Every year, Kentucky River Watershed Watch (KRWW) mobilizes a large force of volunteers to gather data on herbicides, pathogens, metals and nutrients within the Kentucky River, as well as many of its tributaries and headwaters. Since the formation of Headwaters, the organization has partnered with KRWW to gather valuable data and to support local volunteers that would like to sample their water and help others understand the state of water at the head of the Kentucky River. Below we have provided a map that plots all of the points in Letcher County that were tested in the 2011 KRWW water testing event. The data explores levels of pathogens, metals and nutrients in our county. It also reflects a few issues that the county must grapple with if it is going to provide clean water to itself and the rest of the state.
Blue icons indicate pathogen levels that do not exceed the Kentucky standard for safe human contact (240 cfu/100mL)
Orange icons indicate pathogen levels that exceed 240 cfu/100mL
Red icons indicate pathogen levels that exceed 2400 cfu/100mL
Blue Diamond icons indicate metal levels (i.e. iron & sulfates) that do not exceed the Kentucky drinking water standard
Red Diamond icons indicate metal levels (i.e. iron & sulfates) that exceed the Kentucky drinking water standard
Pathogens are essentially disease causing viruses, bacteria and protozoans that enter a water body via fecal contamination. Of the 9 sites tested in Letcher County, 7 (78%) revealed fecal coliform colonies in excess of the Kentucky standard for safe human contact. This includes both test sites on the North Fork of Kentucky River (on the map they are site numbers “3040” and “K62/800”), reaffirming the reason that the North Fork is on a no touch advisory by the Kentucky Division of Water due to pathogen pollution from raw sewage.
In addition, the pathogen level increased from 304 (cfu/100mL) to 1120 (cfu/100mL) as the river flowed from Mayking to Whitesburg. Results exist for three tributaries that flow into the North Fork between these two points and help explain the result. Most notably, Cram Creek had a result of 1986 (cfu/100mL) at its mouth. Cram Creek’s result can be better understood by looking at the different results for the left fork and right fork of the creek. The left fork had a result of 2420 (cfu/100mL) while the right fork had a result of 866 (cfu/100mL). This indicates that addressing the sewage problems on the left fork of Cram Creek should be a priority in cleaning up the North Fork.
If this problem is to be fixed, the number of straight pipes and failing septic systems in the county must be reduced and replaced with operational sewer systems. In addition, current sewer lines must be maintained and updated. Headwaters, Inc. views these steps as important to ensuring a pattern of stream ownership. If we want to swim in our streams – and invite tourists to swim in our streams (and thereby stimulate our local economy) – the problem must be countered from a grassroots level.
Three Letcher County sites were tested during KRWW’s fall metals and nutrients testing event. While most of the results were below Kentucky’s water quality standards, two sites had results that exceeded the Kentucky’s drinking water standard. Both Loves Branch (site 3084) and the North Fork of the Kentucky River (site 3040) had iron levels that exceeded the Kentucky standard. The North Fork also had sulfate levels that exceeded the standard. Because the Whitesburg water treatment plant is located near site 3040 on the North Fork, this result raises concerns about the quality of a major source of the county’s water supply.
What Does This Mean For Letcher County?
The specific lab results reaffirm the presence of water quality problems that Headwaters has been seeking to address since its formation.
From the perspective of reflecting upon participation, we should celebrate the hard work of the 2011 KRWW volunteers. The absence of some results show some logistical problems with sample collection and a lack of education related to field chemistry. In future years, Headwaters hopes to involve and provide support to more local volunteers so that local citizens can use KRWW as a resource to understand their streams and take action towards a future in which Letcher County residents can count on safe water.
Note: To view the final report of the KRWW 2011 Sampling in its entirety, it is provided here: http://www.uky.edu/OtherOrgs/KRWW/2011_KRWW_Summary_Report.pdf