Western North Carolina Alliance French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson takes water samples to monitor bacteria contamination in the river. File photo courtesy of WNCA

Press release from the Western North Carolina Alliance shared Aug. 14:

ASHEVILLE – Bacteria pollution in the French Broad watershed is prevalent, but largely unmonitored and therefore unresolved.

Bacteria impairment in area streams usually means sewage or animal waste is reaching the stream. This is a significant health concern as it can make humans very sick and seriously harm aquatic life.

Despite the importance of understanding bacteria pollution, knowledge regarding its distribution has barely begun to scratch the surface. For example, more than 15 percent of the impaired streams in the French Broad Watershed are damaged due to bacteria pollution; however the real problem comes from the 75 percent of streams that are unmonitored. In one study, the North Carolina Waste Discharge Elimination Program reported that more than 10 percent of homes are illegally discharging bacteria into waterways.

As a result, the French Broad Riverkeeper devised and implemented a monitoring program on the Swannanoa River to determine whether bacteria impairment exists. The first phase focused on the Swannanoa River watershed, because it’s such a frequently used stream for recreation and was believed to be affected by bacterial pollution. More than 550 samples were taken in the watershed, with 42 percent of the samples sites exceeding North Carolina’s water quality standard, and therefore being classified as high risk.

Several sources of this impairment were identified and have been eliminated. In other cases, a long-term fix is being determined.

To build on the success of this monitoring program, the Sierra Nevada Brewing Company has funded a second phase of this work to identify the sources of bacteria impairment in the French Broad River.

The French Broad River is listed as an impaired stream for bacteria contamination by the state of North Carolina, from just after the city of Hendersonville to the Long Shoals Road bridge. Initial samples taken in and around the French Broad River by the airport confirm the state’s listing for high levels of bacteria in the river.

This sampling will continue every Wednesday to track the sources of the impairment and begin work to eliminate sewage and bacteria pollution to the French Broad River.

Interested volunteers should contact French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson at hartwell@wnca.org or (828) 258-8737.

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Angie Newsome was the executive director and editor of Carolina Public Press. Contact her at (828) 774-5290 or e-mail her at anewsome@carolinapublicpress.org.

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  1. Do you have any data showing which bacteria have been found? I’ve developed MRSA twice after low-water rafting trips on Section 9 and wonder if there is a possibility that staph is present in the river.