The Kentucky River Basin's nearly 7,000 square miles in 42 counties contain 16,000 miles of streams. From a hill in Letcher County 3,250 feet above sea level, and the Kentucky River runs down the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field, Knobs, and Bluegrass Regions to the Ohio River at 420 feet above sea level.
Along the way the river washes rocks laid down as sediments over a period of 150 million years—past the 300-million-year-old sandstone, siltstone, shale, and Camp Nelson limestones at the base of the Kentucky River Palisades in central Kentucky.
Residents draw about 100 million gallons of water per day from streams and reservoirs in the basin. The Kentucky River's 14 dams create 9,700 acres of pools with over 100,000 acre-feet of storage for drinking-water supplies. On average, about 5,400 million gallons per day (mgd) flow into the Ohio, but about once every 10 years, only 9.4 mgd will flow a the mouth for a week. This variability in flow affects water users and stream life.
Man-made lakes cover 8,200 acres: The largest are Herrington, 2,940 acres; Buckhorn, 1,230 acres; and Carr Fork, 710 acres. There are 33,600 acres of lacustrine and palustrine wetlands in the basin.
More than 1,125 miles of streams in the basin do not fully support designated uses for warm-water aquatic habitat, primary contact recreation, secondary contact recreation, or fish consumption. Most streams have not been assessed. The percentage of assessed streams not supporting use was: warm-water aquatic habitat (42%); fish consumption (26%); primary contact recreation (46%). More than 335 miles of streams have been declared special use waters: either exceptional waters, or reference reaches. More than 2,075 miles of the basin have been designated as priority watersheds, impacted by pathogens, nutrients, habitat alterations, siltation, low dissolved oxygen, and metals.
Map and Chart 188
Digital Object Identifier (DOI)
Carey, Daniel I., "Kentucky River Basin" (2009). Kentucky Geological Survey Map and Chart. 187.