Why do we monitor?

Results from our monitoring are used to pinpoint areas of need in the watershed, assess the effectiveness of our projects, and for educational purposes.  We work with landowners and community members on a mutually beneficial, voluntary basis to address water quality concerns.

What tests do we perform?

  • Fecal Coliform: This is a bacteria group found in the digestive tract of humans and animals. It is not neccesarily harmful itself, but its presence is an indication of potential pathogenic, disease causing, bacteria in the water. It can enter the water through animal waste and septic discharge. In streams where it is present in high enough levels, swimming and consuming fish may pose a health risk.

  • Ammonia (NH3) and Nitrates (NO3): These are common substances in household chemicals and the main ingredients in fertilizers. They most commonly find their way into the water through agricultural run off. Nitrates can also come from septic tanks. They are also produced in nature by the Nitrogen Cycle. Both of these substances at high enough levels cause eutrophication in which they stimulate the growth of algae in the water and reduce the level of oxygen available for fish and other aquatic organisms. Ammonia, even in low concentrations can be toxic to fish.

  • Phosphates (PO4): These are found in fertilizers and pesticides as well as human and animal waste. They also cause eutrophication at high enough levels. Natural sources of phosphates include rocks and animal waste.

  • Turbidity: This tells us how cloudy the water is. The most common causes of turbidity are erosion from agriculture and construction.

  • Total Suspended Solids: This is a measure of all particles that will not pass through a filter. They can be due to erosion, eutrophication, sewage discharge and industrial waste to name a few. They present a problem for aquatic life as they absorb sunlight and cause an increase in temperature and subsequently lower oxygen levels. As suspended solids settle to the bottom and blanket the river bed, they can smother the eggs of fish and aquatic insects, and suffocate newly hatched insect larvae

  • Conductivity: This is a measure of the ability of water to pass an electircal current. Results can indicate the presence of inorganic dissolved solids such as chloride, nitrate, and phosphate as well as organic compounds such as oil and alcohol. It is useful to establish a baseline of conductivity for a stream, so that measurements that vary from the baseline can be analyzed further.

  • pH: In order to support aquatic life, it is important that water neither be too acidic nor alkaline. The largest variety of aquatic animals prefer a range of 6.5-8.0. pH outside this range reduces the diversity in the stream. Changes in pH can be caused by acid rain, the surrounding geology, and wastewater. As with conductivity, it is important to establish a baseline, as a change in pH may indicate sources of pollution.


On a regular basis, we see fecal coliform numbers that exceed the state's thresholds for impairment in various creeks of the Ivy River Watershed. The Madison County side tends to trend higher than the Buncombe County side in both fecal coliform and chemical parameters. This can be attributed to the fact that a large portion of the watershed flows through Pisgah National Forest on the Buncombe side. Water here, is some of the healthiest water in the state. Sites in the watershed also trend high on total suspended solids, turbidity, and conductivity. These ratings are mostly attributed to high sediment levels.

As a municipal water supply source, the Division of Water Quality for the state periodically performs testing in certain areas of the watershed. Due to the presence of fecal colifrom, the following areas are considered impaired waters under section 303(d) of the Clean Water Act and are listed with the EPA:

  • Ivy Creek from source to Little Ivy Creek at Adkins Branch

  • Ivy Creek from Adkins Branch to a point 0.6 mile downstream of Adkins Branch (Town of Mars Hill water supply intake)

  • Little Ivy Creek from State Route 1547 to Ivy Creek

  • Little Ivy Creek from California Creek to State Route 1547

Previous impairments in the watershed have been for lack of benthic integrity, but recent macro invertebrate sampling shows most sites in the watershed to have at least a good-fair rating.

Interactive Water Quality Map for WNC

Through a network of volunteers, the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI) monitors the health of rivers and streams around Western North Carolina. EQI does lab work and analysis on our samples. They also conduct sampling of macroinvertebrates for biological monitoring.  View the results from the watershed and the region on this interactive map.


2016 Water quality rating for sites in the Ivy river watershed

The rating is attributed to each site based on average results from monthly samples. Each tested parameter is graded based on comparisons to regional averages and then an overall rating is assigned to the site factoring in each parameter. This analysis includes all parameters listed above (e.g. conductivity, pH, etc.) except fecal coliform.