Working together to improve the water quality in our rivers and streams

Kentucky’s rivers and streams provide abundant habitat for aquatic life, numerous opportunities for recreation, scenic beauty and a source of drinking water for our communities. Across our state, small streams flow directly into larger bodies of water. These streams, rivers and lakes provide us with more than 100 different species of fish and other aquatic life.

But many of Kentucky’s streams and rivers are polluted, are not safe for swimming or fishing, and do not provide a suitable environment for sensitive aquatic species. Water pollution is primarily caused by human activity—wastewater, chemicals, trash and soil can run off the land and end up in our waterways.

(Click for larger view)

A watershed is the area of land where all of the water that is under it or drains off of it goes into the same place. Watersheds cross local, county, state and national boundaries. In the United States, 2,267 watersheds spread across millions of square miles. On a large scale, a river basin is the land area that is drained by a river and its tributaries—there are many watersheds within river basins.

The state of Kentucky is comprised of 12 river basins within its approximate 24 million acres: Big Sandy, Green, Kentucky, Licking, Little Sandy, Lower Cumberland, Mississippi, Salt, Tennessee, Tradewater, Tygarts and Upper Cumberland. Within the 12 river basins in Kentucky, smaller subbasins exist. Central Kentucky includes the Lower Kentucky River subbasin, which spans portions of 25 counties.

The Dix River is part of the Lower Kentucky River subbasin and is highly polluted. This river and its tributaries have been found to have elevated levels of E.coli, a pathogen that can cause gastroenteritis and other health complications in humans. Some areas of the watershed have exceptionally high levels of E.coli that make streams unsafe for fishing, swimming, wading, and other kinds of water recreation. Sites recently sampled averaged at least four times the limit for E. coli. While livestock farms contribute to E.coli contamination in rural streams, extensive water testing and analysis has shown that contamination in the Dix River watershed is primarily from human waste sources, likely from failing septic systems and straight pipes.

Dix River Watershed (Click for larger view)

To help improve water quality in the Dix River watershed, Bluegrass Greensource offers homeowner workshops in Boyle, Garrard and Lincoln counties. Participants will learn about local watersheds and water quality, how to properly care for septic systems, and how to identify problems with septic systems.

Following each workshop, participants can apply for a cost-share grant for septic system repairs or for a free septic tank pumpout. To be eligible for the grants, homeowners must reside within the Dix River watershed in Boyle, Garrard or Lincoln counties. The next free septic system workshops will be held in October in Garrard, Lincoln and Boyle counties. Visit this fall for additional information.

This program is funded by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under section 319(h) of the Clean Water Act, through the Kentucky Division of Water.
Bridget Abernathy Photo

Bridget Abernathy is an outreach specialist at Bluegrass Greensource, focusing on the Live Green Lexington Partners Program and the Dix River Watershed Septic Assistance Program. Before joining Bluegrass Greensource, she worked in the Stewardship Program with Kentucky Division of Forestry. Bridget received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky.

This article appeared in KY Forward on August 6, 2015.

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