ECO Water Quality Committee

ECO’s Water Quality Committee strives to protect Henderson County’s six pristine watersheds through monitoring and testing over thirty streams.  The Water Quality Committee educates the public on how they can become better stewards of their streams.  Additionally they test stream health with biomonitoring, chemical monitoring, bacterial monitoring, adopt-a-stream programs, sedimentation control as well as —Big Sweep, the state’s largest watershed cleanup initiative.  The newest innovation, the SWAT team (Stream Water Action Teams) follows up on waterways that have been flagged as problematic.  People interested in water conservation, stream monitoring, and keeping the waters of Western North Carolina clean would enjoy being a part of this very active committee.  The results of this work will be found in stronger policies that protect aquatic life, water supply and restrict activities that have a deleterious effect on our waterways.

Join us!
The Water Quality Committee meets on the second Wednesday of each month at 4:30 pm at the ECO office conference room.

Mark your Calendar! Upcoming 2013 WQ Events at ECO:

Want to gain valuable experience and make a real difference in your community?
Become an intern with ECO’s Water Quality Committee this winter!
CLICK HERE to view the Water Quality Internship Description.
Contact ECO at (828) 692-0385 for more information.

Biological Monitoring – SMIE

Biological stream monitoring provides an integrated view of overall water quality in a stream over a period of time.  ECO’s biomonitoring program uses aquatic macroinvertebrates, which includes insects, snails and worms.  The aquatic macroinvertebrate community is a good indicator of stream water quality because the makeup of the community is dependent on and sensitive to chemical and physical changes in the stream channel. Click here for presentation on aquatic macroinvertebrate identification.

ECO volunteers currently monitor 26 sites in Henderson County twice a year (April and October).  Many of the sites overlap with VWIN sites to provide an additional layer of data for water quality analysis. ECO uses the Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE) method.  SMIE is a collaborative program of several organizations in Western North Carolina to train volunteers to perform biological monitoring.  The SMIE sampling method is specifically designed to closely mimic the North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) collection techniques to facilitate more precise comparisons between SMIE and DWQ data than is possible with more basic volunteer biological monitoring methods. Refresh your biomonitoring skills at the bottom of this webpage with our new webinars! The following link is a macroinvertebrate field identification form that our monitoring teams fill out during sampling:  Biomonitoring Field ID Form. The water quality survey sheet is also filled out during sampling time in the field. Attention SMIE volunteers! Please help us keep better track of your hours by filling out your volunteered time on this program. SMIE teams should fill out ONLY ONE sheet for each sampling site and combine ALL volunteer time per site.

Biological monitoring data is now being incorporated into the annual VWIN reports for Henderson County.  The data is also shared directly with DWQ’s Biological Assessment Unit to help identify problem streams, or to identify “outstanding resource waters” for additional protection.

To learn more about ECO’s monitoring results, please look at our interactive map, comprehensive biomonitoring data or Annual VWIN reports for Henderson County. (See also VWIN section below.)

  • Water Quality Interactive Map
  • Macroinvertebrate Photo Guide
  • Aquatic Macroinvertebrate Dichotomous Key
  • SMIE Data Tables  Years 2011-2012
  • SMIE Date Tables Spring 2011-2013
  • SMIE Data Tables Years 2012-2013
  • SMIE 2012 Annual Report
  • SMIE 2011 Annual Report
  • SMIE 2010 Annual Report
  • SMIE 2009 Annual Report

See VWIN Annual Reports Including Biomonitoring Data in VWIN section below.

If you are interested in becoming a biomonitoring volunteer, please contact ECO.

Adopt A Stream

What is Adopt-A-Stream?

After many years as a successful stream cleanup program, similar to Adopt-A-Highway, Adopt-A-Stream underwent a major enhancement in 2008.  The focus of the program has been broadened and shifted toward water quality and stream health, with the adopters serving as true stream stewards of their adopted waterway.

