Volunteer Water Sampling is Key to Clean Water in Haywood County

By Jane Falkenstein | Jan 29, 2013
Photo by: Jane Falkenstein VWIN Accepting 2012 Volunteer of the Year Award from Haywood Waterways Association

Water quality data is critical for understanding the health of the Pigeon River watershed.  In addition, the data collection has to take place over a long period of time by consistent methods which are cost effective.  The need for this kind of stream water quality data collection led to the creation of the VWIN or Volunteer Water Information Network.  This network is a cooperative effort among several organizations to monitor water quality throughout Western North Carolina, to evaluate trends and the effects of changing land use.  In August of 1996, with funding from the Pigeon River Fund, Haywood Waterways Association began organizing the volunteer monitoring of 12 stream sites in the Pigeon River watershed. 


The VWIN Program in Haywood County is still going strong, with more sites added throughout the years.  In order to recognize the immensely important contribution of the VWIN volunteers, Haywood Waterways chose them, past and present, as the 2012 Volunteer of the Year at the Annual Membership Meeting and Dinner in December.  In addition, a donation of $100 was given on behalf of VWIN and its volunteers to the Pink Francis Memorial Scholarship Fund – something Haywood Waterways has consistently done since the fund was established in 2001.  For the past 16 years, over 50 VWIN volunteers have helped collect the data that is critical for understanding watershed health.  Today there are 22 active volunteers, the youngest at 30 years old and the oldest almost 99.  The data they have collected has been invaluable to maintaining and restoring the surface the water quality of the Pigeon River watershed. 


VWIN volunteers collect samples monthly.  These samples are then delivered to the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI).  EQI analyzes the water samples for 11 chemical parameters and prepares an annual report of the conditions at each sampling site.  This objective data gives a snap shot of existing conditions, as well as changes that occur over time.  Sixteen years of data has enabled Haywood Waterways and our partners to identify streams facing problems and then work together with landowners and other stakeholders to provide financial and technical solutions.  Through the VWIN Program, Haywood Waterways and our partners have found that the water quality in Haywood County varies greatly.  We have some of the best water in the State and we also have some of the worst.


Haywood County has the distinction of being the highest county east of the Mississippi River, with a county line that follows the highest mountain ridges: 19 peaks over 6,000 feet.  It is known as a headwaters community because all the water in Haywood County originates within the county from springs or as rainfall.  The Pigeon River is the main water source for agriculture, manufacturing, recreation, and drinking water in this county.  No other rivers or streams flow into Haywood County, which puts its residents in the unique position of having a lot of control over how clean we want our waterways to be.  The flip side is that we as Haywood County citizens must also bear the responsibility when our waterways become threatened and need our help to restore and protect them.


The primary culprit affecting waterways is sediment – dirt that washed off the land and into our waters when it rains.  Haywood Waterways uses the water quality information from the VWIN samples to help identify streams with water quality problems.  Once the streams are identified, we apply for grants to fund restoration projects to correct the problem.  Haywood Waterways is not a regulatory agency.  We work with willing landowners and with our partners to find the financial and technical resources needed to implement water quality improvement projects.


While comments from VWIN volunteers run the gamut, they all share a love for the water and a sense of responsibility for it.  One VWIN volunteer pointed out, “I get really discouraged when I see how people treat the creeks. At my site, among the other trash, there is a microwave in the creek. It's down a steep bank and I cannot retrieve it. This past Saturday when I took my sample, someone had dumped a half a dozen paint cans, some still containing paint, a container of used motor oil and an empty herbicide container.” 


Another volunteer looked at her experience from a different angle, saying "When we settled here 17 years ago, we were so impressed to learn that all of Haywood County's water originates inside the county, unlike many other parts of the country where the water supply is determined by what's happening somewhere else. And we are reminded every day of how blessed we are to have abundant, clean spring water at home. So joining the VWIN volunteers was a way for us to give something back.  Those two hours a month don't require much of us, and we actually enjoy trekking down to the creek's and river's edge with our sample bottles. Besides, that climb back up from the Pigeon River site motivates me to stay in shape. I want to keep doing this until I'm 80!"


 R.T. “Dick” Alexander, Haywood County’s oldest VWIN volunteer summed it up by saying, “Without the VWIN volunteers, we wouldn’t have the data we need to keep an eye on things when we can’t be there to watch what goes into our waterways.  They are the ones who do all the hard work, and I salute them all.”  With citizens like these at work, all residents in Haywood County have the best chance for clean, clear water in the future.  Haywood Waterways and our VWIN partners wouldn’t have it any other way.


If you’re interested in helping with VWIN, email Dave Dudek at daviddudek@bellsouth.net or call 828-926-1308, late afternoon or early evening.  For more information about Haywood Waterways Association and the VWIN Program, go to www.haywoodwaterways.org , www.info@haywoodwaterways.org, or find us on Facebook.  You can also call 828-476-4667 or 877-700-7373 (toll free.).  For those of you who don’t feel that sampling is your thing, you can make a tax-exempt donation to Haywood Waterways Association and request that your funding go to the VWIN Program.


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