Data gathered up to 1990 suggest that water pollution problems existed throughout the Kentucky River Basin. Fecal coliform bacteria in streams was a widespread problem because of the inadequate treatment of municipal wastes, failing septic systems, and agricultural runoff. Iron, lead, manganese, mercury, and silver exceeded State standards and Federal guidelines for drinking water and aquatic life at most of the sample sites for a majority of samples. Aquatic life in many smaller streams in the Knobs region was reduced by chloride discharges from oil and gas operations, according to the Kentucky Division of Water. Organic enrichment and high nutrient loads from waste-water treatment plants and farms reduced aquatic life in the Blue Grass region. Several locations were affected by unknown toxins, and detectible levels of heavy metals and the organic pesticides chlordane, aldrin, dieldrin, and DDT were found in fish tissues from the Kentucky River.
In the Kentucky Environmental Management Plan, 1990-92, the Division of Water identified several water-quality issues: the timely issuance of permits and assuring that permits were complied with; improving the control of toxins and chlorides; responding to the proliferation of package waste-water treatment plants and combined sewer/storm water systems; assuring compliance with new, more stringent drinking-water requirements; improving the monitoring network; improving the Wild Rivers Program; and responding to cuts in Federal funding. To address these issues and meet the demands of new regulations and programs required an increase in personnel and funding of about 50 percent.
An increasing number of actual and potential pollutants are being identified and regulated. The Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection recognized that the current regulatory approach could not be indefinitely sustained. Environmental protection to date has focused on treating air and water emissions at the end of the pipe or safely disposing of waste after it is produced. We are discovering that the superior approach is to eliminate or reduce waste before it is generated.
The Department also recognized that transforming waste streams is often counterproductive. Reducing pollutants in water discharges may increase the land disposal problem. Burning wastes reduces the quantity for land disposal, but may increase toxic concentrations of solids to be disposed of, or produce unacceptable air pollutants. Waste cannot be made to disappear, but must be dispersed or diluted by the environment. Excessive concentrations of waste may produce irreversible damage to the environment.
The severity of water-quality problems in many parts of the Kentucky River Basin has been reduced during the past 20 years. Brine discharges from oil and gas operations have reportedly been reduced. Chronic problems at some waste-water treatment plants, such as the Lexington facility on Town Branch, have diminished. It is clear, however, that despite the best efforts of such agencies as the Division of Water and the Kentucky Nature Preserves Commission, water-quality problems in the basin continue to be widespread and persistent.
Information Circular 37
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Carey, Daniel I., "Water Quality in the Kentucky River Basin" (1992). Kentucky Geological Survey Information Circular. 47.