Press release from MountainTrue:
MountainTrue’s Swim Guide bacteria monitoring results for the French Broad River watershed are in. This week only 4 out of 37 sites passed with E. coli levels below the EPA limit for recreation waters of 235 colony forming units (cfu) per 100 milliliters.
From Memorial Day weekend to Labor Day weekend, dedicated MountainTrue volunteers gather samples from more than 60 popular water recreation sites throughout the organization’s service area of western North Carolina, north Georgia and eastern Tennessee. After samples are collected, MountainTrue staff race to process and analyze samples. Results are available on the Swim Guide website by Thursday afternoon or on the smartphone app, available for Android and Apple devices. The Swim Guide is the public’s best resource for knowing which areas are safest for swimming.
Unfortunately, a majority of sites failed to meet EPA standards. Of the sites that failed, 13 sites had E. coli levels above 1000 cfu, approximately four times the EPA limit. This includes the French Broad at Barnard, Hap Simpson, Island Ford, Pisgah Forest Access, Hominy Creek Greenway, Mud Creek at Brookside Camp Road, Mud Creek at 7th Avenue in Hendersonville, Mills River Boat Access, the Upper Pigeon River, Spring Creek in Hot Springs and Azalea Soccer Fields and Owen Park — both in Swannanoa. Most sites with E. coli levels above 1000 cfu were below the EPA threshold last week.
Some results were particularly concerning. Spring Creek in Hot Springs (4410 cfu) and the French Broad at Hap Simpson (2770 cfu), had E. coli levels 19 and 12 times above the EPA threshold, respectively. Environmental scientists at MountainTrue suspect increased rainfall combined with point and nonpoint sources of pollution to be the cause.
No sites had zero detection of E. coli, and only a few were below 235 cfu. These are the French Broad at Ledges Whitewater Park, Cedar Mountain Canteen at the Little River, the Pigeon River in Hartford and the Pigeon River in Waynesville. These are the ideal sites for recreating this week. If you’re interested in visiting these areas, addresses and coordinates are available on the Swim Guide website and smartphone app.
Overall, a paltry 11 percent of monitored sites passed with average E. coli levels of 949 cfu, almost four times the EPA limit. More sites had increased in E. coli levels from last week than sites that had decreased levels and average E. coli levels across the French Broad Watershed are up a staggering 524 percent from last week.
“Water quality findings for this week were disappointing, but this is common during periods of heavy rainfall,” says MountainTrue’s watershed outreach coordinator Anna Alsobrook. “The sad reality is that these kinds of results are likely to become even more common due to the effects of climate change. Heavier and more frequent rain events overwhelm our inadequate wastewater infrastructure and cause higher amounts of storm runoff from agricultural operations.”
Continued work is required to monitor and prevent water pollution. MountainTrue uses these results to advocate for policy-based solutions to pollution. To find out more about our work and how to get involved, visit mountaintrue.org.
E. coli bacteria makes its way into our rivers and streams from sewer/septic leaks and stormwater runoff – especially runoff from animal agricultural operations with substandard riparian buffers. E. coli can also indicate the presence of other more harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella and norovirus. Heavy rains and storms often result in spikes in E. coli contamination, increasing the risk to human health. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic and wound infections. The most commonly reported symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and low-grade fever.
In general, waterways that are located in more remote areas or near protected and less-developed public lands are the cleanest and will be less affected by stormwater runoff. Areas closer to development and polluting agricultural practices are much more heavily impacted. This trend is reflected in the Swim Guide results for our area.
MountainTrue’s members and volunteers are committed to keeping our mountain region a beautiful place to live, work and play. Together, we protect our forests, clean up our rivers, plan vibrant and livable communities, and advocate for a sound and sustainable future for all residents of WNC. MountainTrue is home to the Broad Riverkeeper, French Broad Riverkeeper, Green Riverkeeper and Watauga Riverkeeper — the protectors and defenders of their respective watersheds. For more information, please visit mountaintrue.org.
About Waterkeeper Alliance:
Waterkeeper Alliance is a global movement uniting more than 300 Waterkeeper organizations and affiliates around the world, focusing citizen advocacy on issues that affect our waterways, from pollution to climate change. Waterkeepers patrol and protect over 2.5 million square miles of rivers, streams and coastlines in the Americas, Europe, Australia, Asia and Africa. For more information, please visit waterkeeper.org.