By Joshua Blanco
Residents of Asheville and nearby areas can rest easy knowing Western North Carolina is home to some of the cleanest drinking water in the United States. Water from streams and mountain springs gushes into lakes surrounded by 22,000 acres of wilderness. These lakes, known as the North Fork (NFR) and Bee Tree (BTR) reservoirs, are protected by the City of Asheville.
Because access to such pristine water is rare, city officials like David Melton, Asheville’s water resources director, do not take it for granted. “We take the responsibility of protecting our watershed seriously, which is why most of the land is preserved in conservation easements, protected from development and pollution,” he says. Black Mountain and Swannanoa are supplied through the NFR, while Asheville and Candler get their water from both reservoirs. Before leaving the reservoir, the water undergoes a treatment process to ensure the best quality possible.
The process begins by adding chlorine to the water to initiate the disinfection process. Coagulant is then added to concentrate unwanted particles. After filtration, a second dose of chlorine is mixed in and, once the water leaves the clearwell, corrosion inhibitors and fluoride are added and the pH is adjusted accordingly. But for those living in South Asheville, Arden and Fletcher, the process is a little more complex.
Water for these areas is supplied by the Mills River, sourced mainly from the Pisgah National Forest. In this process, water is first moved to a storage reservoir to initiate the treatment process. An added benefit of this method comes during times of heavy rainfall, where runoff makes its way into the river. Instead of sourcing directly from the river, the reservoir water contains sediment that has already settled, allowing the plant to produce more water with less treatment. The Mills River facility uses ozone in addition to chlorine for added disinfection.
“Our residents have extremely high-quality water,” says water production/water quality division manager Leslie Carreiro. In addition to pure resources and vigorous treatment process, water quality is closely monitored. While many facilities test every few hours, Carreiro says the water moving through these facilities is tested every one or two hours, depending on the site.
Based on data released in the annual Water Quality Report for 2019, the efforts paid off. Of 150 possible contaminants, the eight found present were well within limits the EPA considers safe. Carreiro encourages people to get in touch with concerns. “If your water doesn’t taste good, we want to know that,” she says. “We want to make it right.”
The city conducts more than 200 water quality tests daily. Still, some remained worried their water may be infiltrated by unwanted elements like copper and lead, which are beyond the scope of city regulation; others prefer their water without flouride and chlorine. To this end, Carreiro suggests using a filter as an effective means of removing the latter.
For more information on your local water supply visit the water quality and advisories webpage at Asheville.gov. You can also visit the EPA website for related research and reports.