Our Recommendation for the Henderson County Community Survey

Our Recommendation for the Henderson County Community Survey

Our Recommendation for the Henderson County Community Survey

Henderson Country has kicked off its Comprehensive Planning effort with a Community Survey. This is an important opportunity for you to have a voice in how our county grows and develops to meet the challenges of climate change, a growing population, and increased pressures on our built and natural environments.

This is a guide for members of MountainTrue who want to see our community grow sustainably and responsibly. The survey has 13 questions. Questions 2-7 are the most relevant to the work and issues of concern to MountainTrue, our members and supporters. Below we provide you with a list of suggestions, and a brief explanation for each of these questions.

Check out the schedule of open houses. Save the date to participate in person.

9/14/21 from 2:30pm to 4:30pm – Dana Community Park
9/21/21 from 2:30pm to 4:30pm – Tuxedo Park
10/6/21 from 4pm to 6pm – Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College
10/12/21 from 4pm to 6pm – Hendersonville Main Library
10/18/21 from 4pm to 6pm – Edneyville Community Center
10/26/21 from 4pm to 6pm – Community Center at Crab Creek
11/3/21 from 4pm to 6pm – TBA
11/2/21 from 4pm to 6pm – Fletcher Library
11/9/21 from 4pm to 6pm – Etowah Library
For up-to-date meeting details, visit: https://www.hendersoncountync.gov/planning/page/county-comprehensive-plan

Question 2. Henderson County’s population has grown 38% between 2000 and 2020. If this growth trend continues, what potential impacts of growth are you most concerned about? (Select up to three)

As this question relates to MountainTrue’s principles, we recommend choosing answers that promote healthy communities, those that have increased sidewalks, bike lanes, greenway connections, and public transportation – methods of transportation that are equitable and serve all communities. We encourage long-range plans and land-use controls for more housing choice, and climate resilience — especially those that protect ecologically sensitive areas. With this in mind, we have reordered the options in accordance with trends that provide the greatest positive impact, and we recommend choosing three from the top of the list:

  • Loss of farmland, and/or impacts to natural resources
  • Housing availability/affordability
  • Other (please specify) Climate resiliency
  • Neighborhood density
  • Utility and infrastructure capacity
  • Outdoor recreation opportunities development

Question 3. The future of Henderson County is dependent upon a variety of factors. Which of the following factors should this 25-year comprehensive plan prioritize? (Select up to five)

The recommendations we made for answering question #2 above also relate to question #3, and we would add: Resilient forests are an asset to healthy communities as is good water quality, with strong stormwater rules and enforcement to support them. Our energy future, free from fossil fuels, is also a priority. While the survey lists many factors that deserve our attention, we encourage you to focus on the factors that deliver the greatest impact on our community. With this in mind, we recommend you choose your five from the top of the list, which we have arranged:

  • Protect open spaces/forests
  • Conservation of unique natural areas
  • Increase energy efficiency and reduce waste
  • Maintaining/improving water quality
  • Increase sidewalks/bike lanes/pedestrian connectivity
  • Farmland preservation
  • Reduce vulnerabilities to wildfire, flooding, and landslides
  • Increase public transportation options
  • Greenway connections
  • Coordinate with towns & cities on development
  • River access for boating & fishing

Question 4. What is one priority you would like the County to address in the next 2-5 years? Blank space provided.

“Minimize the County’s sewer and waterline obligations, reduce urban sprawl, and preserve the County’s rural character by reinvesting in the areas we’ve already developed. Increase housing choice, invite mixed use development, and center it around town centers and main thoroughfares.”

Question 5. Which of the following development types do you feel are missing from the County? (Select up to three)

We recommend choosing the development types that support density close to towns and cities in order to take pressure off of rural undeveloped areas. It is also the fiscally responsible choice to invest in the areas we have already developed, rather than extending new infrastructure to undeveloped lands. Choose your three from the top of the list, which we have arranged:

  • Other (please specify) Suggestion: Mixed-use infill development, expanding housing choices to include duplexes, triplexes and small multi-family courtyard units
  • Parks and recreation
  • Agriculture and agri-tourism

Question 6. Which is the single most important role for Henderson County government in the land use and zoning process, if any? (Would not apply to incorporated towns, cities, or villages)

We recommend choosing: Enhance regulations of property land use MountainTrue supports stronger regulations that limit construction on steep slopes and in flood plains, and ensure that new developments don’t negatively impact communities and our natural environment.

Question 7. When making decisions related to land use, should the County Board of Commissioners weigh the impact to the property owners closest to the proposed project more so than the overall benefit to the County as a whole?

We recommend you choose “Somewhat disagree.” While it is important that nearby property owners have a say in the process and that projects generally adhere to existing zoning regulations, the priority should be on making our community sustainable and livable for everyone. As such, we favor a balanced approach that weighs the interests of property owners with the needs of the greater community.

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.

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.

Asphalt plant victory: You made this happen!

Asphalt plant victory: You made this happen!

Asphalt plant victory: You made this happen!

Community members celebrate in front of the Historic Courthouse in Hendersonville yesterday.

Southern Regional Director & Green Riverkeeper Gray Jernigan shared this message with MountainTrue’s Henderson County supporters today, June 2 2021.

We did it! Once again, our community came together to defeat an asphalt plant proposal that would harm community health, clean water and local public lands. Yesterday, just a few hours before the Board of Commissioners meeting where the final decision would be made, the developer withdrew his application because he knew he didn’t have the votes. Your support for this effort marks the second time we’ve defeated this dangerous proposal for East Flat Rock.

