Health Of French Broad River: 'Pretty Good, Could Be Better'

Jun 6, 2018

The French Broad River winds its way through Asheville and provides some of the most picturesque scenery in the region. It’s also a major driver of Western North Carolina’s booming tourism industry. 

So how healthy is this vital asset?  Hartwell Carson has a short answer and a long explanation to the question of how healthy is the French Broad River.  First, the short answer.  “It’s good.  It could be a lot better," says Carson.

The long explanation from Mountain True’s Riverkeeper involves all the data their State of the French Broad River Watershed report looked at.  That includes pollution levels of all the tributaries that feed into the river, and mapping and examining what surrounds those streams and creeks to see what pollution is being brought into the water.  “The biggest pollution problem in the French Broad is bacterium and sediment.  And bacteria comes from sewage and septic and animal runoff.  Sediment comes from development, stream bank eroding, and agricultural runoff," says Carson.

Tributaries with top marks ran through National Parks and forests.  Those with the lowest didn’t flow through highly developed areas, but rather agricultural spots.  “It didn’t quite jibe with the common knowledge of how you treat a watershed," says Carson.

Anna Alsobrook of Mountain True pins that on runoff from pesticides used on crops and animal waste used as fertilizer.  Or as she has encountered on some of her paddles through the watershed…animals just cut out the middleman.  “We will often times see cows in the river," she says.  "So…their waste is going to go somewhere…and it’s going to be where they are.”

Details from the report - 

Four Cleanest Streams:

Middle Fork French Broad River - 100 points

Cathey’s Creek - 100 points

Cataloochee Creek - 100 points

Pigeon - upstream of Canton - 100 points

Four Dirtiest Streams:

Turkey Creek - 60 points

Newfound Creek - 62.5 points

Boylston Creek - 65 points

Fines Creek - 65 points