Friends, the watershed of these mountains needs your help. Whether you’re a local, or a visitor to this area, you may have noticed the river of late. You may have even heard someone say, “Boy, the Tuck sure is muddy today.”

Friends, the river shouldn’t look like this. Our beloved streams and rivers should never be orange.

Never, ever.

You don’t see orange water inside the National Park Boundary after a downpour. In fact, when it rains one notices a small amount of sand swirling with the additional water volume.

When the creek rises inside undeveloped areas, we see a beautiful stream filled with life-sustaining water. We can still see rocks, still see trout swimming happily along waiting for those delicious invertebrates they require in order to live.

Simply put, muddy water is a death sentence for those tiny critters trout love. And without tasty critters to eat. Well . . .

Jackson County likes to say it is the “Trout Capital.” But right now, muddy water washes downstream at lightning speed carrying silt, gravel and Lord-knows what else. Ignoring this environmental issue means we are virtually kicking the can down the road, or perhaps we’re watching it float downstream, all while hoping visitors to the area believe that orange is the new clean water color.

Failure to address water quality is hypocrisy at its finest. Promoting this area for water recreation while ignoring the condition of the river is ethically wrong.

I grew up in the water. First in the creek, then the river and the lake. Mountain people grow up learning to become good stewards of the water and caretakers of all the critters who call it home. I am a fisherman’s daughter, an angler’s sister and I’ve been known to beat both of the men in my family come weigh-in time.

Fishermen of the area, where is your outrage about the condition of the Mighty Tuckaseigee? I have been waiting for a letter in the newspaper, a petition, a Facebook Post, anything.

I’ve been looking for a team of y’all standing alongside River Road decked out in your waders and holding signs saying, “ENOUGH!”

Fishermen of the mountains, you have broken my heart. You have let the river down. You are officially called out.

For the non-fishermen in the area, I know I can count on you, especially the visitors whose voice carries so much more weight than my own. You may be the only hope we have to clean up the river.

Let’s begin at the source: your driveway. Without a deep (clean) ditch, rainwater cannot travel unimpeded. One single piece of gravel, and then another begins tumbling down the ditch picking up a leaf (or ten), a stick (or twenty), and before you know it, the ditch is clogged. Water, not caring that you haven’t cleaned your ditch, begins cutting a new path. Locals call it “jumping the ditch.” This water leaves the clogged ditch and rushes down the middle of your gravel drive. Cutting a new path deeper and deeper, until your vehicle drags bottom on the way home. All that expensive gravel is now deposited in your neighbor’s lawn, your neighbor’s ditch, and everyone’s beloved river.

Want to make a positive impact? Clean your ditch. Clean your neighbor’s ditch. And for the love of all that is holy, install a ditch alongside your road if you don’t have one. Simply put, water must have a clear path by which to travel. If you don’t clear a path, Mother Nature will.

Storm runoff from construction and new development can also contribute to the ruination of our rivers.

Silt fences are required. Period. In an age of “see-something-say-something,” the moment your neighbor breaks ground without a silt fence installed, snatch up the phone and call Code Enforcement at 586-7560.

Straw bales and old hay also catch sediment before it reaches streams. I’ve chucked a bale of hay in my own ditch after the neighbors improperly installed their silt fencing. You see, each of us have a responsibility, because water is life.

Much of the “mud” we see in the river can be caught at the source in what the Department of Transportation calls “check dams.” A check dam works because it captures silt. Rain passes through; rocks, dirt, leaves and trash stay behind. The Department of Transportation has installed many check dams in this area. However, as with driveway ditches, these dams must be maintained. If you notice muddy water and gravel escaping from these dams, dial the DOT at 631-1148 and ask them to clean the check dams.

Gravel, traveling forcefully across the roads, also cuts deep gashes in the riverbanks. Each rain brings a deeper cut and more mud that chokes the life out of the critters trout must have to survive, which is why you have a responsibility to report your findings.

The area needs legions of passionate water lovers just like you. I’m speaking to retirees, parents, grandparents and especially the youth of this county: the college kids, middle schoolers. We cannot continue to promote our area as “trout loving” when we do nothing to protect the streams. If you’ve participated in any river clean-up, if you see what I see along River Road, I need you to document the source of erosion. We need photos, GPS locations and physical addresses.

Because muddy water often begins upstream, follow the water upstream to the polluting source.

Collect all the data you can and email that information to the Watershed Association of the Tuckaseigee River (WATR) : kenbrown@watrnc.org.

Need the science behind my concerns? Visit watrnc.org for more information about the impact of stormwater runoff. Make a point to do something today, before more rain falls.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author. Renea Winchester is the author of “Farming, Friends & Fried Bologna Sandwiches.” Reach her at butterflycovenotes@gmail.com.