As the eyes and ears of their streams, the volunteers conduct regular-stream surveys of the waters, stream banks and adjacent riparian environment.  Clean-up is done as needed, and any significant problems or violations of applicable ordinances are reported, either to ECO’s action teams or local authorities for follow-up.  Inappropriate cases, remedial action may be initiated with professional guidance.  Click here to see how individuals makes a difference. Local Girl Scouts who’ve adopted a stream received a community service award and thanks from Mayor Volk.  (Give photos time to upload!)

It is a fundamental tenet of the program that the better trained and educated the volunteers, the better job they can do and the more they will appreciate the valuable role they play in this important program.  To this end, education and training are offered, and participation in other ECO water quality programs is encouraged.  We work closely with the Cooperative Extension Service through the Mud Creek Restoration Project and with the County Soil and Water Conservation District.

Why Adopt A Stream?

We are fortunate to have abundant quality resources in the mountains – wetlands, streams, rivers and man-made ponds and lakes.  ECO believes, along with most of our citizens, that positive steps must be taken to protect these resources.  Bodies of clean water are a critical part of our environment and a precious resource for which we are responsible. Healthy streams in our community is a realistic goal; this encompasses control of toxic substances, reduction of pollution and erosion, and involvement of the public and governments in water protection through workable, low-cost and scientifically sound activities.

Locals and visitors alike enjoy fishing, canoeing, and kayaking in our streams, they are used by agriculture and industry, as sources of drinking water and, when cared for, will benefit our economy and provide the environmental balance necessary to a healthy ecosystem.

How Can You Help?

We have a broad spectrum of participating groups, and welcome new volunteers; individuals, neighbourhood groups, church groups, small businesses and industries, civic groups, school and scout groups are all welcome to join.  To learn more, contact ECO at 828-692-0385, or through this website.  A water-quality volunteer will contact you to answer questions and work with you and your volunteers to get you started.  Click here for WQ Survey Sheet.

Bacterial Testing

The Hendersonville drinking water facility is planning on moving its facility from the Mills River to the French Broad River within the next five years.  The drought during 2007 and 2008 led to a water crisis in Hendersonville, resulting in plans to connect a water intake pipe to the French Broad River prior to moving the facility.  The plans to use the French Broad River as a source of drinking water have raised concerns about the quality of its water, particularly bacterial levels.  The French Broad River watershed is large and susceptible to several sources of faecal contamination including, livestock operations, leaky septic tanks, effluent from wastewater treatment plants and pet waste carried in storm runoff.

ECO began a bacterial monitoring program in the summer of 2009, focusing on monitoring surface water from the French Broad River and the effluent from wastewater treatment plants.  This program is still under development and the current focus is on gathering baseline data. Monthly water samples are collected from 5 sites in the French Broad River from the point where the river enters Henderson County to the confluence with the Mills River.  Four wastewater treatment plant effluent pipes are also being monitored.  All samples are processed at the ECO office with Coliscan® Easygel®, using Escherichia coli as an indicator of faecal contamination.

Big Sweep

Big Sweep is an international debris cleanup program in which citizens and community groups work together to clean up trash in their waterways. The program is international, and most states in the U.S. have their own program, and each county is encouraged to coordinate a cooperative effort for municipalities. ECO coordinates the effort in Henderson County each fall. During Big Sweep’s 23-year history in North Carolina, almost 270,000 Big Sweep volunteers have retrieved more than 9 million pounds of debris. In 2008, NC ranked third in the country for the number of volunteers (18,330) and collected 264 tons of debris (527,778 pounds). The 2011 Big Sweep teams had almost 100 volunteers who cleaned just over 2,500 pounds of debris from 9 miles of streams around Henderson County.

This next Big Sweep (2013) needs more volunteers than ever and you can help make a difference in protecting our most precious resource. According to ECO Executive Director, David Weintraub, “the basis of our way of life in WNC is our watersheds. Protecting them by cleaning, monitoring and nurturing them is critical to maintaining the health of our streams. Big Sweep is the first step to being good stewards of our natural resources.” Diamond Brand is offering coupons for 20% off one regular-priced item for volunteers participating in Big Sweep. First-Citizens Bank is supplying bags for clean-up. Harris Teeter and Ingles are supplying water bottles and granola bars for participants.

