Last month, Xpress photographer Jonathan Welch and I joined Hartwell Carson, RiverLink’s French Broad RiverKeeper, on a canoe trip down the Swannanoa River. The North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resource’s 2008 “impaired streams” list includes an 11.5-mile stretch of that river — from Bull Creek to the French Broad River — due to “turbidity,” which refers to the cloudiness caused by too much dirt in the water.
Paddling along the portion that runs alongside Swannanoa River Road, which winds underneath the bridges that connect to Circuit City and Wal-Mart, we saw a lot of junk: sports balls, shopping carts, fast-food trash, you name it. We also saw erosion along the banks, dirt islands in the middle of the waterway caused by sediment buildup over time, and many pipes that pump polluted storm-water runoff straight into the creek. (Granted, it’s generally better to have water washing into the creek than flooding major traffic arteries. In most places, there’s little to be done to filter the storm-water at this point, since so much has already been paved over.)
As we paddled past what seemed to be a temporary homeless encampment set up in a riverside patch of trees, two men laughed as they saw us go by. One hollered, “Can I hitch a ride to Tennessee?”
Despite the occasional feeling that we were floating through a watery wasteland (I mean, really, who throws their unwanted TV into the river?), there were some beautiful parts of it, too. At one point, we flushed out a blue heron, so close that we could hear its enormous wings flapping.
In this week’s cover story, we examine the big problem of runoff and sediment in our local waterways. By clicking on the slideshow here, you can learn a little more. Travel with us down the Swannanoa, get a glimpse of Newfound Creek after a heavy rain, and take in the view from above — courtesy of SouthWings.
— Rebecca Bowe, contributing editor