Connecting Kids to Their Watersheds

Monday, November 7th, 2011 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

Here in Watauga County we are lucky to have relatively clean rivers and a public that is well connected with the health of the local environment. In order to support continued generations of residents who act as good stewards for the High Country and beyond, we must educate students about threats to our local environment and ensure that they feel pride and ownership of the world around them.

The Upper Watauga Riverkeeper has helped with school water-based programs at Hardin Park Middle School and Watauga High School this fall. At Hardin Park, science teacher Alan Felker invited me to speak with each of his 7th grade science classes about the many roles of a Riverkeeper. Our discussion ranged from local river cleanups to litigation against major polluters in Kentucky. I was impressed with the quality of both questions and answers I heard from many of the students. I met up with the students later in the week to assist with Mr. Felker’s aquatics lab on the New River. Students were game to get in the chilly fall water in order to measure water velocity and turbidity, and look for macroinvertebrates used as indicators of biological condition. I hope to see many of these same students for a Watauga cleanup in the spring.

On October 19th, I helped with one of several presentations focusing on marine mammals, climate change, pollution and our connection to those issues here in Watauga County. The North Carolina Museum of Natural Science and the North Carolina Fort Fisher Aquarium, through a grant from NOAA, brought in a geodome presentation that highlighted different marine mammals and threats to them resulting from global warming and plastic pollutants. Lisa Doty, the Watauga County Recycling Coordinator, and I presented a local perspective on recycling and reducing consumption in Watauga County, and the ways our efforts can impact the ocean environment.

I was pleased to find that at least one student in each group knew that plastics are made from fossil fuels, which are non-renewable resources. The students were surprised to learn that Watauga County does not have an operational landfill, so our garbage must be shipped to Lenoir. This means that not only is our waste management more costly, but it also uses more fossil fuel: an average of 8 tractor trailer loads of garbage are sent to Lenoir every day, which costs roughly $1.3 million per year. In contrast, as recycling technology has improved, the demand for recycled plastic has increased: other companies pay Watauga County for recycled plastics and recycling creates 14,000 jobs North Carolina.

We tried to impress upon students some simple every-day things they could do to help curb the influx of waste into our waterways and oceans. Two of the easiest changes that create a large and lasting impact are reducing your use of plastic water bottles and plastic grocery bags. According to the Earth Policy Institute, 1,500 plastic water bottles end up as garbage every second. Additionally, plastic grocery bags are more costly to produce from recycled material than from virgin oil. So when your Watauga High School students turn down that store-bought water in favor of a reusable container or tell you there will be no trip to the store without reusable bags, commend them for doing their part to create a healthier planet!

Another Successful Operation Medicine Cabinet in Watauga County

Monday, October 10th, 2011 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

Boone Food Lion Volunteers

The fall Operation Medicine Cabinet held last Saturday was a big success, as we expected from previous OMC events. Volunteers around the county collected unused and unwanted drugs from community members so the drugs could be properly destroyed. This programs helps to keep drugs out of our rivers and away from kids.

Volunteers at the Foscoe Fire Department


This fall, we collected 86,030 pills, 4.9 gallons of liquids, 3 pounds of other solids, and 8,883 sharps. 126 individuals dropped off medications, often collecting the drugs from other family members and neighbors.

The participant in the video above brings up an important point — with only two days currently available to drop of drugs, there is still not a convenient way for people to discard drugs at other times. We hope to install a permanent drop box in Watauga County in the near future, so that people can dispose of drugs properly, on their own time, any time of year.

Thank you to all of the OMC volunteers and supporters, including: Watauga County Sheriff’s Department, Boone Police Department, Beech Mountain Police Department, Blowing Rock Police Department, Foscoe Fire Department, Beaver Dam Volunteer Fire Department, Seven Devils Police, Appalachian State University and the ASU Police, The Town of Seven Devils, Watauga River Conservation Partners, North Carolina Cooperative Extension, State Bureau of Investigation, Watauga County Recycling/Solid Waste Department, and Boone Drug.

To find out more about this program, check out our previous blog and press release.

Bring Us Your Drugs: Operation Medicine Cabinet This Saturday, October 8th

Monday, October 3rd, 2011 | Posted by Erin Savage | No Comments

This Saturday, October 8th, we will hold our 5th Operation Medicine Cabinet (OMC), a prescription and over-the-counter drug take-back program aimed at keeping drugs off the streets and out of our rivers.

The first OMC was held in October of 2009, as a result of collaboration between the MountainKeepers organization, the Upper Watauga Riverkeeper, Watauga County Recycling and Solid Waste Department, North Carolina Cooperative Extension and local law enforcement, including the Watauga County Sheriff. As the program has continued, it has grown to include many organizations, agencies and businesses. We could not continue to have so much success without help from the community.

