North Carolina rivers and streams have been making headlines recently – and appear to be getting the short end of the stick.
However, concerned residents in Western NC are fired up and committed to improving local waterways. Hundreds of volunteers have lent their time and skills with the Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE), to build a large database of reliable water quality data for WNC. Aquatic insects are often used as indicators of water quality. SMIE volunteers assess stream health by sampling for pollution-sensitive insects at 36 stream sites in the French Broad River basin. Space is already filling up for the new volunteer training to be held March 29th in Asheville .
SMIE data is used by area non-profits to support grant requests for stream improvement projects. The Western NC Alliance, Clean Water for NC, Haywood Waterways Association, the Environment and Conservation Organization, Henderson County Soil and Water Conservation District have all used SMIE data to identify priority areas or to support grant requests. Sites are selected in collaboration with over a dozen regional partners, and the program works with professional biologists to evaluate water quality and publish annual reports at: http://www.environmentalqualityinstitute.org/smie-stream-monitoring-information-exchange.php.
State budget cuts, administrative changes and recent pushes for decreased enforcement of environmental regulations have highlighted the importance of citizen science in preserving our natural resources. The NC Division of Water Resources (DWR) Western Regional Office has reached out to the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI), and other groups, to help bolster public involvement in an effort to mitigate loss of agency staff and resources.
“The NC DWR samples local waterways only every five years (at previous funding rates), so there is an urgent need for alternative, reliable sources of long-term water quality data, generated using a consistent and rigorous protocol,” said Ann Marie Traylor of EQI. “There is an urgent need for well-educated and engaged community volunteers.”
The SMIE is currently seeking volunteers to attend a volunteer training on Saturday, March 29th, from 9am-4pm, at UNC-Asheville. Once trained, volunteers work in small groups to sample a couple sites, two times per year (about 10 hours of annual service). Volunteer opportunities are open to anyone (11th grade and up) with any level of experience or identification skills. RSVP is required – e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org or call 828-713-4352 to RSVP.
SMIE volunteers who attend the day-long training sessions are taught basic stream ecology, macroinvertebrate identification, field sampling protocols, and how to identify and report threats to water quality. Short training tutorials are available at http://www.environmentalqualityinstitute.org/smie-training.php.
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.