Take Action For Funding To Map Landslide Hazard Areas In WNC

Take Action For Funding To Map Landslide Hazard Areas In WNC

Take Action For Funding To Map Landslide Hazard Areas In WNC

Landslides in our mountains are a threat to homes, roads, drinking water, and even lives. But we can make our communities safer if we know where to expect them. Call on the NC Senate to continue funding for the mapping of dangerous landslide hazard areas in Western North Carolina below!

To make sure we know where landslide risks exist in our mountains, the NC Department of Environmental Quality began mapping these areas back in 2005. This program was halted in 2011 and then restarted in 2018 with funding from the NC General Assembly. However, the funding for the highly trained, technical mapping staff – the staff who are the boots on the ground for this work – will run out this June. We need to make sure this important work continues!

As climate change causes more frequent and heavy rainstorms, landslides become more common and dangerous. In fact, every record rainfall our region has experienced in the past decade has come along with a sharp increase in landslides. Over the last few years, these landslides have:

  • Destroyed and condemned homes across the region
  • Killed people in Watauga, Polk and Macon counties
  • Impacted a major gas line in Polk County
  • Blocked key roads like I-40 in Haywood County and US 19/74 in Swain County for weeks
  • Moved significant excess sediment into Franklin’s drinking water supply

To make our communities more resilient to future landslides, we must first understand where the risks are so we can plan, prepare, and adapt accordingly. Take action below to call on your State Senator to include funding to continue the landslide hazard mapping program in this year’s budget.

To make your message most effective, we highly encourage you to personalize it and explain why this issue matters to you!

 

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

4/27/2021

At MountainTrue, we spend a lot of time thinking and talking about water – how to keep it clean, where and how it’s being polluted and how to clean it up.

That’s true not only home in Western North Carolina, but also in Raleigh, where clean water initiatives are always at the top of our legislative agenda.

When it comes to water pollution, E. coli is a huge part of the problem. E. coli is a type of bacteria that typically lives in the stomachs of humans and animals, and exposure to it in water can cause intestinal infection, diarrhea and even kidney failure.

Our Water Team conducts regular water quality monitoring of the French Broad, Green, Watauga, Broad, Elk, Hiwassee, New and Nottely Rivers. On the French Broad River in particular, our data showed a sharp increase in E. coli levels several years ago – but while we knew E. coli was spiking, we couldn’t say for certain where it was coming from. We needed funding to do more sensitive eDNA testing and determine the major sources of E. coli in the river.

That’s when our lobbying effort in Raleigh kicked in.

The French Broad River flows through a good portion of Senator Chuck Edwards’ district, which includes Henderson and Transylvania counties and portions of Buncombe County. Senator Edwards also chairs one of the Senate appropriations committees that deals with funding for natural resources. With his help and some effective lobbying, in 2018 the Senate included a $100,000 appropriation for water quality testing in the French Broad River.

This spring, the results of that testing made headlines across WNC: showing that the main source of E. coli in the French Broad River is agricultural runoff from cattle farms, followed by inadequate sewer, septic or wastewater treatment systems. MountainTrue shared this data to kick off a region-wide grassroots advocacy campaign to educate the public about E. coli pollution. And we’re asking our supporters to call on their elected officials to support funding to help farmers, property owners and local governments keep their pollution out of the river.

In Raleigh, we are combining this grassroots support with advocacy inside the legislative building to find more funding for clean water in Western North Carolina. We’re so appreciative of the support you and others provide to make our legislative advocacy possible. Thank you for being part of this important process!

For more information about our water testing efforts and advocacy, visit mountaintrue.org/swimguide.


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.

Call on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council: Build Back Better With Public Transit!

Call on the Buncombe County Board of Commissioners and Asheville City Council: Build Back Better With Public Transit!


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

Help fight a planned mega-development that would be built on 82 acres of intact forest directly next to Richmond Hill Park, increase traffic, and pollute 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. We are partnering with Richmond Hill & River Rescue — a local community group — to oppose this project and we need your help.

TAKE ACTION!


May 18, 6:30 pm:
Attend the Woodfin Town Commission Public Meeting to voice your opposition. (Details to be posted here.)

