Haywood County has some of the best water anywhere in North Carolina and the Southeastern United States. Unfortunately, we also have some of the worst. Haywood Waterways collects and maintains a growing database of water quality information that helps identify those streams that have water quality problems. Once potential issues are identified, the information is used to justify grant applications and find the financial and technical resources to identify the appropriate BMP and help the property owner. We are not a regulatory agency, nor do we report violators. We work with willing landowners to improve water quality in Haywood County for all to enjoy.

Data we collect include VWIN water chemistry, sediment, temperature, biological communities, and nonpoint source pollutant loading computer models.

Our State of the Watershed reports provides a summary of the data.

Volunteer Water Information Network (V.W.I.N.)
Collecting water quality data is critical for understanding the ‘health' of the watersheds we live in. To be useful, this information must be gathered over a long period of time and in a very consistent manner. The need for stream water quality data collection led to the formation of the Volunteer Water Information Network (VWIN). This network is a partnership of groups and individuals dedicated to preserving water quality in western North Carolina.

In 1990, volunteers began gathering water quality samples at 27 stream sites in Buncombe County. In August of 1996, with funding from the Pigeon River Fund, Haywood County began monitoring twelve stream sites in the Pigeon River watershed. More sites have been added since that time. Volunteers collect samples at the same time and day each month. These samples are then delivered to the Environmental Quality Institute (EQI). EQI analyzes the water samples for the following information: pH, alkalinity, turbidity, total suspended solids, conductivity, metals (copper, lead, zinc), and nutrients (orthophosphate, ammonia nitrogen, nitrate nitrogen). At the end of each year, EQI prepares a report summarizing the water quality conditions at each site. This information gives a snap shot of existing conditions, as well as changes that occur over time.

Through the VWIN Program, Haywood Waterways and our partners we have found the water quality in Haywood County streams vary greatly. We have some of the best water in North Carolina; we also have some of the worst!

VWIN Summary 1996-2012

Haywood Waterways is seeking VWIN volunteers. Contact Christine O'Brien at 828-476-4667 x11 or


Haywood County's number on water quality pollutant is sediment, or dirt that washes off the land and into streams each time it rains. We have been monitoring sediment in Haywood County streams since 2003 using several different methods. One method, nicknamed "bottles-on-a-stick" automatically collects water subsamples as stream levels rise. Other methods use automated samplers or involve pebble counts.
According to our data, the two primary sources are eroding stream banks and unpaved mountainside roads. As the natural landscape is covered with impervious, or non-absorbent, materials like concrete, more water washes into streams instead of being absorbed by the ground. This creates raging torrents in our waterways that can destroy stream banks. Because mountainside roads are typically on steeper slopes, they are highly susceptible to erosion, particularly if they are built on poor soils or the developer did not install a suitable stormwater control system.
Once sediment enters a stream it can harm aquatic wildlife. The fine sediment can clog the incurrent siphons of freshwater mussels, smother fish eggs, and fill in the otherwise open spaces between rocks – home for many aquatic insects.
Haywood County waterways are primarily "cold-water" streams, meaning they typically remain below 70° F. They support aquatic life that require low temperatures and lots of oxygen to survive, such as trout, darters, sculpin, stoneflies, and mayflies. Stream temperatures increase when streamside vegetation is removed and more sunlight reaches the water surface. A more significant source of this thermal pollution is near landscapes with lots of impervious surfaces, such as parking lots. On a hot summer day, the parking lot absorbs heat and can become very hot. When it rains, that heat energy is transferred from the parking lot to the closest stream. We have temperature probes in Richland Creek and Raccoon Creek that show both streams exceed 80° F in the summer. If that doesn't kill aquatic organisms, it can affect feeding and reproduction. That means smaller trout, less trout, or even no trout.
Benthic Macroinvertebrates and Fish
Collecting water chemistry data is critical for knowing what's in the water. However, we must look to the underwater creatures to understand how that chemistry affects water quality. Benthic macroinvertebrates and fish have limited escape routes and are thus exposed to whatever is in the water throughout their lives. Some animals love pollution, others hate it. By knowing what species are in the stream and their tolerance or intolerance for pollution, we can generate a picture of what water quality is like throughout the year, and whether or not to go swimming.

Benthic Macroinvertebrate Data Collected Through the SMIE Program

IPSI - Integrated Pollutant Source Identification
Haywood Waterways has obtained two IPSI databases from the Tennessee Valley Authority. The IPSI is a GIS-based computer model that can identify, quantify and compare the potential sources of nonpoint pollution in the Pigeon River Watershed and its subwatersheds.
One example of the IPSI's value is its measure of soil loss. The chart below shows the primary sources of sediment, Haywood County's number one water quality pollutant. Two sources (eroding stream banks and roads) were the two highest contributors in 1999 and 2006. Together they contribute over 70%, and most of the erosion occurs during periods of high stormwater runoff.