ASHEVILLE, NC – June 1, 2022 – North Carolina water quality officials have reported that a 19-mile section of the French Broad River from Long Shoals Road to Craggy Dam in Buncombe County is “impaired” because of elevated E. Coli bacteria levels found during recent testing. In her 1955 book The French Broad, the American writer Wilma Dykeman described how many years of dumping untreated sewage and industrial waste into the waterway had created a dirty, smelly river that she described as “too thick to drink, too thin to plow.” After the Clean Water Act of 1972, the work of many nonprofit organizations and volunteers improved the river’s water quality.
Today, the river does not appear healthy, described as a brown color, a clear sign of the sediment and other pollutants running through the waterway. The French Broad River has elevated levels of E. Coli bacteria from sewer and septic system leaks, cattle accessing streams, and stormwater runoff from animal agricultural operations and fields. Booming construction and development, more frequent heavy rains due to climate change, and an aging stormwater system result in more runoff from urban areas, more sewer overflows, and increased waterway sediment. A large fuel spill in 2018 has also adversely affected its water quality.
In 2002, the French Broad River was moved up to Class B standards that include swimming. You can access an up-to-date French Broad River water quality report this summer on the SwimGuide.org website and smartphone app. Hartwell Carson, the nonprofit MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper, explains that “We test for E. coli bacteria so that people know when and where it’s safe to swim.”
Listen to the full report below:
Contact: Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, firstname.lastname@example.org