|By TIM THORNBERRY
FRANKFORT, Ky. — With the summer months approaching, many Kentuckians turn their thoughts to vacations at their nearest lake or fishing and boating trips, but what most of them don’t know is that about half of the state’s waterways are threatened with or contaminated with pollutants.
One of the largest water education projects in the southeast, however, was launched at four separate locations around the state last week in an effort to teach citizens about the sources of and solutions to the No. 1 cause of water pollution in Kentucky, non-point source or runoff pollution.
The Commonwealth Water Education Project (CWEP) is a $1.4 million collaborative effort between 24 partners to bring awareness to the problem and encourage Kentuckians to improve the quality of the state’s rivers and streams by changing behaviors that have contributed to the water quality problem.
“Many of the state’s waterways are so polluted that it is not safe to swim in them or take fish from them,” said Jane Eller, executive director of the Kentucky Environmental Education Council (KEEC). “Of these, two-thirds are polluted by non-point sources caused by the many small, unintended acts of all of us.
“By simply learning what actions each of us can do to prevent runoff and then taking those actions, we can significantly reduce water pollution in Kentucky. This project is designed to make all of our citizens aware of the simple, individual actions they each can take to protect one of the Commonwealth’s most important and most beautiful resources, our water.”
KEEC is a division of the Kentucky Education Cabinet and one of the partners involved in the project. Other partners include the University of Kentucky’s Cooperative Extension Service, the state Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet, Kentucky Educational Television (KET), Western Kentucky University and the University of Louisville.
The CWEP campaign will include a series of radio, television and print ads along with a website that inform viewers of common causes of runoff pollution such as fertilizers from lawn and agriculture uses; runoff from paved areas like driveways, roads and parking lots; trash that has collected in storm drains and curb gutters; dirt and waste from construction sites; and mud and manure from livestock. The ads are titled If it’s on the ground, it’s in the water.
Other aspects of the campaign are a KET water documentary called Common Ground Cleaner Water; a virtual watershed tour also produced by KET; education opportunities for local government officials; presentations for civic organizations; and teacher professional development workshops.
Andrea Zimmer of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and watershed coordinator for Kentucky spoke at each of the kickoff events and said, “The solution to the problem is not technological but sociological.”
While laws do exist to regulate such pollution problems, they are hard to enforce considering the scope of the problem. A 2004 survey of environmental knowledge and attitudes in Kentucky showed the majority of citizens believed water quality was the state’s most important environmental problem, but only 17 percent of them knew that runoff pollution was the leading cause of water pollution.
“We have a lot of waterways in the state (89,000 miles of rivers and streams) both above ground and below and a lot of rainfall as well,” said Eller.
“This is great except for the fact that we are polluting it, which affects everything from human consumption to tourism not to mention that so many people still get their water from wells. Whatever we put on the ground will get into those wells.”
What exactly is a watershed?
A watershed is land that receives rainfall and other precipitation and funnels into the lowest water source such as a river or stream in a particular land area.
Practically everyone lives in a watershed, and everything in the environment, whether it is manmade or organic, contributes to runoff pollution.
This runoff not only affects water’s appearance, but it contaminates the water that most people don’t see. While many water sources look clean, unless they are tested regularly, there is no way to tell if there are contaminants present. Many parts of the state are rural without access to “city water,” so the problem with runoff pollution becomes even more of a problem.
Ways to combat the problem
While some non-point source pollution may be impossible to abolish, there are many ways to slow or eliminate the problem. Those with livestock should keep animals away from water sources, move confinement areas away from waterways and collect manure for use on crops away from waterways.
Row crops should be planted across slopes on the contour as opposed to up and down hills; use grass strips across slopes and in drainage swales to slow runoff; preserve trees and brush along waterways to act as a natural protector against runoff.
Pesticides and fertilizers should be used at proper levels. GPS technology can assist in placing just the right amount of fertilizers in the right places.
Septic systems should be checked regularly and repaired or replaced if necessary. Illegal dumps should be reported and cleaned with “no dumping” signs posted. Seed and mulch bare areas as soon as possible to prevent erosion.
Being mindful of pollution is a good place to start to solve the runoff problems according to Eller.
“We can’t just go around and tell everyone to stop fertilizing their lawns,” she said. “There is no way to stop this problem except through education. If we all do our part, runoff pollution can substantially be reduced but if we don’t, it will get worse and worse until we don’t have any clean water. We won’t be able to swim or fish or even drink the water. Those that have come before us have enjoyed the water around them; our children and grandchildren should have the same opportunity.”
For more information visit the website at www.inyourwater.org
This farm news was published in the April 12, 2006 issue of Farm World.