New interactive WNC water quality map launches online

Press release from Environmental Quality Institute:

The Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) has launched a new interactive map to share water quality data collected by volunteers across WNC. The map will help inform residents about local water quality to encourage more people to become involved in watershed conservation. The map is on the EQI website at:

EQI is a unique non-profit lab located in Black Mountain, NC that provides objective data for public use. For decades, EQI has collaborated with local governments, non-profit organizations, community groups, and the private sector to assess streams and lakes in fifteen counties. EQI‘s Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) conducts chemical water testing, while its Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE) program examines aquatic insect communities as indicators of water quality. With a small staff at EQI and approximately 150 VWIN and 50 SMIE sites, volunteers are the driving force behind regular monitoring of local waterways.

“We created this online map to help people access volunteer monitoring results in their communities or favorite recreational spots,” says EQI’s Executive Director, Ann Marie Traylor. “The VWIN water samples are tested monthly at our lab for standard stream pollutants, like sediment and nutrients. But it’s expensive and unrealistic to test for every chemical that can be in the water, so we also use aquatic insects as indicators of stream health.”

The map shows the locations of VWIN and SMIE sites in addition to the watersheds contributing to each site, so WNC residents can determine whether the watersheds where they live and play are monitored. Three decades of VWIN data permit more sophisticated analysis of water quality trends; the VWIN sites all show graphs of current and historical water quality ratings, ranging from “Excellent” to “Poor.” With these visualization tools, residents can check whether conditions in nearby waterways are improving or getting worse.

Tyler Ross, District Director of the Madison County Soil and Water Conservation District, brings water samples to EQI for chemical analysis every month. “We’ve depended on data from EQI for decades, and this map does a great job of helping us and the residents of Madison County. We are able to track how well our collective stewardship has improved water quality, as well as to see other areas we need to focus on.” Beyond simply visualizing the results of water testing, Ross adds “the online map will help us and our partners in getting cost-share and grant funds to improve water quality.”

Keeping an eye on stream insect communities is also important on a larger scale. Earlier this year, Conservation Biology published an article that summarized research on insect declines and associated causes. The authors estimate that half of all insect species are declining worldwide. Habitat loss and the increasing use of synthetic chemicals for agriculture top the list of threats to insect populations. “Susceptible aquatic insect groups like stoneflies, mayflies, and caddisflies are being hit hard by stream degradation and pollution around the world, and our mountains are not exempt from the threat,” says Traylor. “Yet these insects are critical as the base of aquatic and terrestrial food chains. Changes need to be documented with long-term data collection.”

EQI holds public trainings for its volunteer monitoring programs. The next training for new SMIE volunteers will be on Saturday, April 6that Haywood Community College. RSVPs are required, but no experience is necessary. For more information about this workshop or volunteering with either the chemical or biological stream monitoring program, please contact EQI at

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