Our Home, Our Mission

Three rivers begin in Letcher County, Kentucky. The Kentucky, the Cumberland and the Big Sandy are all born on the high slopes of Pine Mountain, but before the rivers leave the county they are too polluted to wade in. Like the water, the people and the money flow out.

The Head of Three Rivers Project aims to clean up the water, and stem the tide of people and money.

Read on to find out how you can help.

A study in contrasts

Not all water here is polluted. Bad Branch Falls is a gorgeous 60-foot waterfall that feeds some of the highest quality water you’ll ever find. The gorge around it is home to the largest concentration of rare and endangered in Kentucky. Goodwater Branch was so nice that when Consolidation Coal was deciding where to develop their model company town, Jenkins, they chose the area where Goodwater meets Elkhorn Creek to be the center of town.  The stream still feeds the city’s reservoir.

But while Bad Branch is so clean is has been named a Wild River, most other streams are too polluted to support many of the species native to them.

Dirty water is prevalent and is an impediment to healthy lives and healthy communities for Letcher County and everyone else downstream. Little Dry Fork has iron levels so high that the entire stream bed is bright orange. Allen Branch is white with aluminum deposits and is so acidic that even bacteria from the sewer pipes that empty into it can’t live.

The economy is also a study in contrasts. Coal prices are up, and coal companies are mining more coal than ever before. But while more coal is being mined, fewer miners are working. Mechanization has taken away many coal jobs, leaving families that relied on coal jobs with little alternative but to leave the area. Historically, Letcher County has been rich in raw materials, but its people have been poor.

The Head of Three Rivers Project’s purpose is to address both the adverse environmental effects and the adverse economic effects of historic coal mining, while recognizing that coal will continue to be a major player in Letcher County’s and Kentucky’s economy for years to come. We are attempting to address those issues by cleaning up environmental damage caused by mining done prior to passage of the Surface Mine Control and Reclamation Act of 1977, while creating clean economic development opportunities at the same time.

Our Goals

  1. To promote interest in and sound use of Kentucky’s water resources
  2. To build civic capacity to enable long-term stability and success of the community and the organization
  3. To cooperate with any agencies, public and private, which have an interest in water resources management, water quality and the well-being of the state’s streams, rivers, lakes and wetlands
  4. To conduct the watershed research and water quality monitoring critical to future funding of cleanup efforts
  5. To foster community revitalization through environmentally sound economic development projects, including those that celebrate and increase awareness and understanding of local history and culture

1.) The exception to the “no water flows into Letcher County” rule is Wilson Fork of Lewis Creek on the Letcher/Harlan line.

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