ASHEVILLE, NC – May 31, 2023 – Summer is here, and so is the urge to cool off and play in the waters around Asheville. Be aware that Mountain True’s 2023 French Broad River’s water report indicated that more than one-half of the sites tested failed to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) recreational standards for swimming where body contact with the water is frequent. However, the water meets the EPA’s standards for secondary recreation like tubing and kayaking. You can access an up-to-date French Broad River water quality report on the SwimGuide.org website, its smartphone app, or at https://frenchbroadwaterquality.com . Mountain True is a nonprofit organization based in Asheville that has a vision for healthy forests, clean waters and healthy communities in the Southern Blue Ridge region.
E. coli, a bacterium from feces, is a reliable indicator of the presence of bacteria and pathogens that are harmful to human health. Contact with or inadvertently swallowing contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness and skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, and low-grade fever occurring within 4 days of exposure. Children and seniors are at a greater risk of being affected. Water samples are collected each week from the French Broad River by Mountain True’s volunteers and staff from Memorial Day to Labor Day. The samples are processed to determine the E. Coli levels. Currently, the tests show that the E. Coli levels are at almost 8 times the EPA recreational water standard.
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.
The river has an unhealthy-appearing brown color, a clear sign of sediment and other pollutants running through the waterway. The French Broad River has elevated levels of harmful 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.
The river has a strong economic presence around Asheville. It is estimated to bring in $3.8 billion annually according to a study by Western Carolina University economics professor Steve Ha and the French Broad River Partnership, a group of more than 50 organizations that want to improve the river’s health for environmental and economic benefits.
Hartwell Carson, Mountain True’s French Broad Riverkeeper, said, “We strongly encourage recreation. I go out all the time, swimming, boating – I just do it in an educated and informed way.”
Listen to the full report below:
Contact: Dr. Dick Needleman, Health reporter, 103.3 AshevilleFM, email@example.com