French Broad River Facts

The French Broad River is classified as “Class B” waters; meaning that it is recognized by the State of North Carolina where frequent and organized human body contact, such as swimming, is occurring.

  • The French Broad got its name as a result of French settlement in this region. “Broad” was a common generic term for rivers.
  • The French Broad basin or watershed is composed of 2,830 square miles of land in the mountains of North Carolina.
  • The main stem (the main river called the French Broad from Rosman, North Carolina to the Tennessee/North Carolina border ) is 117 miles long.
  • 25 municipalities are served by the French Broad River.
  • 10 percent of all streams monitored in the French Broad River watershed are impaired (which means they don’t support the uses identified – such as swimming).
  • The French Broad River watershed serves as a drinking water source to over 1 million people.
  • The entire French Broad River watershed involves 8 counties of North Carolina:
    • Transylvania – this is where the French Broad begins.
    • Henderson – Residents of Henderson county and Buncombe county obtain drinking water from a facility near the French Broad river.
    • Buncombe
    • Madison
  • The Nolichucky, Toe, and Pigeon Rivers also feed the French Broad which includes the counties of:
    • Avery
    • Haywood
    • Mitchell
    • Yancey
  • The French Broad river does not end, however, at the North Carolina line. The French Broad River continues into Tennessee and feeds Douglas Lake and the drinking water of people in Tennessee.
  • The French Broad merges with the Holston River east of Knoxville to form the TN river.
  • The French Broad Basin contributes 40 percent of all nutrients and 25 percent of all phosphorus entering the Tennessee River at Chattanooga, TN. These nutrients flow on to the Mississippi River and eventually to the Gulf of Mexico. The Gulf of Mexico has a history of hypoxia issues due to large contributions of nutrient loads flowing into it from the Mississippi. This hypoxia issue results in the suffocation of any living creature requiring oxygen from the Gulf.
  • Land uses of the French Broad watershed
    • Forest = 50%
    • Agriculture = 17%
    • Urban/other = 34%
  • Major Water Quality Issues
    • Sedimentation
    • Streambank erosion
    • Loss of riparian vegetation
    • Urban and agricultural runoff
    • Development
  • It is speculated that the French Broad River watershed is home to the largest Great Blue Heron population in the world.
  • The French Broad River watershed is home to the endangered Appalachian Elktoe mussel. It grows to 3 inches in length. The mussel requires moderate to fast paced flows that are well oxygenated and are free from gravelly or rocky stream bottoms and where the stream banks are well vegetated with trees and shrubs.
  • The French Broad River watershed is home to the endangered Mountain Sweet Pitcher Plant. This carnivorous perennial herb reaches heights of 29 inches. See attached fact sheet for more information.
  • The French Broad River watershed is home to the endangered Bog Turtle. It is the smallest turtle in North America, rarely exceeding three or four inches in length and weighing only about four ounces. There are two distinct populations of the bog turtle separated by 250 miles. The northern population is found in New York and Massachusetts south to Maryland. The southern population extends from southwestern VA to western NC.
  • There are approximately 44 threatened, endangered or rare species for the French Broad River watershed in Buncombe County.
  • There are approximately 15 threatened, endangered or rare species for the French Broad River watershed in Madison County.
  • There are approximately 28 threatened, endangered or rare species for the French Broad River watershed in Henderson County.
  • There are approximately 36 threatened, endangered or rare species for the French Broad River watershed in Transylvania County.


North Carolina Department of Environment and Natural Resources.
“The French Broad” by Wilma Dykeman.
North Carolina State University Cooperative Extension Service.
US Geological Survey Circular 1205.

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"The French Broad River is the third oldest river in the world."

Blue Ridge Heritage National Heritage Area