Some representatives from health departments within the watershed said there are possibly hundreds of failing septic systems or straight pipes in the counties within the watershed. Further complicating the issue, in the state of Kentucky health departments can't investigate inadequate sewage systems on farmsteads, lots that are 10 acres or more, without a signed complaint.
Waterway contamination can come from several sources, including pet waste, wildlife, cattle pastures, failing septic systems or problems with waste water treatment.
The council also asked the state to narrow down hot spots, or places with high levels of E. coli, so they can better determine possible pollution sources.
Several members of the council are interested in differentiating between animal sources. If it is an agriculture source, there is federal and state money that could help farmers along the creek improve run-off from the farms or in keeping cattle out of the creek. It is more difficult, however, to control wildlife in the creek. Colten said at the beginning of the meeting that the group needs more people from the agricultural community to help educate the group about best management practices and the concerns of cattle producers.
Danville has just applied for a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to clean up urban stormwater that runs into Clarks Run. Andrea Zimmer, who works with the EPA, was at the watershed council meeting to observe. She said the EPA is interested in the Dix River watershed, especially as local people are behind an effort to improve water quality here.
Watershed starts in southern Mercer County
The Dix River watershed starts in southern Mercer County and includes eastern Garrard County, most of Boyle County and northern Lincoln, Casey and Rockcastle counties. It also includes Herrington Lake, Clark's Run and Hanging Fork.
The KDOW chose the Dix watershed as one of five priority watersheds in the state. The council, along with public input, plans to formulate a plan to improve water quality within the watershed.
Any samples with more than 240 E. coli colonies per milliliter is a matter of concern, Colten wrote in an e-mail. Several local spots tested had more than 1,000 colonies. An E. coli infection can cause diarrhea and sometimes kidney failure. The majority of infections come from ingesting undercooked ground beef, but it can also be contracted by swimming in sewage contaminated water, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In the 1970s when the Clean Water Act was passed, the sources of water pollution were more obvious, pipes discharging industrial waste and sewage into a waterway. Today most of those sources have been remedied, and the sources of water pollution are less obvious.
Pollutants come from lawns, parking lots, housetops, construction sites and pastures. This is known as non-point source pollution. Fecal matter in the water can reduce oxygen and increase phosphorous, hurting aquatic animals and plants, and it also can make waterways unsafe for recreation.
When the source of the pollution is identified, the council will work on writing a plan to repair the watershed.
On the Net: www.dixriverwatershed.org.