June 7, 6:30 pm: Attend the Woodfin Planning and Zoning Meeting to stand up for public health and safety. (Check here the day of the meeting for the Zoom link and any changes to the agenda.)

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.

Written comments must be submitted within 24 hours of the May 18th meeting to be considered.

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.

You can also donate to the Richmond Hill & River Rescue GoFundMe page. All financial contributions will help with the legal costs and hiring the necessary experts to testify against the potential major environmental impacts this mega project would bring. To donate directly through MountainTrue, list your donation as restricted for Richmond Hill & River Rescue. 


POINTS OF IMPACT
and ADDITIONAL TALKING POINTS

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.

  • 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.

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.

April 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

April 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

April 2021 E-Vistas Newsletter

We’ve Done the DNA Testing, And Now We Know the Sources of E. Coli Pollution

DNA testing conducted by MountainTrue on the French Broad River, one of our region’s most polluted waterways, has confirmed that cattle are the biggest source of E. coli pollution, followed by faulty or inadequate sewer, septic or water treatment infrastructure. Our Swim Guide E. coli testing has documented increasing levels of E. coli, but until now we couldn’t say for certain what the sources of the pollution were. With new, more sophisticated testing, MountainTrue looked at the DNA found in 55 water samples to measure for genetic fingerprints of E. coli from people, cows, dogs, poultry, sheep and swine. Read the press release for a summary of our testing results.

We’re using this data to advocate for science-based policies at the North Carolina General Assembly that would provide financial support to help farmers fence cattle out of streams and property owners fix their septic systems. At the federal level, we’re advocating for major investments in water infrastructure. Learn more and take action here.

Now Hiring: Director of the Creation Care Alliance of WNC

Reverend Scott Hardin-Nieri, Director of MountainTrue’s Creation Care Alliance (CCA) program and our beloved colleague, is moving on to a position with the Bethany Fellowship. Scott will always be a part of the MountainTrue family, and that family will soon be getting a little bit bigger as we add another member to the team.

MountainTrue is accepting applications for our next CCA Director until May 5, 2021. You can read the position description and apply here, and you can read Scott’s letter to CCA members announcing his departure here.

The Creation Care Alliance is a network of people of faith and congregations who have united around a moral and spiritual call to preserve the integrity, beauty and health of God’s creation. We work to bring practical and hopeful solutions to our congregations and broader secular communities by engaging hearts and minds through inspiration, education, service and advocacy. For more information: creationcarealliance.org.

American Zinc Products Facility Continues to Pollute the Broad River

WLOS News Investigative Reporter Kimberly King did an excellent job covering ongoing violations by the American Zinc Products facility in Mooresboro in a seven-minute segment that aired on April 7. After seven years in operation and at least 41 violations issued by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ), the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has now opened an investigation into the site. Broad Riverkeeper David Caldwell has been working on this issue for the past six years, has met with staff at the facility multiple times, and has asked both DEQ and EPA to take action to keep the zinc plant’s pollution under control. Watch the full news story on WLOS.

MountainTrue Helps Lead Bulk Solar Purchasing Effort to Reach 100% Renewable Energy


Members of the Solarize Steering Committee at a press event this April. 

MountainTrue is on the team that launched Solarize Asheville-Buncombe last week – a local bulk-purchasing initiative to increase the amount of solar energy and battery storage in our community.

“The model is similar to buying in bulk at the grocery store for a lower price,” says MountainTrue’s Organizer & Communications Manager Eliza Stokes, who serves on the campaign’s Steering Committee. “The more community members who participate, the cheaper the solar will be.” By reducing barriers to solar, like cost and confusion about where to start, the campaign is making solar more accessible and aims to help Buncombe County get on track to reach our community goal of 100% renewable energy by 2042.

While similar Solarize campaigns have happened all over the country, the Asheville-Buncombe campaign is unique in our focus on equitable job training and additional affordability efforts. Solarize is partnering with Green Opportunities (GO), an Asheville-based workforce development program, to help train residents from marginalized communities to support installation of the campaign’s solar panels.

