Learn to Love the River

Discover what makes the French Broad River so special and learn about the many ways it connects our community.


In previous issues we’ve gone over nutrients, pollution, and life in our streams and rivers. Did you know that there are other, invisible things that can also be in the water which have a big impact on its health? Testing the chemistry of water and even the land near it can tell you a lot about what’s happening with those streams and rivers. In this issue we’ll go over chemical testing and why it's important. We hope you enjoy and learn something new!


Chemical Testing


What does it mean to test the chemistry of water? While it can sound complicated, all you are doing is taking measurements of different properties of the water and certain things that you can find in the water. Testing these chemical components gives you a snapshot look at the health of a stream at a certain point in time. When looking at the chemistry of a body of water you might test for dissolved oxygen, temperature, turbidity, nitrates, phosphates, and pH.

Nitrates and phosphates are nutrients that can impact life in the water. As we talked about in the Nutrients and Eutrophication issue, too much of these nutrients can cause increased growth of algae. Too much algae leads to changes in dissolved oxygen and water temperature. Turbidity is a measure of how cloudy the water is with sediment, so the cloudier it is the more turbid the water. A lot of sediment in the water can lower the dissolved oxygen and increase the water temperature. Click here to watch Claire Cambardella with the Chesapeake Bay Foundation talk about water quality and run some chemical tests on a stream. Some of the equipment Claire uses can make it difficult to test the water yourselves at home, but you can actually test the pH of different liquids using red cabbages! Check out a video below from Teach Engineering to see the process.


Land Use


How we take care of our land impacts our soil and water. For example, if we use lots of chemicals and fertilizers on land, these substances can leak into the soil and contaminate water sources. On the other hand, if we take great care of our land by planting diverse vegetation and using organic materials, we can support a healthy ecosystem. While it is best to prevent contaminating water and soil to begin with, there are successful ways to remediate soil. Soil remediation is a way of correcting and restoring damaged soil to make it healthy and fertile again.

We need healthy soil to ensure biodiversity of plants, support thriving animal populations, and grow healthy food crops. There are many ways we can test our soil to determine if it is fit for growing food. For example, we can test for soil composition, looking for sand, silt, and clay. We can test the pH, alkalinity of soil, nutrients, and we can evaluate the organic material of the soil. These measurements can give us an idea of how healthy our soil is and how viable it is for growing crops and various other plants. Click here to see how you can conduct these soil test experiments at home.

In extreme cases, if the soil is polluted with dangerous chemicals, bioremediation can be a great option to restore the soil to a healthy state. RiverLink’s future Karen Cragnolin Park is a site that has undergone several years of bioremediation. As a former junkyard, this land’s soil was heavily polluted. Now, the land has been revitalized and will soon be the perfect riverside spot for a family-friendly park!


The French Broad River- Water Quality


One question that comes up frequently when discussing the French Broad River is, can we swim in it? On a sunny summer day, we see hundreds of people tubing, kayaking, and paddleboarding the river. While we highly encourage folks to get out and enjoy the beauty of the river, there are important precautions and safety measures to keep in mind before making a trip.

There are lots of places where you can check the water quality online. One great place to check is the Swim Guide, updated by MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper. On this website, you can type in the location you’d like to swim or float and check to see if the water quality meets safe standards. Thanks to lots of awesome volunteers and MountainTrue’s French Broad Riverkeeper, we have this data available to us to determine if it is safe to get into the water. Volunteers take weekly water samples to be tested for E. coli, which is a dangerous bacteria that can be found in the water. High rainfall events and hot temperatures are usually when this bacteria is highest, and therefore it is not a good time to swim. Additionally, if the water is murky it can carry dangerous debris and pollutants.

There are lots of safety precautions to take when going into water or the outdoors. Make sure to be safe and check ahead to determine the weather and the water quality! If all is clear, go out and have a splendid river adventure!


A Little Dose of Inspiration


The 5th grade students at Isaac Dickson Elementary had lessons on marine debris and plastic pollution and picked up litter and trash with RiverLink near their school this past fall. They didn’t stop there though! Small student groups created public service announcements to spread the knowledge of what they learned and encourage others to keep plastics and trash out of our waterways. Click the button below to watch their PSA's!


Staying connected to the river and each other.

We are thinking of you all in these uncertain times and hope you are staying healthy and safe! Thanks to your generous support we are able to continue our Education, Water Quality and Land Conservation programs, but we couldn't do it without you!