Monitoring and Waste Programs


Help Protect WNC Waterways

MountainTrue and our four in-house riverkeepers have ongoing water monitoring projects and encourage local residents and communities to be involved in monitoring the health of our shared waterways. If you want to volunteer with our water monitoring and/or waste programs, click the button below or email Susan Bean at susan@mountaintrue.org.

Bacteria Monitoring

With four in-house riverkeepers looking after the French BroadBroadGreen, and Watauga rivers, MountainTrue is its own ecosystem of water defenders and protectors. From May to September, MountainTrue riverkeepers, staff, and volunteers collect weekly water samples from the Broad, French Broad, Elk, Green, Hiwassee, New, Nottely, and Watauga river watersheds. We process and analyze each sample and post the results to the Swim Guide platform before the weekend so you know where it’s safe to swim. We use our testing data to track down sources of bacterial pollution and push for better policies to address the long-term issues affecting our rivers, lakes, and streams. 

MountainTrue is an active participant in the Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN), a program of our organizational partner, the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI). VWIN involves the monitoring of the chemical properties of streams throughout WNC. MountainTrue’s Southern Regional Office (formerly ECO) began monitoring 18 sites in 1992 and has since expanded to 35 sites in Henderson County. Each month, volunteers with MountainTrue’s High Country Office take 65 water samples from 13 sites located throughout the Watauga River Watershed. Several indicators of sediment and nutrient pollution are monitored, as well as pH, conductivity, alkalinity, lead, zinc, and copper. These chemical parameters represent some of the most common types of pollution in WNC, and the data collected as part of MountainTrue’s participation in the VWIN program allows us and our partners at EQI to identify our region’s most polluted waterways. 

The French Broad Riverkeeper is also focusing bacterial sampling around Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) in Henderson and Buncombe counties. While other sources of pollution may be identified through sampling, CAFOs can contribute to bacteria pollution through leaks in waste storage lagoons, improper discharging of waste near streams, and waste runoff from rain and misapplication.

Stream Monitoring Information Exchange

The Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE) is a regional biological monitoring program hosted by the EQI to determine the health of various waterways throughout WNC. MountainTrue follows the SMIE sampling protocol outlined by EQI to provide high-quality data. Ultimately, the SMIE program, in conjunction with VWIN, paints an overall picture of water quality throughout our mountains, giving MountainTrue and other governmental and nonprofit organizations the ability to identify and respond to degraded streams. Click here to learn more about MountainTrue’s partnership with EQI. 

As an EQI partner, MountainTrue coordinates SMIE volunteer training and sampling in Henderson, Polk, and Cleveland counties. SMIE sampling efforts occur each spring and fall, typically in April and October, and MountainTrue is always looking for new volunteers to assist with the SMIE program! Click here to add your name to our SMIE volunteer interest list.  

Point Source Monitoring

Before the Clean Water Act, factories and sewage treatment plants routinely perpetuated point source pollution by piping their untreated waste into rivers and streams. The Clean Water Act of 1972 required point source pollution perpetrators to obtain a permit to discharge wastewater. In 2005, the French Broad River had 137 such permits, each allowing varying degrees of waste and chemicals to be discharged into our waterways. French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson is thoroughly reviewing these permits to determine whether they are being complied with and if the permits need to be stronger in order to better protect local water quality. As a part of the French Broad Riverkeeper’s monitoring efforts, Hartwell also tests for wastewater discharge in the French Broad to determine its impacts on the river.

Pharmaceutical Waste

U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) studies since 1970 show that improperly disposed pharmaceuticals are polluting our waterways. In 2002, USGS found that steroids and non-prescription drugs are in the top three chemical groups most frequently detected in surface water, and in 2004, found that at least 100 different pharmaceuticals could be identified. This is not only a concern for aquatic life, but for our drinking water supplies. Wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to remove these chemicals, and therefore both large and trace amounts are entering our waterways and drinking water. Recent data shows that 89% of respondents said they disposed of medications in the garbage or flushed medications down the toilet or sink. The EPA estimated that at least 250 million pounds of pharmaceuticals are flushed by health care facilities alone every year.

The French Broad Riverkeeper has already partnered with the Henderson County Sheriff’s Department to collect over 87,000 pills as part of Operation Medicine Drop. Through this work and the concern of the public, there have been several permanent medicine drop boxes installed throughout WNC:

Henderson County Sheriff’s Office

100 North Grove St., Hendersonville, NC

Drop-off times: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Haywood County Sheriff’s Office

1620 Brown Ave., Waynesville, NC

Drop-off times: 24/7

Asheville Police Department

100 Court Plaza, Asheville, NC

Drop-off times: Monday-Friday 9 a.m.-5 p.m.

Transylvania Sheriff’s Office

153 Public Safety Way, Brevard, NC

Drop-off times: Monday-Friday 8 a.m.-8 p.m.

Madison County Sheriff’s Department

348 Medical Park Dr., Marshall, NC

Drop-off times: 24/7

Polk County Sheriff’s Department

40 Court House St., Columbus, NC

Drop-off times: Monday-Friday 8:00 A.M. – 5:00 P.M.

Hazardous Waste

The French Broad Watershed is home to more than 30 inactive hazardous waste sites. These sites contain mild to extremely significant levels of toxic pollution. Many of these hazardous waste sites may be polluting groundwater, surface water, or drinking water. MountainTrue works to review these sites to determine their threat to the region’s water quality and drinking water sources. We also seek out and engage in opportunities that make improvements to these sites and better protect the public. Click here to view a map of the hazardous waste sites in North Carolina.