The Environmental Quality Institute

Environmental Quality Institute Revived

Source: The Asheville Citizen-Times by Nanci Bompey, 12/07/2010

ASHEVILLE – Ann Marie Traylor wasn't ready to hang up her lab coat when UNC Asheville closed the Environmental Quality Institute last year.

Instead, the organization's head chemist worked with environmental group WNC Alliance to revive the institute, opening up in a new space on Fairview Road in mid-October and working toward establishing the organization as an independent nonprofit.

EQI, with Traylor as its head, is back providing monthly water quality data for dozens of sites in Western North Carolina and working toward getting the institute its own nonprofit status.

“It just seemed like a really valuable thing,” Traylor said. “This program had been functioning for 20 years so there was a big database of water quality information and there was still strong community support for it.”

EQI was started in the late 1980s by UNCA professor and environmental advocate Rick Maas.

The institute became a leading national center for data on lead contamination and performed water quality testing for local governments, nonprofits and other organizations. When it closed, EQI provided water quality data for about 200 sites in the region. It had four full-time employees and a handful of interns.

UNCA shuttered the institute in 2009 in response to state budget cuts, saying EQI was nonessential to student education. The center's lead poisoning prevention program moved to Warren Wilson College, and WNC Alliance stepped up to help Traylor revive the Volunteer Water Information Network, or VWIN.

WNC Alliance helped EQI secure grants for the program from the Community Foundation of Western North Carolina, Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation and UNCA. Today, Traylor is the institute's only employee and has one part-time intern.

The institute is back up to providing analysis of water quality data for nearly all of the sites it was testing before it closed and Traylor hopes to get other projects up and running.

The Buncombe County Soil and Water Conservation District had to forgo 10 months of water quality testing while the institute was closed.

The department used the data to get grants for performing work in Newfound watershed. It uses the bimonthly data, which it has been collecting for at least eight years, to monitor improvements it is making, said Jenn Beck, Newfound watershed coordinator.

Hendersonville nonprofit ECO: Environmental and Conservation Organization received a discounted rate from a private lab during the hiatus, but the cost was still twice of what the analysis costs at EQI.

Along with testing, EQI also provides organizations with annual reports and an analysis of all sites in WNC.

“It helps us to be able to look at what was going on in the streams and what actions needed to be taken to better protect them,” said ECO executive director David Weintraub. “From the bigger picture, multicounty level, there is nobody like that.”

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