MountainTrue Releases Water Quality Swim Guide for Western North Carolina

Kayakers on the French Broad River's Blueway.
Woodfin Greenway & Blueway

Area swimmers, paddlers, anglers and others who enjoy spending time playing in our local rivers and streams can access up-to-date water quality results for more than 65 popular recreation areas throughout Western North Carolina.

This service is due to the hard work of MountainTrue volunteers and staff who collect water samples every Wednesday and rush to process, analyze and post the results on the swimguide.org website and smartphone app in time for your weekend fun.

“E. coli is a reliable indicator of the presence of other bacteria and pathogens that are harmful to human health,” explains MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper Hartwell Carson. “MountainTrue and our community of dedicated donors and volunteers are proud to be able to offer this public service.”

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The swimguide.org website or smartphone app, geo-locates the user and provides a list of nearby testing sites that either pass or fail the EPA guideline for E. coli in designated swimming areas of 235 CFU (or colony forming units) per 100 milliliters.

Samples are collected on Wednesdays, processed using the IDEXX Colilert system, incubated overnight, and results are analyzed and posted on Thursday afternoons. Results are available on the Swim Guide website or on the smartphone app, available for Android and Apple iPhones.

E. coli bacteria makes its way into our rivers and streams from sewer/septic system leaks, cattle accessing streams, and stormwater runoff – especially runoff from animal agricultural operations with substandard riparian buffers. E. coli is an indicator for the presence of other more harmful microbes, such as Cryptosporidium, Giardia, Shigella, and norovirus. Heavy rains and storms often result in spikes in E. coli contamination, increasing the risk to human health. Contact with or consumption of contaminated water can cause gastrointestinal illness, skin, ear, respiratory, eye, neurologic, and wound infections. The most commonly reported symptoms are stomach cramps, diarrhea, nausea, vomiting and low-grade fever.

In general, waterways that are located in more remote areas or near protected public lands that lack a lot of agriculture, development or industrial pollution sources are the cleanest and will be less affected by stormwater runoff. Areas closer to development and polluting agricultural practices are much more heavily impacted.

In April, MountainTrue released results from supplementary DNA testing that confirmed that cattle and faulty or inadequate sewer, septic or wastewater treatment infrastructure are the major sources of E. coli pollution in the French Broad River. Of the DNA 55 samples collected, 44 revealed DNA from cows. Human DNA was the second most prevalent. The results vary, but at nearly every site the primary sources of pollution were cattle followed by human. Dog DNA also showed up as a moderate contributor to E. coli pollution at a few sample sites.

MountainTrue uses the data collected through its Swim Guide, VWIN (Volunteer Water Information Network), Georgia Adopt-A-Stream and microplastics sampling programs to inform its advocacy and to push for science-based policy solutions. Through its I Love Rivers advocacy campaign, MountainTrue succeeded in getting the City of Asheville to participate in a Storm Water Taskforce.

In the General Assembly, MountainTrue is advocating for targeted clean water investments to be included in this year’s state budget including $3 million for septic system and wastewater upgrades through the Community Conservation Assistance Program, and $26 million to help farmers keep cattle and stormwater runoff out of our rivers through the Agricultural Cost Share Program and the Agricultural Water Resource Assistance Program.

In Congress, MountainTrue is calling on our delegation to support the $111 billion in the American Jobs Plan that is allocated for water and wastewater infrastructure. MountainTrue encourages the public to take action and send a letter to their local representatives through its iloverivers.org website.