Clearcut Causes Severe Erosion, Ecosystem Collapse

Our Watauga Riverkeeper teamed up with Southwings to get a bird’s eye view of a massive clear-cut timber operation in Alleghany County being conducted by Bottomley Farms — a Sparta-based agribusiness company. The developers are removing all the trees, shrubs and vegetation, and grubbed it down to hundreds of acres of bare earth. The result has been severe erosion, sediment pollution of area waterways, and a total collapse of the ecosystem in Ramey Creek — once a thriving spawning ground for native brook trout. North Carolina Wildlife Resource Commission staff could only save 13 individual trout out of the hundreds previously documented in that stream. Commission staff relocated the survivors to an adjacent watershed. Tragically, a species that thrived in that watershed since the glaciers retreated tens of thousands of years ago was erased by one egregiously bad timber project. Our report resulted in the NC Department of Environmental Quality issuing a notice of violation. We will continue to monitor this project and push for a lasting riparian buffer and a complete restoration of the stream.

Trash Trout Update: There’s Too Much Plastic in Our Waterways

Our Trash Trout on Winklers Creek continues to collect so much litter. We have removed and cataloged thousands of pieces of trash in the few weeks that the trash-collection device has been in place. The majority of the garbage found has been single-use plastics and styrofoam, underscoring the need to address the prevalence of plastics and microplastics in our environment.

Southern Regional News

For Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties

Volunteer for Rhythm & Brews! Hear Good Music and Get Cool Stuff!

Join MountainTrue’s Recycling Team on Main St. during the Rhythm & Brews Concert Series in downtown Hendersonville this summer and fall to reduce waste and encourage recycling. Volunteers will be rewarded with an R&B volunteer t-shirt, a voucher for a free beverage, a koozie and a water bottle! Help educate attendees and monitor the waste stations.

Upcoming Concerts:
July 15: Abby Bryant & The Echoes with opener Andrew Thelston Band
August 19: Jamie McLean Band with opener Hustle Souls.
September 16: Mike and the Moonpies with opener Kenny George Band.
October 21: The Broadcast with opener TBD.

2 Shifts: 5:30 – 7:30 p.m. & 7:30 – 9:30 p.m.
Volunteers needed: 4 per shift, 8 total
To sign up: https://signup.com/go/eRCebTq

Working to be Plastic Free Program Endorsed by Hendersonville City Council

L to R: Beth Stang, chair of Hendersonville’s ESB. Lyndsey Simpson, H’ville City Councilwoman, and Christine Wittmeier, chair of MountainTrue’s Recycling Team, hold a July 1st proclamation endorsing the Working to Be Plastic Free program.

On July 1, Hendersonville City Council approved a proclamation supporting Working to be Plastic Free — a plastic reduction program created by MountainTrue and the Hendersonville Environmental Sustainability Board. Hendersonville Mayor Barbara Volk signed the pledge and has encouraged staff to reduce the city’s use of plastic.

Many of the local merchants and restaurants participated in a plastics-use survey earlier in the year. Now, we’re encouraging them to sign the pledge and begin working to eliminate single-use plastics, such as plastic bags, straws, cutlery, and take-out containers. Most of these plastics are not recyclable and end up in landfills or littering our rivers and streams.

MountainTrue is ready to help businesses find sustainable packaging alternatives, and participants will be recognized in press releases, newsletters, social media, and a webpage promoting the program. To get more information and sign the pledge, visit our webpage or contact MountainTrue’s Interim Southern Regional Director, Katie Breckheimer, at srogray@mountaintrue.org.

Congratulations to Our Broad River Race Winners: Jordan Jackson and Marc Stowe

Broad River Race winners Jordan Jackson and Marc Stowe accept the trophy from David Caldwell, the Broad Riverkeeper.

Our Third Annual Broad River Race was postponed when a thunderstorm moved across the area last Saturday, July 12. A day later, the race flag dropped, and the paddlers sped down the river. Four and a half miles and an hour later, Jordan Jackson and Marc Stowe were the first to cross the finish line in a tandem canoe to take home our race trophy, Betsy the Turtle. Annie Keith and her son David Caldwell, our Broad Riverkeeper, were hot on their trail. It was great to see so many people enjoying the cool waters of the Broad River, and we look forward to seeing who wins next year.