I’m writing to say thank you. Defeating this proposal meant showing up to community meetings, writing public comments and sitting through hours of County Commission hearings – all because you believed in the power of community organizing. For some of you this was your first time making a public comment at a hearing. I know it’s not always easy to put yourself out there, and MountainTrue and Friends of East Flat Rock are so grateful that you did.

Beyond that, this was the second time our community put in so much time and energy to challenge this proposal, and during a pandemic that was already so stressful for all of us. I’m encouraged by the resilience of our members to speak up and turn out, even during challenging times.

A special thanks goes out to Michelle Tennant Nicholson and Shannon Nicholson for leading the organizing effort, as well as the core group of community leaders that met weekly to strategize along the way. East Flat Rock is an amazing community and despite the unfortunate circumstances, I hope that this has brought many of you closer together as neighbors than ever before.

In the coming months, Henderson County will begin the process of updating its Comprehensive Plan that will guide development in our area for decades to come. I hope you’ll stay engaged in this effort to help shape the vision for future growth while protecting our communities and natural resources. You’ve seen during this advocacy effort how important the Comprehensive Plan is when our elected and appointed leaders are forced to make tough decisions about land use, and you are important to steering the conversation about the future of our community.

I hope you’re feeling some relief and celebrating today. Thank you for being part of this win.









Gray Jernigan, Southern Regional Director & Green Riverkeeper

Ward Mill Dam Removal Connects Aquatic Habitat, Makes River Healthier

Ward Mill Dam Removal Connects Aquatic Habitat, Makes River Healthier

Ward Mill Dam Removal Connects Aquatic Habitat, Makes River Healthier

Boone, NC — In a huge win for local aquatic wildlife, the Ward Mill Dam just a few miles from Boone, North Carolina has finally been removed. The first dam was constructed at the location in 1890 and improved upon over the years. The mill complex served the community for generations providing electricity, jobs, firewood and building materials. The dam had been an obstacle for local aquatic wildlife for the past 130 years. Now, native fish such as the tangerine darter and threatened salamanders like the hellbender will be reunited and benefit from a reconnected and improved cold-water aquatic habitat.

The Ward Mill Dam Removal project has been a partnership between American Rivers, Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development, MountainTrue, the Watauga County Soil and Water Conservation District and the U.S Fish and Wildlife Service. The dam removal was a high priority for experts and biologists and was ranked a top priority among projects by the Southeast Aquatic Resource Partnership and “tier one, priority one” by the North Carolina Aquatic Barrier Assessment Tool.

MountainTrue’s Watauga Riverkeeper, Andy Hill, is excited about the environmental benefits and the opportunity to connect the Watauga River Paddle to create more recreational opportunities. “We’ve greatly improved aquatic habitat and river health, and promoted safe river recreation while honoring the historical and community cultural value of the Ward Mill.”

The Ward family continues their generations-long environmental stewardship by removing this aquatic barrier and graciously surrendering their hydropower license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. While the instream dam structure has been completely removed down to bedrock to reconnect the watershed and allow for sediment transport downstream, the iconic sawmill, historic buildings and complex have been preserved in partnership with the State Historic Preservation Office. Please respect the decision and the privacy of the Ward family.

“We are excited to see the long-term environmental benefits associated with removing the dam, but are also excited about preserving the rich history of the dam complex by documenting and saving the nearby historic buildings,” explains Jonathan Hartsell of Blue Ridge Resource Conservation and Development. “This complex project has been successful from start to finish due to a well thought out gameplan from the project management team, agency partners and, most importantly, the landowners.”

The complex project had to be done carefully due to the delicate biodiversity of the Watauga River and its streams. Dr. Mike Gangloff and Dr. Derek Martin of Appalachian State University led a team of researchers collecting valuable data on pre and post-removal aquatic habitat. This has included sediment flow research, aquatic habitat surveys and numerous nocturnal SCUBA dives searching for elusive nocturnal Hellbender salamander. Sediment flow research and aquatic habitat surveys will better inform future dam removal projects and contribute to the field of knowledge for river restoration.

“Rivers are like a circulatory system, and thanks to this dam removal, American Rivers with our partners celebrate a free-flowing Watauga River which is the lifeblood of a thriving community, healthy ecosystems, and clean water for people and nature,” says Dam Removal advocate and American Rivers Science Program Director and Southeast Conservation Director Erin McCombs.

Removing the Ward Mill Dam reconnects 35 miles of aquatic habitat in the main stem of the Watauga River and 140 miles of streams across the watershed. Dams, though providing benefits in certain circumstances, can also significantly damage rivers. Dams increase water temperature, reduce river flows, reduce the amount of dissolved oxygen available to fish and other species, block the natural flow of sediment and debris, and serve as physical barriers for recreational users such as paddlers and anglers, as well as aquatic wildlife such as fish and amphibians. Additionally, most dams require maintenance and many require removal or rebuilding after 50 years.

The dam deconstruction was performed by the United States Fish & Wildlife Service National Fish Passage Program Aquatic Restoration team and Wildlands Engineering. Project funding was generously provided by the North Carolina Division of Water Resources, Patagonia, the Bonneville Environmental Foundation, Beech Mountain Resort, Hunter Banks of Asheville, and Boone’s Fly Shop.

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.


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.