Tell FERC to Protect Mountain Rivers

Tell FERC to Protect Mountain Rivers

Tell FERC to Protect Mountain Rivers

On October 4, 2021, the Oconaluftee River below Ela Dam — once a high quality mountain river — was completely filled with sediment during a reservoir drawdown for a repair by the dam’s owner, Northbrook Carolina Hydro II, LLC. 

Tell FERC to protect rivers in the Little Tennessee and Hiwassee River basins by monitoring and enforcing the provisions of Northbrook’s license for the Bryson, Franklin, and Mission Hydroelectric Projects.


MountainTrue has been tracking the successful efforts of state agencies and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to hold Northbrook accountable for this disaster. However, our review of public documents revealed that Northbrook “has conducted no active sediment management activities since obtaining the Bryson Project” in 2019. Furthermore, the company hasn’t developed the long-term sediment management plans required by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s project license at any of its three Nantahala Projects: Bryson on the Oconaluftee (where the massive sediment release occurred), Franklin on the Little Tennessee River, and Mission on the Hiwassee River. 

Our mountain rivers contain a dazzling array of wildlife species, some of which are threatened or endangered. High quality water means high survivability for aquatic wildlife, especially those species most sensitive to pollution. Increased sediment pollution in our local waterways makes it difficult for native wildlife to feed, mate, move, and even breathe. This was the unfortunate fate suffered by many aquatic species when tons of sediment were unloaded into the Oconaluftee River last October. 

Mountain rivers often provide our communities with drinking water. They’re also important recreational resources in our region, hosting a wide variety of recreation opportunities, including fishing, snorkeling, canoeing, and kayaking. 

Hydroelectric dams owned by private companies like Northbrook are licensed every 30-40 years by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC). Licenses have many pages of provisions designed to minimize impacts to human safety and the environment from the dams and their operations. But FERC’s responsibility doesn’t stop when the license is finalized. FERC must ensure that the requirements of the license are met to protect our river resources!

We’ll deliver this petition to FERC on January 28, 2022. We’ve got to do all we can to prevent a catastrophe like this from happening again!


Update: Thanks to all who signed on! We’re thrilled to have exceeded our goal of 500 signatures. MountainTrue will continue to monitor the situation — stay tuned for updates!

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 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

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


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.

Media Contact:
Karim Olaechea, MountainTrue Communications Director
E:, C: 415-535-9004

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

The Not-So-Micro Issue of Microplastics

By Hannah Woodburn, High Country Water Quality Administrator of MountainTrue

While we see it everywhere, mass-produced plastic has only existed since the 1950’s. Not only does producing plastic create greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change, but our air, food and water systems are becoming increasingly contaminated with tiny pieces of plastic – called microplastics – that are a concern for ecosystem and human health.

Microplastics are defined as being smaller than 5mm and enter our freshwater systems through runoff and industrial processes. They can be purposefully designed to be small (think microbeads), or they can be fragments of larger items like tires, fishing line, water bottles and synthetic clothing.

So How Did We Get Here?

The amount of plastic created worldwide has increased from 1.5 million metric tons in 1950 to 359 million metric tons in 2018. Plastic materials are derived from ethane, a natural gas product, and are extracted using a method called fracking. Every stage of plastic production results in greenhouse gas emissions, releasing a variety of pollutants during the process. Further, the US is the top producer and exporter of ethane in the world, and our plastic production is currently projected to double by 2050.

While plastics do represent a milestone in technological and chemical development, between 26-40% of all plastics are made with the intention to be single-use items – like food packaging, bottles, cups, plastic bags, housewares and cosmetic packaging. This poses a great environmental concern, especially when only 6.6% of all the plastic produced in 2018 was recycled and only a small portion of plastic can actually be recycled in the first place: items marked 1, 2, and sometimes 5.

Left: Sampling for microplastics at the MountainTrue lab. Right: This tiny red fiber that showed up in our microplastics sampling is smaller than .5mm, and likely from a piece of fishing line or synthetic clothing. 

How We Sample For Plastics

MountainTrue has started sampling for plastics on the French Broad, Green and Watauga Rivers, and will begin plastics sampling on the Hiwassee River this spring. For the macroplastics portion, we ask volunteers to collect trash and record how long they were there, what types of plastic they find, what brands are most prevalent, the number of pieces collected in total and how much time the volunteers sampled for.

To assess the presence of microplastics, which are often too small for the naked eye to see, volunteers take a water sample at each site in a one-quart glass jar and bring them back to our lab. We then process the water samples via vacuum filtration, look at the filter paper underneath a microscope and record the number of microplastics found in each sample.

What Can You Do?

Personal change is important, but our consumer choices alone are not enough to spark systemic change. We cannot “recycle” our way out of this issue.

We need to ask our legislators to help protect our communities and ecosystems from single-use plastics. The Break Free From Plastic Pollution Act was introduced to Congress in 2020, but did not make it to a floor vote. However, this bill will be reintroduced this month, and it provides a comprehensive plan to eliminate single-use plastics at a federal level. We encourage you to take action and sign the petition asking President Biden to be a #PlasticFreePresident here.