App State Eco-Tox Team Collects Fish Tissue Samples From the Broad River

The Appalachian State Eco-toxicology Team returned to the Broad River to collect more water, sediment and fish tissue samples for an ongoing study of the bio-accumulation of heavy metals in fish. The team sampled upstream and downstream of two industrial sites with permits to discharge pollutants into the river. MountainTrue will use the results to determine if we need fish consumption advisories for the affected sections of the waterway. Special thanks to our High Country Water Quality Administrator, Hannah Woodburn, and Appalachian State’s Dr. Shea Tuberty for leading this fantastic project.

ICYMI: Broad River Spring Sweep Collects Over 100 lbs of Litter

We had a small crew for this year’s Annual Broad River Spring Sweep on May 29, but we made a big impact by collecting over 100 lbs of litter (including a football) from the Broad River. It was also inspiring to see so many folks cooling off in the water and enjoying the river at the Greenway canoe access.

Western Regional News

For Cherokee, Clay, Graham, Haywood, Jackson, Macon and Swain counties in NC, and Towns and Union counties in GA

Crossover Timber Project Update: Your Advocacy Is Making a Difference

MountainTrue’s Public Lands Field Biologist Josh Kelly documents the age of a 200-year-old tree in the Nantahala National Forest.

We asked, and you responded! MountainTrue’s members submitted 334 public comments (36% of which were customized) and 24 letters to the editors of relevant local newspapers during the comment period for the US Forest Service’s Crossover Project. As currently proposed, the project would log more than 300 acres of old-growth forest, rare species habitat, and remote backcountry in the Snowbird Mountains of Nantahala National Forest.

The Nantahala Pisgah Forest Partnership — a broad coalition of forest users representing recreation, conservation and timber interests of which MountainTrue is a member— has joined the fight and requested that the Forest Service remove these acres from the project. For its part, the Forest Service has indicated a willingness to collaborate with the partnership to develop a better alternative during the Environmental Assessment phase of the project. Thank you for speaking up for our forests!

We’re Hiring a Nonnative Invasive Plant Control Intern

MountainTrue seeks a dedicated individual to fill a part-time, 12-week paid internship for its western region in Fall 2021. The position includes a combination of on-the-ground stewardship of public and conserved lands, volunteer recruitment and coordination, and public outreach. It will require travel to various locations within a 60-mile radius of Murphy (including north Georgia) and substantial work outdoors. The application deadline is August 4, and the start date is August 30. Visit our website to learn more.

Managing Nonnative Invasive Plants Webinar Coming in August

Due to popular demand, MountainTrue Western Region Program Coordinator Tony Ward and Public Lands Director Bob Gale will host a webinar on how to eradicate non-native invasive plants (NNIP) on Tuesday, August 24 at noon. Tony and Bob will discuss the best tools to control common NNIP species and the best seasons for treatment. The webinar will include an in-depth discussion about herbicides, the active ingredients of commonly used products, and how to apply them correctly and with minimal impact on the environment. Register for the free webinar today!

Become A Georgia Green Landscape Steward

The Georgia Green Landscape Stewards certification program provides educational resources that teach landowners about increasing plant and animal biodiversity, conserving soil and water, providing wildlife and pollinator habitat, and improving public and environmental health. Participants can measure their activities with the program’s metric scorecard and earn certification status for their landscape. Along with the satisfaction of contributing to natural resource protection, Georgia Green Landscape certification includes an option for Georgians to purchase an attractive yard sign to designate their property as a sustainably managed landscape.

Events & Volunteer Opportunities

July 18, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.: Headwaters Fun Float on the First Broad River
Join MountainTrue as we head up to the South Mountains for a fun paddle on the cool shady waters of the First Broad River! Read more.

August 24, 12-1 p.m.: MountainTrue University: Managing Nonnative Invasive Plants
Join us for an educational program about managing common nonnative invasive plants, including techniques for control, best seasons for treatment, and more. Read more.

August 29, 7 p.m.: Michael Franti and Spearhead Concert to Cleanup and Protect the French Broad River
MountainTrue, French Broad Riverkeeper and 98.1 River are proud to present Michael Franti and Spearhead for a benefit concert to support MountainTrue’s work to clean up and protect the French Broad River. Read more.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

Stop The Bluffs At River Bend

Stop The Bluffs At River Bend

Stop The Bluffs At River Bend

Volunteers have worked hard for six months to hold off The Bluffs. Now we need your help!

Help fight a planned mega-development that would be built on 80 acres of intact forest directly next to Richmond Hill Park, increase traffic, and pollute the French Broad River.

