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Protecting NC Water Quality Rooted in Solutions, Literally

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy maintains Laurel Ridge Preserve, which adjoins Asheville Watershed land. (SAHC)
The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy maintains Laurel Ridge Preserve, which adjoins Asheville Watershed land. (SAHC)
September 26, 2017

BLACK MOUNTAIN, N.C. – In many parts of North Carolina, riverfronts are becoming prime real estate, with cities such as Asheville now developing their waterways for public and private use. While development is largely good for the economy, many of the state's land conservancies are working to make sure it doesn't put water quality at risk.

The Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy is taking steps to prevent erosion and sedimentation from seeping into area waterways.

Communications director Angela Shepherd explains why they look at the larger picture.

"It's a snowball effect, so if you have bad water quality at the headwaters, then you're going to have problems throughout the course of the waterway," she explains. "We really focus on protecting those lands to keep things from washing in."

Sedimentation is the number one pollutant in western North Carolina water. The Conservancy recently purchased 200 acres near the headwaters of the Catawba River, near Black Mountain. The property is near the Broad River, which empties into the Atlantic Ocean, and the Catawba River, which eventually flows into the Gulf of Mexico.

Garrett Artz, executive director of RiverLink in Asheville, says people often overestimate the actual cost of protecting the state's waterways. He says many times it just comes down to planting brush and shrubs.

"Developers and farms think this is going to be this costly thing, but it really isn't," he says. "If more people did it, more people took care of the buffer zone, repairing buffers along their stream, it wouldn't cost a lot. It would just make a big, big impact."

Shepherd says because land conservancies such as hers often cross county and state borders, they're able to consider the big picture to ensure overall health and protection of the water.

"You're talking about a system, it's like a body system, it's like a circulatory system, and so in order to make sure that entire system is working and is healthy and is providing what we need to our communities, we have to look at it in a holistic way," she adds.

In addition to improving water quality, maintaining barriers along streams and rivers is helpful to wildlife that live along the edge of the water.

Stephanie Carson, Public News Service - NC