Whatever it takes: Raising awareness about pollution

Hartwell Carson, photo courtesy of MountainTrue

Editor’s note: For our fall Nonprofit issue, we invited local nonprofit leaders to reflect on the successes and challenges of operating a 501(c)(3) in Western North Carolina. 

Hartwell Carson is the French Broad Riverkeeper with MountainTrue. The nonprofit fosters and empowers residents throughout the region to engage in community planning, policy and project advocacy, and on-the-ground projects.

What is the biggest impediment to the French Broad River’s health?

The biggest threat to the French Broad is bacteria pollution and sediment pollution. Bacteria pollution comes from animal agriculture, septic and sewer. Sediment pollution comes from agriculture runoff, construction sites and stream bank erosion. Almost every one of the issues listed has decent laws to protect our waterways, but enforcement can be spotty or nonexistent.

Tell us about your septic repair grant program — why you started it and how it helps the river.

The septic repair fund is money given by the N.C. General Assembly to provide financial aid to property owners that have failing septic systems. A failing septic can cause a big impact to nearby waterways, but they can be prohibitively expensive to repair, especially for low-income folks. So, a fund to provide support is critical.

Why should someone who doesn’t kayak be excited about the installation of the Whitewater Wave in Woodfin? Is that good for our river?

I think the Woodfin wave is the next phase for river recreation on the French Broad River, and the reason it is good for all of us, and not just kayakers, is it brings people and attention to the river. When I started this job, almost 20 years ago, very few people used the French Broad River for recreation, and therefore no one really cared when it was polluted. Now lots of people use the river every day, and there is a strong desire that we do better and protect the river, so we can finally meet the goals of the Clean Water Act to be fishable and swimmable.

What new plans does MountainTrue have for 2024?

We will be conducting DNA monitoring along the river to trace what type of E. coli is polluting our streams and tracking that pollution back to the source, as well as retooling our plastic work to continue our push for a plastic-free WNC. We also look forward to seeing the $2 million in agriculture cost-share funds get implemented, so we can reduce the impact of agricultural pollution on our waterways.


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