“Green sector jobs are on the rise, and many positions in this sector are accessible to those with traditional obstacles to employment,” says Ben Williamson, Executive Director of Green Opportunities. “We also know climate change disproportionately impacts low-income communities and communities of color and that increasing access to clean, renewable energy is a step in the right direction in that fight.”

The campaign has also attained funding to help more families afford solar, and is crowdfunding through our “Neighbor-to-Neighbor” program to provide financial support that will make solar accessible to even more people in our community.

To sign up for a free solar building assessment and/or to donate to Solarize’s Neighbor-to-Neighbor financing program, visit solarizeabc.com.

WNC for the Planet Bingo Card

Celebrate Earth Month with MountainTrue and the rest of the WNC for the Planet coalition by playing Earth Month BINGO! The virtual BINGO card features opportunities to engage with our partners through workshops, activities, service and more. Lend a hand cleaning up our rivers, restoring native plant and animal habitats, or clearing non-native invasive plants. Or, learn how to compost, explore nearby hiking trails, or create art and poetry. You can access all of the wonderful Earth Month events in one place at www.wncfortheplanet.org – and you may win a prize from organizations and local businesses! Read more.

High Country Regional News

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

Thank You for Helping Us Plant 12,000 Live Stakes for a Healthier River

With the help of more than 35 volunteers, MountainTrue planted 12,000 live stakes in the Watauga River Watershed this fall, winter and spring. These live stakes will develop root systems and become trees in the coming years, supporting streambank health, reducing sedimentation, improving flood control and creating shaded habitat for aquatic species. We only planted native species like silky dogwood, silky willow, ninebark and elderberry, which provide added benefits for native pollinators. The live staking season is now finished for the year, but stay tuned for more workdays starting in November 2021!

Microplastics Are Widespread Throughout WNC Watersheds

Our water quality staff and volunteers have been hard at work for the last couple of months collecting water samples and testing for the presence of plastics. Unfortunately, we have found microplastics in every single sample of every watershed that we’ve tested across Western North Carolina, including seven sites on the Watauga River. A total of 164 unique individual plastics have been identified so far, ranging from microfibers from synthetic clothing to microfilms from plastic bags and wrapping. Read more about this program here.

Swim Guide Launches Next Month!

Our 2021 Swim Guide program launches next month. We will be collecting weekly E. coli samples from 16 sites across the Elk, New and Watauga River Watersheds from May to September. Results will be published on the Swim Guide app and website, so be sure to check them before you swim!

Interested in taking samples? Email hcwqa@mountaintrue.org for more program information.

Southern Regional News

For Cleveland, Henderson, Polk, Rutherford and Transylvania counties

Volunteer Spotlight: Erica Shanks

Erica Shanks’s enthusiasm for protecting the Green River is evident in all the work she does with MountainTrue. She has volunteered for Green River cleanups since 2014 and has been working closely with the Green Riverkeeper program since it began in 2016. Most recently, she began volunteering with our new microplastics sampling program.

What drives her to be such a superstar for our rivers? “I love doing it. The feeling that you get after you get a lot of trash off the river is kinda indescribable,” she explains. “You’re really excited, but at the same time you’re really sad, you’re really mad, you’re really frustrated because you know you can keep coming back out here and probably get the same amount of trash every single day.”

That hasn’t stopped Erica. She’s committed to following through on this work for both the environment and the broader community impacts. She’s not just picking up river trash, she’s also modeling good stewardship of our public resources. “You inspire the community that sees you out and about, and then that encourages them to want to clean up too. Even though the environmental impact is obvious, the community impact is different. People see somebody doing something and then they want to do it too.”

MountainTrue appreciates the hard work and dedication of volunteers like Erica, and we’re so glad to have their support. “The big thing I love about MountainTrue is the emphasis on protecting places we share,” Erica says. “The Green River is a very special place for so many reasons. And to be able to keep this clean and inspire the community to keep their special places clean is a pretty big deal.”

Thank you Erica for all your hard work and dedication to protecting the places we share!

Friends of East Flat Rock Oppose Asphalt Plant Again

On March 20, approximately 200 concerned neighbors packed the house of a Neighborhood Compatibility Meeting to voice their concerns about a proposed rezoning that would allow the construction of an asphalt plant near homes and businesses in East Flat Rock.

