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Bill supported by Edwards, McGrady, gives a boost to water quality in Western North Carolina

Western North Carolina’s rivers and streams will get some help with cleanup and monitoring with the passage of a recent bill supported by local state legislators.

Sen. Chuck Edwards, R-Transylvania, included two important funding provisions for water quality testing and pollution clean-up efforts in House Bill 1087, aka, Water/Wastewater Public Enterprise Reform, which was passed unanimously by the House and Senate and signed into law in early July by Gov. Roy Cooper. The funding was originally included in the 2019-2020 state budget that Cooper vetoed.

The bill appropriates $200,000 to help the Department of Environmental Quality to respond to pollution spills, and $100,000 to Asheville-based MountainTrue's water quality testing on the French Broad, as well as other WNC rivers and streams. House Bill 1087 also appropriates $9 million from the One NC Fund to the newly established Viable Utility Reserve. The funds will be used to provide grants to distressed water infrastructure systems, assessments, inventories, or projects.

Hartwell Carson, the French Broad RiverKeeper, does weekly water quality sampling at 31 sites from April through September and shares that data with the DWR, and on the Swim Guide, to let people know which river access points have E. coli levels unsafe for swimming.

Those high pollution levels last year caught the attention of Edwards, who spoke with Carson on possible solutions. The first, Carson said, was more funding to expand the monitoring program.

Vetoed once, Carson said Sen. Edwards and Sen. Chuck McGrady, R-Henderson, “were amazingly able to get the money in this budget, which was incredibly hard to do because of the budget deficit and coronavirus, so it was surprising and very welcome news.”