Monitoring and Waste Programs


Help Protect WNC Waterways

MountainTrue and the Riverkeepers have ongoing monitoring projects and encourage local residents and communities to be involved with monitoring the health of our waterways. If you want to volunteer with our monitoring and/or waste programs, click the button below or email Susan Bean at

Bacteria Monitoring

The French Broad Watershed in North Carolina covers more than 2,800 square miles. In 2008, more than 15% of the streams in the watershed were impaired for bacterial pollution. MountainTrue has developed a program that uses local volunteers to monitor fecal coliform levels in in the French Broad River and its surrounding tributaries. Samples are taken weekly and the results are posted in the Swim Guide, which was created to inform the public about the environmental safety of their local waterways. It helps users identify which waterways are safe for swimming and recreation.

MountainTrue volunteers through the Clean Water Team, the French Broad Riverkeeper and the Watauga Riverkeeper as participants in the Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) to monitor chemical properties of streams throughout the region. MountainTrue’s Southern Regional Office (formerly ECO) began monitoring 18 sites in 1992 and has since expanded to 35 sites in Henderson County. In the High Country region, volunteers take 65 water samples monthly 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 Western North Carolina, therefore allowing MountainTrue to identify the most polluted streams and watersheds.

Along with Waterkeeper Alliance’s Pure Farms Pure Water campaign, the French Broad Riverkeeper is 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, improperly discharging waste around 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 Environmental Quality Institute to determine the health of various streams and watersheds throughout Western North Carolina. 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. MountainTrue manages 10 teams that sample 21 sites throughout Henderson County and the Watauga Riverkeeper is beginning SMIE training to help citizen scientists find aquatic macroinvertebrates, including insects, snails, worms, mussels, clams and crustaceans. Macroinvertebrates are sensitive to pollution such as sediment, excess nutrients and various chemicals. Because macroinvertebrates have various levels of tolerance to pollution, the diversity and abundance of macroinvertebrates found in a stream is a strong indicator of water quality over a period of time. SMIE sampling occurs bi-annually and MountainTrue is always looking for new volunteers to assist with the SMIE program.

Point Source Monitoring

Before the Clean Water Act, factories and sewage treatment plants routinely piped their untreated waste into our rivers, called point source pollution. The Clean Water Act of 1972 required sources of point source pollution to have 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. The French Broad Riverkeeper is thoroughly reviewing these permits to determine whether they are being complied with and whether they need to be stronger to better protect water quality. As a part of the French Broad Riverkeeper’s monitoring efforts, the Riverkeeper also tests discharge into the French Broad to determine the impacts on the river.

Pharmaceutical Waste

United States Geologic Survey studies since 1970 show that improperly disposed pharmaceuticals are polluting our waterways. In 2002, the 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. Waste water treatment plants are not equipped to remove these chemicals and therefore large or 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 Western North Carolina:

Henderson County Sheriff’s Office

100 North Grove St.


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

Haywood County Sheriff’s Office

1620 Brown Ave


Drop-off times: 24/7

Asheville Police Department

100 Court Plaza


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

Transylvania Sheriff’s Office

153 Public Safety Way


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

Madison County Sheriff’s Department

348 Medical Park Drive


Drop-off times: 24/7

Polk County Sheriff’s Department

40 Court House Street


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 ground water, 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 will also look for opportunities to make improvements to these sites and better protect the public. Find out where the hazardous waste sites are in North Carolina.