Letter: What’s really causing river pollution

Graphic by Lori Deaton

[Regarding the Molton cartoon “Swim at Your Own Risk,” July 27, Xpress:] While sewer overflows were once a major cause of water quality issues in Buncombe County, the excellent work by the Metropolitan Sewerage District to proactively identify, repair and upgrade its systems has gone a long way to dramatically reducing overflows.

The French Broad River does have plenty of water quality problems, but overflows in Buncombe County are not the primary source of the high E. coli in the river. MountainTrue recently conducted an infrared imaging of the sewer lines throughout West Asheville, looking for sewer leaks and didn’t find a single issue.

MountainTrue believes the primary sources driving E. coli and water quality impairment are failing septics, animal agriculture and urban stormwater runoff. Issues that we think would improve water quality are better stormwater management in the city of Asheville, which the Asheville Stormwater Task Force has developed and presented to city staff; additional funding to help repair failing septic systems, which was recently secured from the state of North Carolina and Buncombe County; and additional funding to help farmers fence cattle out of streams.

— Hartwell Carson
French Broad Riverkeeper


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10 thoughts on “Letter: What’s really causing river pollution

  1. Robert

    We could help troubleshoot this challenge by implementing an 18-month moratorium on all large housing developments along or near the French Broad River.

  2. Lou

    Stop development near the river, including the deathplane factory. This city has too many problems to fix…still looking for my next town. Cannot wait to leave this little town that can’t.

  3. Voirdire

    Thanks for this…. urban stormwater runoff being -by far- the single largest contributor to the more often than not elevated levels of E. coli in the French Broad river… particularly after our now ever more frequent (thanks to our changing climate) summer downpours. Good luck with reducing that…. or as Joni Mitchell famously penned… they paved paradise and put up a parking lot.

  4. Robert McGee

    Yes, everyone knows that rampant over-development is the major cause. As anyone who’s ever run a successful business knows, you sometimes must take a pause, lose some revenue in the short-term, invest in your people and infrastructure before plunging onward if you hope for long-term success. Those who keep green lighting housing ‘at any cost’ remind me of really bad short-sighted middle managers who run companies into the ground.

  5. think critically

    I am glad the letter identifies animal agriculture as a culprit, but I don’t think we should pay farmers to fence cattle out of streams. We should require them to do so. The industry, a major source of so many forms of pollution, should not get another subsidy. They already get too many.

    • kw

      Developers are getting more handouts right now than anyone on the planet…for so-called affordable housing (that will only help landlords procure more wealth while widening the wealth gap) and through Opportunity Zones, which screw over affordable neighborhoods with extractive environmentally destructive projects and line the pockets of wealthy investors…I also agree that we should probably all endeavor to eat less meat.

  6. Peter Robbins

    Does anyone actually know how much contamination is attributable to septic failure, agricultural runoff and urban stormwater, respectively? My guess would be that agricultural runoff (cow manure) is the biggest culprit, but I thought that’s what Mountain True was conducting sophisticated testing to find out.

    • Robert

      My guess is that there are too many moving parts at the moment to determine major culprits without a more controlled study. That’s why I’ve suggested an 18-month moratorium on development along or near the river.

  7. think critically

    I know that this doesn’t answer the question about which is the biggest culprit here in WNC, but this website from the Center for Biological Diversity is pretty interesting, nonetheless.

    The Truth About Grazing
    Cattle grazing has become a controversial and often confusing topic that’s tied up with issues like methane and the climate crisis, deforestation and biodiversity loss, industry investments and sustainability claims, and culture and colonialism. This site uses facts and science to cut through common myths about the impact of cattle on our planet. While grazing is global in scope, our initial focus is on the United States since it is the world’s largest beef producer and Americans consume four times more than the global average. The grazing impacts discussed, however, apply globally.

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