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About Muddy Water Watch

Today the largest challenge to providing clean drinking water may come as a surprise. Dirt.

Dirt is the most common pollutant in America’s waterways. While natural erosion accounts for 30% of the dirt in our waters, 70% comes from human activities.

Sediment pollution causes $16 billion in environmental damage every year.

How does this happen? How does dirt get into our waters?

When it rains, mud flows from poorly protected construction sites, logging activities and farms into our streams and rivers. Silt spells suffocating death for the plants and wildlife in our streams, preventing natural vegetation from growing, damaging fish gills and smothering their eggs. Silt fills up storm drains and ditches that carry water away from roads and homes, increasing chances of flooding. It increases the cost of treating drinking water, up to 60% over the past 10 years, and can cause odor and taste problems.

When sediment builds up it reduces the space available for storing water, increasing our vulnerability to drought.  When our waterways fill up with dirt and muddy, murky water it makes navigation and recreational use more difficult and hazardous, requiring expensive dredging, affecting tourism and reducing nearby property values.

Dirt is expensive for taxpayers, but there are other costs as well. Dirty, muddy water carries other toxic substances like bacteria, oil and grease, heavy metals, pesticides and fertilizers that can affect our health. Nutrients transported by sediment can trigger algae blooms that release toxins and can make swimmers sick.

Muddy Water Watch Citizen Patrol Program trains people to monitor and evaluate their local construction sites. As a member of the Muddy Water Watch team, you can help by attending trainings to become a certified Muddy Water Watcher, or simply by taking a photograph or short video of problem construction sites in your neighborhood and uploading them to the Muddy Water Watch web site.

Your images will help us show the widespread impacts dirt is having on our nation’s lifeblood and help ensure clean water for future generations.

Please register today and start helping get the dirt out of our waters.

Frequently Asked Questions

Sediment is the loose sand, clay, silt and other soil particles that settle at the bottom of a body of water. Sediment can come from soil erosion or from the decomposition of plants and animals. Wind, water and ice help carry these particles to rivers, lakes and streams.

Facts about Sediment 

  • The Environmental Protection Agency lists sediment as the most common pollutant in rivers, streams, lakes and reservoirs.
  • While natural erosion produces nearly 30 percent of the total sediment in the United States, accelerated erosion from human use of land accounts for the remaining 70 percent.
  • The most concentrated sediment releases come from construction activities, including relatively minor home-building projects such as room additions and swimming pools.
  • Sediment pollution causes $16 billion in environmental damage annually.
  • Sweep sidewalks and driveways instead of hosing them off. Washing these areas results in sediment and other pollutants running off into streams, rivers and lakes.
  • Use weed-free mulch when reseeding bare spots on your lawn, and use a straw erosion control blanket if restarting or tilling a lawn.
  • Notify local government officials when you see sediment entering streets or streams near a construction site.
  • Put compost or weed-free mulch on your garden to help keep soil from washing away.
  • Avoid mowing within 10 to 25 feet from the edge of a stream or creek. This will create a safe buffer zone that will help minimize erosion and naturally filter stormwater runoff that may contain sediment.
  • Either wash your car at a commercial car wash or on a surface that absorbs water, such as grass or gravel.

Because Muddy Water Watch (MWW) is a citizen volunteer project, we would like to utilize the diverse backgrounds and personalities of citizens active in our communities who are concerned about the impacts that growth and construction runoff are having on our waters. We realize that not every interested volunteer will feel comfortable monitoring construction sites, but don't let that discourage you from getting involved.  We have come up with a list of jobs below that will help make MWW successful. You can contribute to changing the way construction sites are developed and maintained in North Carolina.

Muddy Water Watcher

  • Monitor construction sites regularly
  • Take photos of sediment running off construction sites into creeks, streams, and streets
  • Fill out Site Report Cards and your Site Journals
  • Contact local inspector if problem is serious
  • Participate in training sessions once a month
  • Share results and feedback with a Stream keeper
  • Visit sites after a heavy rainfall
  • Upload photos and Site Report Cards to the Muddy Water Watch web site
  • When necessary contact state and local officials
  • When necessary contact your local and state government leaders.

Volunteer Pilot and Photographer

  • Pilots who have access to a plane will take volunteer photographers up to identify trouble areas after rain events
  • Photographers will take photos of these areas, targeting sediment-laden water and trying to track where the sediment is coming from
  • Alert Flier Distributors and Watchers as to areas they should be targeting
  • Send pictures to inspectors and/or appropriate government officials

Communications/Media Volunteers

  • Help other volunteers with evaluations and sending out photos and letters to elected officials
  • Aid the MWW organizer in their watershed in writing effective, targeted articles

Stream Keeper

  • Responsible for aiding other volunteers within their “jurisdiction” in most aspects of MWW
  • Mentor volunteers who come into the project late by filling them in on information and answering questions
  • Work with web maintenance/data managers in uploading photos and Site Report Cards
  • Help flier distributors target areas
  • Work with pilots and photographers in facilitating air time that works with both volunteers’ schedules
  • Patrol construction sites and take photos
  • Build relationships with inspectors in their area so they can be the spokesperson for their group of volunteers
  • Patrol creeks and streams in their region looking for impaired waters and tracking the source of pollution
  • Work with project organizers in their watershed to help recruit and train volunteers

Sediment entering stormwater degrades the quality of water for drinking, wildlife and the land surrounding streams in the following ways:

  • Sediment fills up storm drains and catch basins to carry water away from roads and homes, which increases the potential for flooding.
  • Water polluted with sediment becomes cloudy, preventing animals from seeing food.
  • Murky water prevents natural vegetation from growing in water.
  • Sediment in stream beds disrupts the natural food chain by destroying the habitat where the smallest stream organisms live and causing massive declines in fish populations.
  • Sediment increases the cost of treating drinking water and can result in odor and taste problems.
  • Sediment can clog fish gills, reducing resistence to disease, lowering growth rates, and affecting fish egg and larvae development.
  • Nutrients transported by sediment can activate blue-green algae that release toxins and can make swimmers sick.
  • Sediment deposits in rivers can alter the flow of water and reduce water depth, which makes navigation and recreational use more difficult

Source: Environmental Protection Agency

In January 2005, the Upper Chattahoochee Riverkeeper (UCR) in Atlanta, Georgia started a project called Get the Dirt Out (GTDO) to study the effectiveness of Georgia's erosion control program.  UCR, along with partner GTDO groups, provided training workshops and educational materials designed for citizens, developers, and local governments on the Georgia Construction General Permit.  A successful two year project, GTDO held 30 workshops, trained over 500 state-wide participants, and visited more than 100 construction sites documenting compliance and logging complaints. 

Dean Naujoks, then the Upper Neuse Riverkeeper and currently Yadkin Riverkeeper, attended one of the workshops and realized how a project like GTDO would be extremely beneficial in North Carolina.  Thus, MWW came to be, borrowing the main ideas from GTDO and altering them to be in compliance with North Carolina laws and regulations. 

Now Muddy Water Watch is expanding to protect more and more waters around the country.