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Clean Water Non-Profit Seeks Stream Monitoring Volunteers

Clean Water Expected in East Tennessee, a group started by raft guides in response to pollution on the Pigeon River, is applying for a third year of funding to continue a stream monitoring project on the neighboring Nolichucky River. The grant was awarded in 2015 and 2016 by Patagonia, an outdoor gear and clothing company based in California. Clean Water Expected in East TN (CWEET), pronounced “sweet”, requested grant funding from Patagonia in 2014 after a controversial wastewater discharge permit was issued for US Nitrogen, a manufacturer of liquid ammonium nitrate, a substance used in the production of explosives.

The group is seeking a dedicated volunteer to conduct stream monitoring on the Nolichucky and Pigeon Rivers. To date, the clean water group has gathered data on the Nolichucky River such as chemical water analysis and a benthic index of macroinvertebrate species. Macroinvertebrates or “river bugs” as the organization refers to them, are small organisms that commonly live in rivers, streams, and wetlands, Some species include dragonfly nymph, worms, snails, beetles, leeches, mayflies, and caddisflies. These river bugs are useful indicators of the health or condition of rivers and streams. They respond to many kinds of pollution, including chemical pollution and physical disturbance to the landscape around the water body. Because of their range of sensitivities to pollution they are commonly used to determine water quality and to develop water quality standards.

According to CWEET’s community organizer, Amelia Taylor, water quality on the Nolichucky River appears to be good. She said that “we have gotten several rounds of data collected both upstream and downstream of US Nitrogen’s discharge pipe before the company started its production. All the data indicates that before US Nitrogen began polluting the Nolichucky River, the quality was meeting EPA drinking water standards for nitrogen, ammonia, and nitric acid levels. Those are all chemicals that US Nitrogen uses in their manufacturing process to create explosives used in mountaintop removal coal mining which is a devastating practice that has destroyed entire watersheds. It will be interesting to see what the data reflects now that they have actually begun production. Of course, we all hope it stays good, but considering the brief history US Nitrogen has had in our community, some riverside landowners have their doubts.”

CWEET is currently seeking a limited number of volunteers to commit to at least 1 years participation in the water quality monitoring project. Volunteers will be trained to conduct a biological index of the river’s macroinvertebrate population and to properly capture chemical samples. The training will be led by Asheville, NC’s Environmental Quality Institute Stream Monitoring Information Exchange, which has been gathering data on various rivers and streams in the region for the last 10 years. Volunteers must be available to attend a Saturday, September 18th training in Asheville, NC and for field work in the Spring and Fall of 2017.

In addition to volunteers, the organization is also in need of a boat for their project. “One of the more challenging aspects of the program has been our ability to actually get out into the Nolichucky River”, said the organization’s coordinator, Tracey Gilbert. CWEET is a federally listed non-profit organization that can accept tax-deductible donations. They are hoping someone in the region can donate kayaks, a canoe, or a john boat. “If we owned a boat then it would cut out one of the more complicated aspects of the project. Members of the community have graciously allowed us to borrow boats for the stream monitoring project but it can be difficult to coordinate all the right people at the right time. Our project is extremely dependent on water levels in the Nolichucky, so our volunteers have to be flexible with their time as a rain event can cause for rescheduling of the testing. If CWEET owned a boat I know it would make it easier for us to just get out there and get the work done”, said Tracey Gilbert.

Since the organization began in 2002 its work has evolved to focus on the needs of rural appalachian communities with a emphasis on watersheds across the region. Some of the groups most recent work involves efforts to monitor water quality on the Nolichucky River but the organization has also been working with the Sustainable Equitable Agricultural Development board to provide the region with options for broadband internet offerings in rural areas, as well as offering arts and cultural activities that promote diversity in the Cocke County area.

CWEET will be accepting applications until September 8 for volunteers interested in participating in the stream monitoring project. The application can be found on their website at or by calling the non-profit at 865 453 8535.

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