Here’s How You Can Take Action:

UPDATE: The Woodfin Town Board of Adjustments hearing of the Bluffs Issue that was scheduled for Thursday, June 24 meeting has been POSTPONED for 60 days. Once a new hearing is scheduled, we will send an email to let you know. 
1. Attend the Woodfin Town Board of Adjustments meeting on Thursday, June 24 and wear green! It’s important that we have a large turnout of people that oppose the Bluffs at this meeting.

What: Woodfin Town Board of Adjustments In-Person Meeting
When: Thursday, June 24 at 6:30 pm
Where: Woodfin Community Center
20 Community Center
Woodfin, NC 28804

2. Donate to the Richmond Hill & River Rescue GoFundMe page. All financial contributions will help with the costs of hiring a stormwater engineer to analyze the full extent of the development’s potential impact to the French Broad River. To donate directly through MountainTrue, list your donation as restricted for Richmond Hill & River Rescue.

What else should you know?

The proposal: Strategic Real Investment Partners LLC, a Tampa, Florida-based developer has submitted plans to construct 1,545 luxury residential condo units in Woodfin adjacent to Richmond Hill Park and on the banks of the French Broad River.

The proposed development would be built on extremely steep slopes, and the developer has not agreed to the higher level of stormwater management at this site that we know is necessary to protect the health of the river.

MountainTrue opposes this project in its current form because of the potential impacts to places we all share like the French Broad River, Richmond Hill Park and roads unsuited for the additional increased traffic.

  • A massive luxury housing project like this will only make our region even less affordable. Studies show that building new luxury housing pushes up rents in surrounding neighborhoods and increases burdens on lower-income households.
  • Traffic will increase dramatically, affecting safety and planned multimodal improvements. The developer’s own traffic engineers estimate this development will generate well over 10,000 trips a day. These cars would use narrow, winding residential streets and Riverside Drive unless a proposed new bridge over the French Broad River is built.
  • The project could endanger rare salamander species. Neighboring Richmond Hill Park is home to two species designated by North Carolina as of “Special Concern” — the Mole Salamander and the Southern Zigzag Salamander. This property contains similar habitat so these salamanders could be present there as well.  We are unaware of any studies or wildlife inventories done in the project area.
  • The development will pollute the French Broad River. Removing trees and ground cover, grading steep slopes, and paving roads and parking lots will lead to polluted stormwater runoff into the French Broad River.  
  • Increased storm water runoff would endanger river recreation and public health. The project would be just upstream from a proposed $18 million whitewater wave and recreation park — a significant public investment.

Send in your comments to ask the Woodfin Town Commission to ensure the following:

  1. For this project to move forward in a responsible manner, approval and permits for the construction of a new bridge over the French Broad River must be in hand before the developer breaks ground to reduce neighborhood traffic safety concerns and potential environmental impacts.
  2. The Developer agrees to additional stormwater measures that will protect water quality in the French Broad River.
  3. The Developer agrees to a forested buffer between the new development and the Richmond Hill Neighborhood.
  4. Woodfin’s development ordinances should be updated to ensure that future projects reflect the type of growth that residents want, not just what is easiest and most profitable for developers.

Commission members are: Adrienne Isenhower, planning director; Michael Saunders, planning staff; Mayor Jerry Vehaun; Woodfin Commissioners Debbie Glazentanner, Jackie J. Bryson, Donald Honeycutt, Donald Hensley, Ronnie Lunsford, and Jim Angel. Letters for public comment should be sent to clerk@woodfin-nc.gov. Public comment can also be made by calling 828-253-4887.


The backbone of MountainTrue is member participation. Your membership connects you with vital information, strengthens the MountainTrue voice to policy makers, and financially supports our work.

One Million Gallons of Sewage Overflowed into Western North Carolina Waterways during Six Month Period

One Million Gallons of Sewage Overflowed into Western North Carolina Waterways during Six Month Period

One Million Gallons of Sewage Overflowed into Western North Carolina Waterways during Six Month Period

Photo credit: Alan Cressler, USGS. Public domain.

Asheville, NC —  More than one million gallons of sewage overflowed from inadequate wastewater infrastructure into the French Broad River and other area waterways in Western North Carolina according to state data acquired and analyzed by MountainTrue. The data was collected from August 3, 2020 until March 4, 2021 by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality’s (DEQ) Asheville Regional office and is the best available estimate of the amount of sewage that overflows from wastewater infrastructures such as pipes and manhole covers into area rivers and streams across 19 counties of western North Carolina.