#PlasticFreePresident Action Items That President Biden Can Take Without Congress:

1. Use the purchasing power of the federal government to eliminate single use plastic items and replace them with reusable items.
Suspend and deny permits for new or expanded plastic production facilities

2. Make corporate polluters pay and reject false solutions

3. Advance environmental justice in petrochemical corridors

4. Update existing federal regulations to curtail pollution from plastic facilities by using best available science and technology

5. Stop subsidizing plastic producers

6. Join international efforts to address global plastic pollution

7. Reduce and mitigate the impacts of discarded and lost fishing gear


DEQ: It’s Time to Modernize NC’s Pollution Spill Notification System

DEQ: It’s Time to Modernize NC’s Pollution Spill Notification System

Join North Carolina’s riverkeepers in calling on state regulators to modernize NC's public notification system.

Millions of people across North Carolina take to our beaches, rivers, and lakes to cool off, swim, paddle, and fish, but most are unaware that nearly 16 million gallons of untreated sewage have spilled into our waterways during a two and a half month period (May 17 to July 30, 2020) according to data collected by North Carolina’s Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ).

North Carolina desperately needs to update its public spill notification system. Current state law requires operators of wastewater collection and treatment systems to notify DEQ of spills of over 1,000 gallons into surface waters and to send a press release to local media within 24 hours. For spills of over 15,000 gallons, operators are required to place a notice in the newspapers of counties impacted by the spill within 10 days (NCGS 143-215.1C). Spills of other pollutants have similar reporting requirements to DEQ.

North Carolina should not be depending on ads in print newspapers to get the word out about dangerous spills. Newspapers are not mandated to run the press releases, and many local newspapers are only published in print on a weekly or bi-weekly basis, which is not frequent enough to warn river users of water quality problems in a timely manner.

The public has the right to know about major pollution spills that impact our waterways as soon as possible, and through the technology the public uses today.

Join NC’s riverkeepers in calling for a better, more modern system that would:


  • Publish spill data to an online database and interactive map and on agency social media channels.
  • Send email and text alerts to interested parties. 
  • Allow the public to sign up to receive these alerts for the watersheds they are interested in.
  • Make improvements to our state laws by increasing fines for polluters dumping sewage in our waterways.

Protect Our Rivers By Supporting Sustainable Farms

Protect Our Rivers By Supporting Sustainable Farms

Protect Our Rivers By Supporting Sustainable Farms

Action Expired: Update Coming Soon


We have compiled this map of farms in our region that feed us without threatening rivers, lakes and streams. The inventory at these farms varies, but they all have one thing in common: They’re going the extra mile to do things the right way.

Farms are color-coded by watershed. Click the pinpoints on the map to view a description of each farm.
To see the farms listed by watershed, click the icon on the top left of the map or scroll below.

Many small farms in Western North Carolina have lost business due to the COVID-19 outbreak. In addition, large-scale meat operations in North Carolina are one of the leading contributors to water pollution in the state. Buying from sustainable local farms now is a way to not only feed your family but to protect our fragile environment.

Many farmers are still happy to have people come out to their farms. Check their websites or Facebook pages, because these small farms may request that you order over the phone or online to arrange pick-up. If you aren’t able to buy directly from a farmer, be sure to look for their products at farmer’s markets and grocery stores in your neighborhood, as many supply to local distributors. We have not included farms that are currently closed to the public.


Sustainable Farms List

Broad Watershed

  • Belflower Farm
  • Beam Family Farms
  • Colfax Creek Farm
  • Greene Family Farm
  • Hardscrabble Hollow Farm
  • Martins’ Charolais Farm
  • Piedmont Homestead
  • Proffitt Family Cattle Company
  • A Way of Life Farm

French Broad Watershed

  • Cold Mountain Angus Beef
  • Creekside Farm at Walnut Cove
  • Farmhouse Beed
  • Frog Holler Organiks
  • Gaining Ground Farm
  • Hickory Nut Gap Farm
  • Hominy Valley Farms
  • Leatherwood Family Farm
  • Lenoir’s Creek Beef and Bakery
  • Sunburst Trout Farms®
  • Shady Brook Farm
  • Smoky Mountain Mangalista
  • Sunburst Beef LLC
  • Ten Acre Garden

Green River Watershed

  • Looking Glass Creamery
  • Once Upon a Cow Micro Dairy
  • San Felipe Farm
  • Sunny Creek Farms
  • Bearded Birds Farm

Hiwassee River Watershed

  • 7M Family Farms, LLC
  • Brothers on Farms
  • SMM Farms
  • Walnut Hollow Ranch – Premium Black Angus Beef

Upper Tennessee River Watershed

  • 4 Corners Ranch

Little Tennessee River Watershed

  • Breedlove Family Farms
  • Carringer Farms
  • Darnell Farms
  • Deal Family Farm
  • Gnome Mountain Farm
  • J.W. Mitchell Farm
  • JAAR Farms
  • Pine Row Farm
  • Yellow Branch Pottery and Cheese

Watauga River Watershed

  • A Bushel and a Peck Farm
  • Against the Grain Farm
  • Beach Farm and Nursery
  • Creeksong Farm
  • Daffodil Spring Farm
  • Faith Mountain Farm
  • Fire from the Mountain
  • New Life Farm
  • North Fork Farm
  • Shipley Farms Signature Beef
  • Sunshine Cove
  • Heritage Homestead Farm

Yadkin Watershed

  • Asa Acres
  • Aunt Bessie’s Natural Farm