Every year, Headwaters partners with the Kentucky River Watershed Watch (KRWW) to gather data on herbicides, pathogens, metals and nutrients within the Letcher County watershed of the Kentucky River. Below we have provided a map that plots all of the points in Letcher County that were tested in the 2012 KRWW water testing event. Because pathogens were the largest area of concern, the data reflected below concerns solely pathogen levels in the county.
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
What are pathogens?
Pathogens are essentially disease-causing viruses, bacteria and protozoans that enter a water body via fecal contamination. Of the 11 sites tested in Letcher County, 9 (82%) revealed fecal coliform colonies in excess of the Kentucky standard for safe human contact. This includes all three test sites on the North Fork of Kentucky River (on the map they are site numbers K62/801, K97/834, and K112/848), reaffirming the reason that the North Fork remains 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 3972 (cfu/100mL) to 4840 (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, the testing site at the mouth of Cram Creek had a result of 1120 (cfu/100mL). This is a notable decrease from last year’s result, and is probably best explained by the decrease in fecal coliform colonies flowing down both forks of Cram Creek. However, it is of much concern that pathogen levels at points along the North Fork are much higher than in 2011. This could result in higher water rates on the consumer end, as the Letcher County water district 1) derives its drinking water at a point downstream from two of the highest-tested sites, and 2) it is an expensive process to treat highly-contaminated water.
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.