TAKE ACTION TO FIGHT E. COLI POLLUTION IN OUR RIVERS

We know the sources of E. coli pollution. Now we have the solutions to clean up our rivers. Advocated for major investments in wastewater infrastructure, and stand up for science-based policies to help farmers fence cattle out of streams and property owners fix their septic systems.

MountainTrue, a local conservation organization, monitors water quality throughout Western North Carolina and in Union and Towns counties in North Georgia for pollution, including levels of E. coli — an indicator of the presence of bacteria and other pathogens that are harmful to human health. The organization has documented a dramatic increase in bacteria pollution of the French Broad River Watershed over the past two years and concerning trends in other area watersheds.

“What we have seen over the past few years has me worried about the future of river recreation on the French Broad River,” explains Hartwell Carson, MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper. “Take Pearson Bridge in Asheville’s River Arts District: That site passed the EPA’s safe threshold for swimming 81% of the time in 2016. Then in 2020, that site failed 81% of the time. Or Mud Creek in Henderson County, that site used to be safe at least 50% of the time and now it fails 93% of our tests.”

In April, MountainTrue released results from DNA testing that showed leaks from sewer and wastewater infrastructure were significant sources of bacteria pollution in the French Broad Watershed. The six-month sewer system overflow data from DEQ underscores those findings and supports part of MountainTrue’s policy agenda: reducing human-derived bacteria contamination by fixing our broken sewer and wastewater systems.

“The French Broad River is a significant public resource and a linchpin for our local economy” explains Hartwell Carson. “Protecting it will require action on the part of elected officials and agency personnel at all levels of government. Through our iloverivers.org advocacy campaign, we succeeded in getting the City of Asheville to participate in a Storm Water Taskforce. In the General Assembly, we’re advocating for targeted clean water investments to be included in this years budget, such as $3 million for septic system and wastewater upgrades through the Community Conservation Assistance Program, and $26 million to help farmers keep cattle and stormwater runoff out of our rivers through the Agricultural Cost Share Program and the Agricultural Water Resource Assistance Program. In Congress, we’re calling on our delegation to support the $111 billion in the American Jobs Plan that is allocated for water infrastructure.”

The public can read more about the issues affecting water quality, and advocate for the policies and reforms needed to fix them at iloverivers.org.


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

DNA Testing Indicates Animal Agriculture and Sewer Infrastructure are Major Pollution Sources for French Broad River

MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper hopes science will inform policy solutions to clean up area waterways.

Asheville, NC — Testing conducted by local conservation organization MountainTrue has confirmed that cattle and faulty or inadequate sewer, septic or water treatment infrastructure are the major sources of E. coli pollution in the French Broad River.

MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper conducts regular water quality monitoring of rivers and streams throughout the French Broad River Basin, including weekly testing of more than 30 recreation areas from May to September. After decades of slow but consistent improvement to the basin’s water quality, the organization has documented a sharp decline in water quality.

“The difference over that past few years has been disturbing,” explains French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. “Take Pearson Bridge in Asheville’s River Arts District: That site passed the EPA’s safe threshold for swimming 81% of the time in 2016. Just four years later, that site failed 81% of the time in 2020. Or Mud Creek in Henderson County, that site passed 52% of the time in 2018, and now it fails 93% of our tests.”

MountainTrue’s standard E. coli testing program measures the E. coli in the river. Levels in the French Broad have been high and rising year-over-year, but the nonprofit couldn’t say for certain what the sources of the pollution were. Determining the major sources of E. coli required more expensive testing to look at the presence of DNA in the river.

“Testing DNA in polluted water is pretty state-of-the-art and it isn’t cheap,” explains Hartwell Carson. “We needed help paying for it, so we approached Senator Chuck Edwards for help.” North Carolina Senator Edwards, whose district includes Henderson and parts of Buncombe County, helped secure state funding to pay for sampling and lab costs. With that funding, MountainTrue looked at the DNA found in 55 water samples to look for genetic fingerprints of E. coli from people, cows, dogs, poultry, sheep and swine.

“Our rivers are very important to our quality of life and our economy,” explains Senator Edwards. “This project is helping us better understand the causes of bacteria pollution in the French Broad River. We need that information to develop solutions that will keep the river clean.”

Of the 55 samples, 44 revealed DNA from cows. Human DNA was the second most prevalent. The results vary, but at nearly every site the primary sources of pollution were cattle followed by human. Dog DNA also showed up as a moderate contributor to E. coli pollution at a few sample sites.

