Little River Water Quality Consortium
The Little River Water Quality Consortium (LRWQC) was established in 2011 in response to concerns about water quality in the Little River Basin. The LRWQC is comprised of representatives from agriculture and industry; the Hopkinsville Surface and Stormwater Authority, Water Environment Authority, and City Council; and the Christian County Fiscal Court. Its purpose is to oversee and direct water quality monitoring efforts, as well as prioritize and implement best management practices within the Little River Basin.
How healthy is our watershed?
Many water bodies across the nation, including many in Kentucky, have reported declining water quality. Nationally, the two leading causes of impairment are pathogens and nutrients, respectively; sediment is reported as the sixth. The high number of reported impaired waters due to pathogens, nutrients, and sediment has resulted in more than 13,500, 7,500, and 4,000 total maximum daily load (TMDL) determinations, respectively, since October 1995.
A TMDL is a calculation of the total amount of specific contaminant a water body can assimilate without violating the designated water-quality standard established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). It assists states in implementing management strategies that are based on water quality and specifically targeted at identified sources to restore and maintain the quality of their water resources.
The Little River Basin includes two major headwater tributaries, the South Fork Little River (SFLR) and the North Fork Little River (NFLR), both of which have been listed by the Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW) in the 303(d) List of Waters for Kentucky Report to Congress as impaired by pathogens (fecal contamination), nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen), and sediment. The high levels of pathogens in the waters result in impairment for the primary contact recreation use (i.e. swimming). The high levels of nutrients and sediment contribute to impairment of the streams as warmwater aquatic habitat (i.e. aquatic life).
In 2009, KDOW developed a pathogen TMDL for the Little River Basin including the SFLR and NFLR tributaries. Future nutrient and suspended-sediment TMDLs are planned once nutrient criteria and suspended-sediment protocols have been developed for Kentucky.
What’s the problem?
In cooperation with the LRWQC and KDOW, the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) conducted a 3-year study (2 years of data collection) in the Upper Little River Basin to aid in understanding the occurrence and distribution of pathogens, nutrients, and sediment and their potential sources within the headwaters of the Little River Basin. The SFLR was the primary focus of the study because of the higher percentage of cropland and increasing number of small dairy operations in the basin. The USGS study utilized advanced scientific techniques to determine the relative pollutant contributions of different sources. The findings and conclusions were published in September 2017 and are summarized as follows:
During high flow conditions, nitrogen in soils was the dominant source of nitrogen in streams; during low flow conditions, manure and human waste were the dominant source.
Stream bank erosion contributes the largest proportion of fine sediment to streams in the SFLR basin, followed by cropland and riparian-zone areas, respectively.
Ruminant sources (cows and horses) were the most prominent source of pathogens in streams, but humans and dogs were also contributors.
What are we doing?
In 2016, the LRWQC received a Clean Water Act Section 319(h) grant from KDOW to develop a Watershed-Based Plan (WBP) to provide a comprehensive assessment of the health of the SFLR watershed, citizen and stakeholder concerns, watershed remediation strategies, and implementation plans for the future. The Hopkinsville Surface and Stormwater Utility, acting on behalf of the LRWQC, has partnered with Third Rock Consultants, LLC to develop the plan. Once complete, the Plan will include a comprehensive assessment of the watershed and remediation strategies.
Over the course of the last two years, Third Rock water quality specialists have worked closely with LRWQC, the Kentucky Division of Water, and various technical partners to turn LRWQC’s vision into a reality. The planning process is underway. Based upon Third Rock’s assessment of the watershed, a strategy to implement best management practices (BMPs) to remediate the watershed has been drafted.
So, what is a BMP? The term “Best Management Practices,” or BMPs, was coined nearly 35 years ago to describe acceptable practices that can be implemented to protect water quality and promote soil conservation. A BMP can be a structural "thing" that is installed on-the-ground, such as a silt fence or stream buffers and groundcover vegetation over bare soil areas. Or, a BMP can be part of the "process" used to plan and conduct your business or farming operation.
Third Rock has identified the most appropriate BMPs to serve as tools in LRWQC’s toolbox to address water quality problems in the watershed. At this point, they need your help. Specifically, they need your input, suggestions, and feedback. Would you be willing to install a BMP on your property? Or agree to incorporate BMPs into your farming operation? Or help LRWQC spread the word, make contacts, and engage as many as possible in the watershed?
Please take just a few moments to complete a brief survey about your observations, interests, and concerns and be sure to provide your contact information in the side bar to be added to our mailing list.
LRWQC will host a public meeting on Thursday, August 23rd to unveil its comprehensive Watershed-Based Plan for the South Fork Little River Watershed. The meeting will take place at 6:00pm at the Christian County Extension Office located at 2850 Pembroke Road. For more information, email Jennifer Shelby.
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