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Raising A Stink: Environmentalists Press City To Address Raw Sewage Runoff In French Broad River

Cass Herrington
BPR News
The French Broad River in Alexander, NC on Aug. 25.

Environmentalists and clean water advocates are urging the City of Asheville to do its part in cleaning up the French Broad River. 

The French Broad River looks more like cafe con leche than water in summer’s final days. Almost the hue of the chocolate river in Willy Wonka’s Factory...


“What we're seeing is the French Broad is really dirty, and it's getting dirtier," Anna Alsobrook, the watershed outreach coordinator for the French Broad Riverkeeper program at MountainTrue, said. There’s a few reasons for the filth, she says, and it mostly has to do with heavier rainfall...


“Stormwater’s bringing in animal waste, from agriculture, and it’s also overtaxing our stormwater and our sewer infrastructure. So, sewer infrasturcture in some places is leaking," Alsobrook said. "All of that rolled into one is bringing more pollution into the river.”


To put it bluntly, she says the French Broad River watershed is increasingly becoming the region’s unflushed toilet bowl. The Riverkeeper frequently monitors levels of E. Coli -- the bacteria found in human and animal waste. And last year, it found half the sites tested failed to meet the Environmental Protection Agency’s levels considered safe for recreation. This year, it says the results are even worse, with 69 percent of the sites failing. 


But MountainTrue wants to shift the current. It’s advocating Asheville City Council create a Stormwater Task Force that would meet standards laid out by the Clean Water Act -- making the river safer for swimming and fishing. Among several tasks outlined is making improvements to the city’s failing sewer infrastructure (which is operated by theMetropolitan Sewerage District), where there’s runoff seeping into the river.  


“It's come a long way since the Clean Water Act, but people still tend to poo-poo on it, for lack of a better term, but it has a long way to go, it's still not meeting the needs of the Clean Water Act on a regular basis," Alsobrook said. 


The Riverkeeper is gathering petitions from the public he hopes will convince city council to make river cleanup a priority. Hartwell Carson says they’ve gathered 771 petitions so far. 

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