A Bug’s Life

No one is too small to make an impact on river health

Water Quality Administrator Grace Fuchs of Mountain True will help you meet microscopic monitors.
Portrait by Rachel Pressley

The MountainTrue organization works in 23 counties throughout WNC to advocate for clean water, resilient forests, and healthy communities. Twice a year since 2012, the group’s volunteers have sampled tributaries of the French Broad and Green Rivers to monitor their water quality. In early March, a special Stream Monitoring Information Exchange (SMIE) training session will be held, for those who want to join the nonprofit’s volunteer team. The session will be led by MountainTrue’s Water Quality Administrator, Grace Fuchs. Bold Life spoke to her about the aims of the SMIE program.

What are SMIE volunteers trained to do?

To collect water samples, and to learn to identify types of aquatic insects in the creek water.

Taking an inventory of which bugs are living there?

Yes, because their presence gives us an indication of water quality.

Doesn’t part of the process involve using microscopes?

We don’t expect people to be taxonomic experts. But it sometimes helps to look at them under a microscope to see more details.

What else does volunteer stream monitoring involve?

We also do a habitat survey in conjunction with the water-quality sampling. Volunteers note things like how much sediment or trash is in a stream and if other wildlife is around, to get a better picture of the water quality.

Some may ask, “Isn’t that the job of governmental agencies?”

That’s an important question, and SMIE is a way to support state and federal water sampling. My understanding is that the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality focuses intensively in one watershed, once a year. But we can do sampling twice a year, which is a good way to monitor incremental changes. Then, as an advocacy organization, we can communicate our findings to the appropriate authorities.

Can you share an example of when that led to official action to improve water quality?

MountainTrue was one of the first institutions to advocate for coal-ash cleanup after our river keepers found that groundwater was contaminated. In conjunction with other agencies they sued Duke Energy and won — and now all the coal-ash storage sites are being cleaned up.

What if someone wants to help but cannot attend SMIE training?

We have plenty of other volunteer opportunities, like live native-plant restoration, collecting water samples for chemical testing, and summertime trash pickups along the French Broad and Green River.

Training for interested SMIE volunteers happens Saturday, March 7, 9am-4pm. Volunteers meet at Blue Ridge Community College (180 West Campus Drive, Flat Rock) in the ARTS Building for a lab session, then carpool to the Green River Game Lands to sample a stream. Lunch, snacks, waders, and all lab materials will be provided. Volunteers need to bring a water bottle and dress for outdoor activity. RSVP is required. To attend the training, call 828-692-0385, ext. 1001, or sign up at mountaintrue.org.

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