Since the program began, we have held the event each May and October. In October 2010, we collected 350,000 pills – our biggest event yet. Through this program, we accept all prescription drugs, no questions asked. We also accept medical supplies including needles and other sharps, as well as over-the-counter drugs. Once we have collected the drugs, they are packaged by the Watauga County Sheriff’s department and sent away for incineration. Incineration is the safest means for disposing of expired and unused medications.

One obvious reason for holding a prescription drug take-back program is to reduce prescription drug abuse by kids. Kids often gain access to dangerous painkillers through the medicine cabinets of their friends and families. A second reason is to keep drugs out of the local rivers. When drugs are flushed down the toilet or washed down the sink, the drugs go through wastewater treatment facilities and are then released into the local waterways. Wastewater treatment facilities cannot remove antibiotics, hormones and other chemicals from wastewater. Even over-the-counter drugs such as acetaminophen and ibuprofen have been detected in some watersheds.

The accumulation of drugs in rivers, streams and lakes pose several problems. Antibiotics in waterways contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Increased hormones in waterways act as endocrine disrupters, which have negative consequences on the development and reproduction of aquatic animals such as fish and amphibians. With new drugs being developed all the time, ongoing research is needed to catalogue the affects of these drugs on the environment. Our safest course of action is to do our part to keep all drugs out of our waterways.

You can drop off your drugs this Saturday, October 8th, from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm at the following locations:

Food Lion in Boone
Food Lion in Deep Gap
Food Lion in Blowing Rock
Foscoe Fire Department
Beech Mountain Town Hall
Beaverdam Volunteer Fire Department

Appalachian State University will also have a drop of location on Friday, October 7th from 11:00 am to 2:00pm in the Plemmons Student Union building.

Cleaning Up The Watauga!

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011 | Posted by Erin Savage | 1 Comment

A big thanks goes out to all those who helped make the Watauga River a cleaner, more beautiful place to swim, fish, and boat.

On Saturday, September 10th, the Upper Watauga Riverkeeper helped to complete a cleanup of the Watauga River, as part of the nationwide river cleanup day. Wendy Patoprsty and staff from the Watauga County Cooperative Extension organized the event and several ASU professors recruited student volunteers.

A total of 114 volunteers removed 3,740 pounds of trash from the Watauga along Highway 105 between Foscoe and Boone, and along Highway 321. The total weight collected last fall was 1,940 pounds. Let’s hope this indicates that this year’s volunteers did an even better job of finding trash and removing hard-to-access objects, and not that more people have been discarding trash in the river.

I was privileged to take a group of Appalachian State freshman down to the Guy Ford bridge, off Highway 321. I was able to con about 13 students into joining me at the bridge with sincere promises that the area around Guy Ford bridge “wasn’t that bad.” Little did I know, some campers had half-burned camping equipment and left it with broken glass and other trash just downstream of the bridge. After the campsite was cleaned, students hiked up and down the river. The best finds were by volunteers who swam through the river, which had calmed after Tuesday’s rain, and dove to find tires, lumber and even a large road construction sign.

The collection from our site alone filled the back of a pickup truck.

I hope the volunteers who were new to the area took ownership and pride in their contribution and will return to enjoy the river in its spruced up state. When you are down at the river, keep in mind the awesome service the new students contributed to our community.

Other group leaders included: Barbara Michel of ASU Walker School of Business, Dick Hearn, Joan Hearn, and Teresa Buckwalter from the Watauga River Partners, Travis Small and Andi Cochran of Appalachian Geographical Society, Jaimie McGirt, and Andy Hill. Thanks goes out to GDS disposal service, Watauga County Sanitation, and Watauga County Maintenance for help with trash and recyclable disposal.

Check out the Watauga County Cooperative Extension blog for more information.

The Brook Trout: highlighting local, regional & global environmental issues

Thursday, May 26th, 2011 | Posted by Parker Stevens | No Comments

>>This latest Creature Feature highlighting NC’s native trout species — the Brook trout — comes from our new intern Adam Reaves. Thanks, Adam! To learn more about native aquatic critters in the area, don’t miss RiverFest on June 4th.<<

Throughout the Southern expanse of the Appalachian Mountains, the Brook trout spends its seven-year lifespan hunting for mollusks, insects, and frogs in cold streams, lakes and ponds. The Brook trout, sometimes known as the speckled trout or squaretail, is the only native trout species in the Appalachian Mountains and has been at the center of many natural resource management agencies’ efforts to preserve trout stocks.
Brook Trout: North Carolina's State Freshwater Trout
According to a study conducted by the North Carolina Wildlife Resources Commission, 92,000 resident and non-resident anglers in the High Country contributed over $150 million to the North Carolina economy. Anglers and environmentalists both have an interest in preserving the health and integrity of the trout population.