“The French Broad has some clean and clear streams that run through protected public lands, but we’re seeing more and more problem sites that consistently fail the EPA’s safe water standard for E. coli,” says Hartwell Carson. “Until now, we’ve only had educated guesses about where the E. coli was coming from. With this testing, we have the data we need to make more informed decisions about how to clean up our rivers.”

MountainTrue is presenting the results from their DNA testing to local members of the General Assembly and is encouraging the public to advocate for the adoption of a clean rivers policy agenda that includes funding to help farmers, property owners and local governments reduce water pollution.

“Now that we know the sources of E. coli pollution,” says Hartwell Carson. “The next step is to invest in actions that fix the problem.” The public can read about issues affecting water quality, and the policies and reforms needed to fix them at iloverivers.org.

TAKE ACTION TO FIGHT E. COLI POLLUTION IN OUR RIVERS

We’ve done the DNA testing. We know the sources of E. coli pollution. Now we have the solutions to clean up our rivers. Stand up for science-based policies to help farmers fence cattle out of streams and property owners fix their septic systems.  And advocate for much-needed investments in wastewater infrastructure.

The Results:

MountainTrue focused their testing on problem sites that had shown high levels of E. coli in previous testing: Hominy Creek, Mud Creek below downtown Hendersonville, Cane Creek and the French Broad River at Pearson Bridge in Asheville’s River Arts District. DNA levels of 0-49 numbers of DNA copies/100mL are considered “very low,” 50-99 “low,” 100-499 “medium,” 500-999 “high,” and 1,000 or above was “very high.” DNA testing provides a general picture of a body of water for approximately 100 meters upstream.

Hominy Creek
Averages for six samples: Cow – 339, Dog, 89, Human – 34.
Every sample taken at Hominy Creek showed cow DNA counts at or above medium levels. The highest level of cow DNA recorded was 511, putting that sample in the high range. Human DNA was also found in every sample, though at low or very low amounts in all samples except one in the medium range. This indicates that upstream agriculture in the watershed is significantly contributing to E. coli impairment, and while human waste from faulty sewers and failing septic systems plays a role, it isn’t the dominant pollution source. This testing site is below the Hominy Creek Greenway, a very popular dog-walking area and the likely reason for higher levels of dog DNA.

French Broad at Pearson Bridge
Averages for six samples: Cow- 270, Dog – 59, Human – 67
Cow DNA was the largest contributor at this site, but levels were more varied than at Hominy Creek. One sample showed cow DNA in the high range at 764, while three other samples presented low levels of cow DNA. Human DNA and dog DNA were also present at this site but at much lower levels. The variability of DNA levels is likely due to the impact of stormwater runoff. When it rains, cow and dog waste are washed in from the surrounding landscape causing a rise in pollution levels.

Cane Creek at Fletcher Park
Averages for six samples: Cow – 334, Human – 47, Dog – 8
The primary source of E. coli pollution in Cane Creek is quite clearly cattle from area farms. Human levels of DNA were very low and nonexistent in two instances.

Mud Creek below Downtown Hendersonville
Average for seven samples: Cow – 251, Human – 120, Dog – 52
Mud Creek was the site with the highest level of human DNA in all our testing. But, even here, levels of cow DNA were more prevalent than human. In three instances, human DNA counties were higher, but the overall average for cow DNA was higher. The pollution sources for Mud Creek are likely cattle, closely followed by human waste from faulty sewers, failing septic systems and inadequate wastewater treatment plants.

About MountainTrue
MountainTrue champions resilient forests, clean waters and healthy communities. We are committed to keeping our mountain region a beautiful place to live, work and play. Our members protect our forests, clean up our rivers, plan vibrant and livable communities, and advocate for a sound and sustainable future for all. MountainTrue is active in the Broad, French Broad, Green, Hiwassee, Little Tennessee, New and Watauga watersheds, and is home to the Broad Riverkeeper, French Broad Riverkeeper, Green Riverkeeper, and Watauga Riverkeeper.
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Media Contact:
Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
E: karim@mountaintrue.org, C: 415-535-9004


Western North Carolina is blessed with more than 1.5 million acres of public land, including Nantahala-Pisgah National Forest, Great Smoky Mountains National Park, the Blue Ridge Parkway and several state-owned parks, forests and natural areas. These public lands support the headwaters of our rivers, beautiful mountain vistas, one of the most diverse temperate forests on the planet, and a thriving economy in tourism, crafts and recreation.
During its 30-year history, WNCA (now MountainTrue) has twice prevented logging in the Asheville Watershed, first in 1990 and again in 2004. Eventually the City of Asheville placed a conservation easement over 17,356 acres of the watershed.