Contact ECO for more information and current dates and times.

SWAT Teams

ECO’s monitoring programs allow us to detect water quality degradation and increasing concentrations of pollutants on many streams in Henderson County.  The more information we have on the causes of the decreasing water quality the more quickly and efficiently the problem can be remediated.  In response, ECO is developing the Stream Water Action Team (SWAT) program to investigate and determine possible sources of pollution in a stream.

Trained SWAT volunteers will be sent to streams in response to monitoring results and citizen reports.  SWAT volunteers will examine how the land use adjacent to the stream may be contributing to high concentrations of sediment, nutrients, faecal coliform and low biomonitoring scores.  They will focus on permit violations, buffer violations and the use of best management practices.  The results from the SWAT investigations will be used to work with willing landowners and regulatory agencies to find financial and technical resources to implement projects that sustain the livelihood of the landowners and improve water quality.

If you are interested in becoming a SWAT volunteer, please contact ECO.

VWIN – Volunteer Water Information Network

Long-range water quality data is essential to the protection of our water resources. The Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN) is a cooperative effort among several organizations in Western North Carolina to monitor the chemical properties of streams throughout the region. ECO began monitoring 18 sites in 1992 and has since expanded to 33 sites in Henderson County.

Volunteers collect water samples from each site monthly. The samples are sent to an independent lab to be evaluated for eleven chemical parameters: pH, conductivity, alkalinity, turbidity, total suspended solids, copper, zinc, lead, orthophosphate, ammonia nitrogen and nitrate nitrogen. This provides a valuable database of water quality information to monitor trends and the effects of changing land use on our waterways. VWIN data is analyzed to create an annual report on the water quality for Henderson County. The VWIN program has created an objective dataset covering nearly two decades, allowing ECO to identify streams facing degradation and obtain financial and political resources to protect streams in Henderson County. VWIN volunteers use this WQ Survey Sheet to collect visual data during sampling in the fall of each year.

Through the VWIN program ECO has identified waterways of pristine quality and detected highly degraded streams in Henderson County.

NEW!  VWIN Site Sponsorship Program

With continuing budget cuts it is now more important than ever for community members and organizations to come together to support water quality programs like VWIN.  As a VWIN sponsor, you make it possible for streams in our county to continue to be evaluated for problems that affect the health of watersheds, animals, plants and people.   Chemical testing for one stream site costs $500 each year.  Sponsorship of a site at this level from January through December 2014 will include:

  • Quarterly updates on the condition and chemical analysis of your adopted site
  • Notifications of opportunities for your group to participate in stream clean-ups and monitoring activities with Adopt-A-Stream and VWIN volunteers
  • A copy of the most recent VWIN Annual Report including data analysis on all ECO VWIN sites
  • Recognition through ECO publications and events

Additionally, sponsors will receive ECO’s quarterly newsletter which contains our full calendar of events as well as regional and local environmental news. Following receipt of the completed VWIN Sponsorship form found below, ECO will choose a monitored site that best fits each group’s location and interests.  

VWIN Success Stories

  • ECO’s VWIN data showed the Mills River watershed to be degraded due to high inputs of sediment and nutrients. This led to the establishment of the Mills River Partnership in 1998. The Mills River partnership created a strategic plan for working with landowners to install projects reducing nonpoint source pollution. Thee plan was successful resulting in the restoration of a prime drinking water source in Western North Carolina, trout fishery and recreational area.
  • ECO’s VWIN data contributed to the identification of water quality degradation throughout the Mud Creek Watershed due to rural and urban stressors. This led to the Mud Creek Restoration Project. The project is currently active, focusing on stream restoration, urban stormwater management, agricultural best management practices and education.
  • The backlog of ECO’s VWIN data demonstrated sediment to be a primary and consistent water quality impairment in Henderson County. This provided strong justification for the approval of an Erosion and Sediment Ordinance in Henderson County.

Watch Biomonitoring Webinars


Watch our instructional webinars to learn or refresh your skills on biomonitoring in WNC streams. Once you’ve done that, test your skills with our biomonitoring quiz.