Press release from the Environmental Quality Institute:
Western North Carolina rivers and streams have been making headlines recently as economic drivers and recreational outlets, but also for major stormwater runoff and flooding events. Community members are passionate and committed to improving local waterways. For 28 years, hundreds of volunteers have lent their time and skills to The Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) to build a large, regional, water quality database.
Area nonprofits use these monitoring results to identify priority conservation areas and support grant requests for stream improvement projects. Local governments and the state Division of Water Resources use the data for watershed reports, planning, and as red flags, Sampling sites are selected in collaboration with about 30 regional partners, and the results are publicly available. This collaboration illustrates the fact that local efforts can make a big local impact.
“It’s important for the public to keep a constant eye on streams and lakes. Conditions in a watershed can change quickly, requiring rapid action by watershed managers. They can also change very slowly, which is harder to detect without consistent, long-term data,” said Ann Marie Traylor of EQI. “The state government doesn’t have the resources to sample as frequently and at as many sites in WNC as EQI.”
Laboratory testing measures eight chemical and physical components of water samples each month. EQI focuses on the common ecological indicators, including nutrients, sediment, and pH. “There are limitations to chemical analysis though,” says EQI’s Gracia O’Neill. “You learn what is in the water at the moment the sample is taken, but sampling the bugs tells you about stream conditions over time. The different types of invertebrates have varying sensitivities to pollution and habitat disturbance. Their presence or absence and amount of diversity give us valuable information about the overall stream health.”
EQI is currently seeking volunteers to attend a training workshop for its invertebrate monitoring project, the Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE). It will be held on Saturday, Sept. 22 from 9 a.m. – 4 p.m. at UNC-Asheville. SMIE volunteers will be taught basic stream ecology, macroinvertebrate identification, field sampling protocols, and how to identify and report threats to water quality. Once trained, volunteers work in small groups to sample two or more sites each spring and fall (about 10 hours of annual service). Volunteers do not need to have any prior experience. However, an RSVP is required, so please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-357-7411 to reserve your spot. Primary funding for this project has come from the Pigeon River Fund of the Community Foundation of WNC, which supports activities that improve the streams and rivers of Haywood, Buncombe, and Madison Counties.
To find out more about EQI’s work and how to get involved, come out to Pisgah Brewing Company for Pint Night on the evening of Oct. 22. EQI will be holding an open house next door for folks to see the lab and talk more about rivers. Current water quality ratings can be found at http://maps.eqilab.org.