RiverLink’s RAD Watershed Plan addresses Asheville’s most impaired waterway

Out of view of the paddleboards and kayaks that meander with the lazy flow of the French Broad River, an orange tube skims oil from a creek’s surface. The tube is a last line of defense preventing oil from flowing directly into the river. The creek is Town Branch, a waterway long believed to be the most polluted stream in Western North Carolina.

“Many people still call it Nasty Branch,” says Renee Fortner, watershed resources manager for the Asheville-based nonprofit RiverLink. For her, Town Branch is not just a matter of a single ailing creek. Instead, it’s part of a system in dire need of repair.

Fortner notes that stream cleanups are a regular remediation activity for RiverLink. “To try and clean the stream, we work with volunteers to remove the trash, build riparian habitat and perform invasive species removal,” she says. But while these efforts are good for treating the symptoms of stream impairment, she admits, they leave the root causes of pollution untouched.

The RAD Watershed Restoration Plan is RiverLink’s response to this problem. Funded by a $78,000 grant from the N.C. Clean Water Management Fund and a $28,000 grant from the Pigeon River Fund, the yearlong assessment of the watershed’s health will include water quality monitoring, identification of pollution sources and suggestions for infrastructure changes. The goal is to provide long-term, meaningful protection for Asheville’s ailing waterways.

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