Next up: the proposal goes before the Henderson County Planning Board on April 15 at 5:30 PM in Thomas Auditorium at Blue Ridge Community College (180 W Campus Dr, Flat Rock, NC 28731). Be there to make your voice heard and make it clear that rezoning for an industrial plant in this location is unacceptable. Learn more and sign the petition at www.friendsofeastflatrock.org and submit your comments to the Planning Board here.

Henderson County Compost and Agriculture Fair on May 6th

Come to the first annual Compost and Agriculture Fair at Jackson Park in Hendersonville on Thursday, May 6th from 11:00 AM – 2:00 PM during International Compost Awareness Week!  Celebrate soil health and agriculture, and connect and learn from organizations and fellow compost lovers. Henderson County recently began selling backyard compost bins so you can compost at home. Pre-purchase yours today and pick it up at the fair.

Western Regional News

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

Carson-Newman University Group Spent Spring Break Volunteering for MountainTrue

Ten students and faculty from Carson-Newman University spent their spring break this March removing non-native invasive plants alongside streams and rivers on public lands in the Hiwassee River Watershed. Although they worked for a shortened week, this group’s participation ensured that the 13-year tradition of hosting alternative breaks wasn’t broken by the COVID-19 pandemic! We look forward to next year when we can hopefully bring back volunteer-prepared lunches for these hard-working young adults.

Fun Activities Planned for Andrews Spring Fling – April 24


Western Region Program Coordinator, Tony Ward will lead free nature walks along the Valley River and Town Branch during the Andrews Spring Fling on April 24th.

Are you ready to get outside to celebrate Earth Day? Mark your calendars to be in Andrews on Saturday, April 24, 11-6 for the town’s annual Street Fair & Nature Expo to learn about gardening, butterflies, water conservation, local history and much more. MountainTrue’s booth will include a native tree scavenger hunt; signups for nature walks during the festival led by Western Region Program Coordinator, Tony Ward, at the Cherokee County Heritage Park (easy walking distance from the street fair); and a quiz to test your knowledge of hellbenders, which are the largest aquatic salamander found in our streams and rivers! Hope to see you in downtown Andrews to celebrate Earth Day with us!

Western Region Spring Hike Outing in Panthertown Valley

Photo caption: Schoolhouse Falls is one of two larger waterfalls located along the route of the spring hike outing.

Join Western Regional Director Callie Moore and MountainTrue’s Outings Coordinator, Kasydi Dunaway, for a loop hike on the Panthertown Valley, Little Green and Mac’s Gap Trails. This moderate 5.6-mile hike has a lot of variety including unique golden sandbed streams, long-range views, waterfalls and rock outcrops! There will be a total of 895 feet of elevation gain as we climb Little Green Mountain to our lunch spot at Inspiration Point, and then climb out of the valley at end of the hike. The trails are located near Glenville, North Carolina in the Panthertown Valley area of Nantahala National Forest. The outing is limited to 15 people and you must register in advance.

Events & Volunteer Opportunities

As the COVID situation evolves, we continue to increase capacity for our guided adventures. We highly encourage you to add your name to the waitlist for any hike you are interested in. Spots may open up at the last minute and we would love to get you into those spaces.

Hikes that have a chance to open up:

  • Western Region Huckleberry Knob Hike – 4/17
  • Wildflower Hike (Rattlesnake Lodge) – 5/12
  • High Country Wildflower Hike – 5/7
  • Lower Green Inflatable Kayak Trip – 5/7

If you are interested, email our Outings & Education Coordinator Kasydi Dunaway at outings@mountaintrue.org to join our waitlist.

April 7-30 – Earth Day Cleanup Challenge
What better way to celebrate Earth Day than participating in a cleanup challenge? Sign up and tag @mtntrue in your cleanup photos on Facebook or Instagram using the hashtag #MTEarthDayChallenge. Pictures with the most trash collected will receive a prize from your MountainTrue region. Participate and show your love for the environment and your community this Earth Day! Take part.

