The Green Scene: Happy New (Green) Year

Here in Western North Carolina, we're not waiting around for the fruits of the 2009 Copenhagen climate-change agreement to trickle down to us. Across our region, organizations big and small, colleges, businesses and activists have already jumped on the green bandwagon.

In the Asheville area alone, there are sustainability initiatives under way at UNCA, Warren Wilson College and A-B Tech. And at Mars Hill College, the cycling team combined fast pedaling with fundraising partnerships to promote sustainability. Meanwhile, RiverLink, Asheville GreenWorks and other local environmental groups are doing what they've done for decades — cleaning up streams, planting trees and spreading awareness about environmental issues. Officials in cities such as Hendersonville (recently named a Level 1 Green Challenge town by the N.C. League of Municipalities) and Asheville (which ramped up to advanced level last year) have recognized that energy efficiency saves taxpayer dollars while conserving natural resources. Small businesses have seen the green light too: Blue Moon Water, for instance, has switched to 100-percent biodegradable plastic bottles.

And with $8 million in federal stimulus moneys available from the state through the 2010 N.C. Green Business Fund, expect more environmental initiatives to come. Last year, First Light Solar, an Asheville-based company, won $95,000 to develop its do-it-yourself Easy Solar Kits for homeowners, and both Duke Energy and Progress Energy were awarded

much bigger chunks of change for projects related to developing smart-grid technologies.

Not all the news is good, however: In July, word came that the Environmental Quality Institute, based at UNCA, would close its doors due to budget cuts. For years, the institute has provided expertise and gathered data for such projects as the Volunteer Water Information Network.

We also shared residents' dismay that yet another private drinking well near the long-defunct CTS manufacturing plant on Mills Gap Road has been found to be contaminated by trichloroethylene and other toxins. In response, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency added almost 50 private wells to the network of those it monitors in tracking the contamination, and a new round of tests will be done this month.

Still, a quick perusal of upcoming events suggests that WNC residents are taking steps to build greater awareness of the challenges we all face.

Water-quality education

TheHenderson County Cooperative Extension Service, in collaboration with the Environmental and Conservation Organization, will offer a six-week general-education course on water quality. Modeled after the popular Master Gardener classes, the series is aimed at the aquatically inclined, organizers say. It will cover the problems facing local streams and the solutions needed to slow and reverse stream degradation. The course is open to the public, but space is limited. And to cover costs, there's a $20 registration fee.

Starting Jan. 12, the six-week course will be held Tuesday evenings from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. at the ECO office on West Third Avenue in downtown Hendersonville. (Due to scheduling constraints, the final session will be held on Monday, Feb. 15, rather than Tuesday.) Topics include what makes a healthy stream, pollutants impacting streams, storm-water issues and water-quality monitoring.

This course is aimed at volunteers involved in citizen water monitoring, stream cleanups, adopt-a-stream programs or other similar efforts, as well as landowners interested in protecting their property from stream degradation. To register, call the Cooperative Extension office at 697-4891.

Sustainable energy

The Blue Ridge Sustainability Institute continues its Green Monday series Jan. 11 from 3 to 5 p.m. The series schedules brief presentations by local experts to encourage dialogue on sustainability issues. Last month's Green Monday, for example, dealt with health concerns related to air quality.

The opening panel discussion of 2010 will focus on energy, including local opportunities for sustainable bioenergy and how to integrate environmental, economic and social sustainability into the biofuels supply chain. Background information will help those in attendance get up to speed on such topics as feedstock production, harvesting, storage and transportation, as well as biofuels production, distribution and uses in transportation and power generation. Speakers will also address research on cane crops, forest products and biomass boilers.

Green Mondays are free and open to the public, supported by the Asheville Area Chamber of Commerce and a grant from Progress Energy. This month's co-sponsors include Oak Ridge National Laboratory's Center for BioEnergy Sustainability and the U.S. Department of Energy.

Peak oil and climate change

The folks at Sustainable WNC, a local grass-roots organization, are starting the year with a presentation by John Brock, professor of chemistry and environmental studies at Warren Wilson College. An expert on global warming, Brock will discuss that topic and the issue of peak oil Wednesday, Jan. 13, at 1 p.m. — and again on Sunday, Jan. 17, at 7 p.m. Both meetings will be held at Jubilee! in downtown Asheville, but organizers ask that you use the back entrance at 101 Patton Ave., next to Jack of the Wood.

Send your environmental news to mvwilliams@mountainx.com, or call 251-1333, ext. 152.

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About Margaret Williams
Editor Margaret Williams first wrote for Xpress in 1994. An Alabama native, she has lived in Western North Carolina since 1987 and completed her Masters of Liberal Arts & Sciences from UNC-Asheville in 2016. Follow me @mvwilliams

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