Excessive levels of harmful bacteria in more than 350 streams in Kentucky

Anita Durairaj

The Kentucky Division of Water has found high levels of harmful bacteria in more than 350 streams from the Licking River and the Salt River Basins as recently as the summer of 2021.

The streams have been designated as "Bacteria Impaired Waters" by the Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection. The concern is that these bacteria levels are harmful.

The state has already made plans to address this problem.

The majority of the bacteria in Kentucky's streams are fecal coliform or E.coli.

When there is fecal coliform bacteria in the water, it indicates that the water has been contaminated with fecal material from animals and humans. Fecal coliform bacteria indicate the presence of disease-carrying organisms. Humans can contract diseases from streams that contain high fecal coliform levels. Examples of these diseases include typoid, hepatitis, gastroenteritis, dysentery and other types of infections.

Other than fecal coliform, the high levels of E.coli in water are an indicator of sewage or animal waste contamination.

Sources of the E.coli and the fecal coliform are storm waters, septic systems, agriculture, livestock, grazing or cattle access. For some streams, the source of the bacteria remains unknown.

The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet has officially declared that the streams have failed to meet water quality standards. The state's plan to address the problem is proposed in a draft called the Kentucky Statewide Bacteria TMDL. TMDL refers to Total Maximum Daily Load or the greatest number of pollutants allowed before a stream is declared to be impaired.

The Kentucky Statewide Bacteria TMDL draft includes a listing of all the bacteria impaired stream segments in the Licking River Basin. By proposing the draft, the state will also monitor all the impaired streams and address the issue by 2023.

Sources: The Appalachian Voice, Proposed Draft - eec.ky.gov,

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