April 17, 9 am-4 pm – Socially Distant Lake Adger Spring Cleaning (Rescheduled)
Join MountainTrue’s Green Riverkeeper for the Lake Adger Spring Cleaning! Head out on the lake on Saturday, April 17, collect as much trash as you can, and post images of your haul to social media with the hashtags #lakeadgerspringcleaning or #lakeadgercleanup. Sign up.

April 17, 11 am-2 pm – Island Park Invasive Plant Volunteer Work Session in Bryson City
Join forces with MountainTrue and the Tuckasegee River Alliance to help eradicate non-native invasive plants, restore a beautiful riparian buffer and bring the island back to its full splendor. Sign up.

April 18, 23 & 25, 10 am-4 pm – Treat Hemlock Trees along the Green River
Join the Paddlers Hemlock Health Action Taskforce (PHHAT) to protect hemlock trees along the Green River from the deadly woolly adelgid. PHHAT works in areas only accessible by boat in the Green River Game Lands. Paddling experience of crew members from Class II up to Class V whitewater may be required. Please email our Green Riverkeeper at gray@mountaintrue.org for more information and to get involved.

April 20, 11 am-12 pm – Using DNA to Track E. Coli Pollution in the French Broad River
Join French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson and Dr. Joseph Craine from Jonah Ventures for a webinar on analyzing water samples for DNA. We will discuss how MountainTrue is using this technology to determine the sources of bacteria pollution. Sign up.

April 21, 10 am-1:00 pm – Native Habitat Restoration along Mud Creek near Fletcher
Join us at this French Broad Paddle Trail campsite as we work to eradicate non-native invasive plants and restore native species. Plant ID and removal techniques will be taught on-site. Plan to get dirty. Sign up.

April 22, 9 am-12 pm – Creation Care Hike at Bear Wallow near Hendersonville
Join Creation Care Alliance Director Rev. Scott Hardin-Nieri and MountainTrue’s Public Lands Director Bob Gale for some inspiration and ecological insights on this easy-to-moderate hike up to some spectacular views. Sign up.

April 25, 6 pm-7:15 pm – Creation Care Alliance Virtual Earth Day Vigil
Join Creation Care Alliance Director Rev. Scott Hardin-Nieri and speakers from throughout our region for readings, prayers and songs to inspire you in the care of God’s creation. Sign up.

May 13, 12:30 pm-1:30 pm – Getting Around Car-Free: Strive Not To Drive Webinar
Join MountainTrue, AARP and Strive Not To Drive for a webinar about car-free, alternative modes of getting around town followed by a Q&A session with expert guests. Sign up.

May 20, 11 am-12 pm – Climate Change in Our Mountains and Strategies for Mitigation and Adaptation
Join our MountainTrue University Climate Series with Public Lands Director Bob Gale and Field Biologist Josh Kelly as they discuss the likely effects of climate change in the Southern Blue Ridge Mountains. Sign up.

May 22, 10 am-2 pm – Hike & Learn to Identify Trees in Union County, GA
Join Tony Ward, MountainTrue’s Western Region Program Coordinator, for a 1.2-mile loop trail hike through an upland forest area of Meeks Park and learn how to identify many of the trees in our region. Sign up.

May 26, 12 pm-1 pm – Building Our City with Heather Worthington (Virtual)
In many American cities, it is illegal to build anything other than a detached single-family home on 75 percent of residential land. Join Minneapolis’s Director of Long Range Planning, Heather Worthington, as she discusses why single-family zoning has come under scrutiny as cities grapple with a dire shortage of affordable housing. Sign up.

June 5-19 – 2021 BioBlitz: Tri-County Smackdown
This year’s MountainTrue BioBlitz pits Jackson, Watauga and Transylvania counties against each other to determine the 2021 champion of biodiversity. The competition kicks off on June 5 on iNaturalist. We can’t wait to see what kinds of observations our participants will share. Tell your friends, neighbors, family, and fellow naturalists, and get prepared for a BioBlitz like no other! Sign up.


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.

MT Raleigh Report: How Legislative Advocacy Helped Us Track Down E. coli Pollution

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 major investments in water 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.
Mountaintrue.org


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.