Water and Air Quality

Tue, 11/08/2011 - 10:12 -- cadoughe

A forest plan identifies short- and long-term management objectives such as thinning, harvesting, and regeneration, non-timber product management, soil and water protection, wildlife habitat creation and protection, natural beauty, and other important resource activities.

Resource specialists with the North Carolina Division of Forest Resources as well as professional consulting foresters provide land management planning services to non-industrial forest landowners.

Water Quality

The State of North Carolina develops a Water Supply Plan for Western North Carolina to assure the availability of adequate supplies of good quality water to protect public health and support economic growth. The state also provides assistance in the development of Local Water Supply Plans, which project present and future water supplies and water use.

The North Carolina Division of Water Quality (DWQ) develops a basin-wide water quality plan which is a non-regulatory, watershed-based approach to restoring and protecting the quality of Western North Carolina’s surface waters. The goals of basin-wide planning are to identify water quality problems and restore full use to impaired waters, identify and protect high-value resource waters, and protect unimpaired waters while allowing for reasonable economic growth.

Basin-wide water quantity and quality plans are in place and updated every five years for each of the major river basins in the region: the Hiawassee, the Little Tennessee, the French Broad, the Watauga, the Broad, and the Catawba.

The most imperative water quality concerns in Western North Carolina include unacceptable rates of sedimentation (resulting from land clearing activities, loss of riparian vegetation, rural roads, and livestock grazing on stream banks), straight pipes and failing septic systems, and mining activities.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), and many other federal and state agencies conduct extensive chemical monitoring at fixed locations on large rivers and streams around the region. A regional focus is applied to study status and trends in water, sediment, and biota. Private entities such as universities, watershed associations, environmental groups, and permitted dischargers also conduct water quality monitoring, as do the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians and local governments, such as city and county environmental offices.

The Volunteer Water Information Network was initiated at the University of North Carolina at Asheville in January 1990 to provide monitoring of the French Broad River watershed. Data is collected monthly at most sites and includes pH, alkalinity, turbidity, suspended solids, conductivity, nutrients, and heavy metals. The program has expanded from 27 sites in Buncombe County to over 250 sites on streams, rivers, and lakes in Western North Carolina and beyond.

Air Quality

Air quality affects the health and well-being of humans, wildlife, and vegetation. Forests are negatively impacted by gaseous waste products, such as sulfur and nitrogen dioxide, as well as ozone. Common sources of these pollutants are coal-fired power plants, industrial manufacturing sources, and on-road and off-road vehicles.

Air pollution can lead to foliar injury, decreased nutrient availability, reduced carbohydrate production, lower vigor, and decreased growth in trees. The main ecosystems at risk in the mountains due to air pollution, however, are aquatic ecosystems. Reduction of ozone and fine particulate matter will help to reduce deposition of acids and mercury.

Our region is fortunate in that it has been chosen as one of three areas across the United States (North Carolina, New York, Illinois-St. Louis, MO) to pilot the concept of integrating federal, state, and tribal air quality management requirements into a comprehensive Air Quality Management Plan (AQMP).

The North Carolina Department of Air Quality (NCDAQ) is developing a process to complete plans which address the control of multiple pollutants and air-related considerations, such as land use, transportation, energy, and climate change. NCDAQ is working with other state, federal, and local agencies, the energy and manufacturing community, interest groups, and the general public. Fifty-six mitigation measures have been developed for controlling and reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

The NCDAQ Air Monitoring Program tracks pollutant levels and airborne toxics. The ambient Air Quality Index compares local pollutant levels including ozone, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, sulfur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide, and lead.

The regional office in Asheville compiles and makes available data for Western North Carolina. The Air Toxics Analytical Support Team evaluates the concentrations of pollutants in a community or area in addition to providing rapid response to accidental chemical releases and their potential impacts on a community.