The Brook Trout in particular, highlights many complex environmental issues and how they will affect the High Country in the future.

More ...

Vulcan’s Boone Quarry Pollution Problem

Thursday, April 21st, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | 1 Comment

Last night I was driving home, and noticed that Laurel Fork (along Hwy 105, just outside of Boone) was running a grayish color. I tracked down the source of the gray water, and it turned out to be the discharge from the Vulcan Boone Quarry (Just south of Boone on 105). Here is a video and some pictures of what I found.

A Gray-Brown Plume of water enters Laurel Fork from the Vulcan Boone Quarry. At the top of the photo you can see clear water in the Laurel Fork and then gray-brown water entering the creek from the right.

Gray-Brown Plume in Laurel Fork, created by Vulcan Boone Quarry

Discharge Pipe

Discharge Pipe

The Vulcan Boone Quarry has had repeated problems in the past with discharging milky white and gray water and they got in trouble for it before. As a result they have some fancy monitoring equipment to watch their discharge. The question remains, why is this still going on if they have they monitor this water, and if they have gotten in trouble for this before?

Monitoring Equipment and Pollution

Monitoring Equipment and Pollution

Check back for updates on what Vulcan and the North Carolina Division of Water Quality are going to do about this.

Vulcans Boone Quarry

Vulcan's Boone Quarry

Great New Post about our Fight against Big Coal in Kentucky

Wednesday, March 16th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

We would like to thank Daily Kos and DWG for writing an awesome article about our ongoing legal battle with 3 coal companies and the state regulatory agency in Kentucky. Check out the article here.

Boone Limits Coal Tar Sealants- Fish and River Lovers Celebrate

Wednesday, February 16th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Last night (February 15) the Boone Town Council passed strict new regulations aimed to limit the impacts of coal tar based asphalt sealants.

Coal tar based asphalt sealants are terrible for the environment and have serious human health effects because they are a major source of polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). If you have ever stood in a parking lot that is really black, that is coal tar asphalt sealant, and if it smelled like tar or weird chemicals, those are the PAHs. There is really no reason to use this type of sealant, because asphalt based sealants are the same price and are far less toxic.

Although, the regulations do not outright ban the use of coal tar sealants, they do make it much more difficult. The regulations set up a permitting process, for anyone wishing to apply a pavement sealant. There will be a minimal fee for non coal tar based sealants, and a much higher fee for coal tar sealants. The permitting process is designed to allow for education on pavement sealants, and to ensure that sealants are applied in a safe manner (like when there is no chance of rain). The new permitting process will be implemented April 1, to allow for time to develop education materials and finalize the fee structure.

These new regulations are in response to the Hodges Creek fish kill. This past summer the BB&T on Highway 105 in Boone applied coal tar based asphalt sealant to their parking lot in the rain. The sealant washed off into Hodges Creek, killing all life in the creek until its confluence with Boone Creek, near the mall, 1.5 miles downstream. Shea Tuberty of Appalachian State told the town council that he had done sampling in Hodges Creek in January, little life has returned to the Creek, six months after the spill.

Thanks to everyone who came out to the town council to stand up for clean streams!

Come Out and Fight for Clean Water

Friday, February 4th, 2011 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Attention Boonies!

Come out this Monday night to support strong new regulations on coal tar based asphalt sealants, the source of the Hodges Creek fish kill last summer.

The Boone Town Council will be having a public hearing on Monday, February 7th at 7:00pm at the Boone Town Council Chambers (next to the police station on 321 and in front of K-mart). We need everyone to come out and speak in favor of a newly proposed ban on coal tar based asphalt sealants, in the town of Boone. If you don’t want to speak that’s ok too, just come out to show your support.

Here is the proposed new rule.

Help keep this from ever happening again:

Join the Watauga River Cleanup Saturday Sept. 25

Wednesday, September 22nd, 2010 | Posted by Eric Chance | No Comments

Volunteers Kayaking with Trash at last Years Big Sweep


Come out and join us this Saturday (September 25) to help clean up the Watauga River. Starting at 9am groups will be picking up trash from the Watauga River from Foscoe all the way to the Guy Ford Road Bridge, covering a total of nearly 30 miles of stream. Because of extremely low water levels this year, all of the clean up teams will be land based, since there isn’t enough water to float canoes.

Last year 172 volunteers cleaned up 6,000 pounds of trash! This year we hope to get even more junk.

For more pictures and a video from last year’s clean up visit the Watauga Riverkeeper blog.

If you are interested in helping out or want some more information please contact Eric at App Voices (eric@appvoices.org 828-262-1500) or Wendy at the Agricultural Extension Office (Wendy_Patoprsty@ncsu.edu 828-264-3061).

<== Older Posts    
The Front Porch Blog