The Division of Water’s recent study on E. coli pollution in the Cox’s Creek Watershed is not intended as a precursor to state regulatory action, but rather an educational tool for residents of the area to be more aware of how they contribute to water quality and be more involved in improving it.
Scarlett Stapleton, an environmental scientist who is an author of the report, said Monday the state encourages the creation of local water watch groups and can provide technical support for a watershed plan, but the report does not require a plan.
“We want to make them owners of their watershed,” Stapleton said.
The November 2012 report was submitted by the state Energy and Environment Cabinet’s Department for Environmental Protection to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
The federal Clean Water Act requires states to identify bodies of water that are not meeting designated uses because of pollutants that exceed allowable amounts or total maximum daily loads. According to the report, Division of Water biologists in 2009 sampled 11 sites in the Cox’s Creek Watershed in Nelson, Bullitt and Spencer counties and found nine different streams tested showed excessive amounts of E. coli.
A 2010 health report for the watershed found that in eight of the 11 areas, E. coli concentrations were above the safe standard for swimming 80 to 90 percent of the time.
Escherichia coli bacteria, or E. coli, is an intestinal bacterium found in feces that can cause serious gastrointestinal illness in humans if ingested or infection in open sores or wounds.
Suspected sources of E. coli and fecal coliform listed in the report included failing sewage treatment and disposal systems, illegal straight-pipe sewage discharges, animal feeding operations and livestock (there are several dairy and hog farms in the area) and unrestricted cattle access to streams, among others.
Cox’s Creek begins two miles north of Bardstown and flows mostly north for nearly 24 miles, draining five tributaries – Caney, Froman, East Cox and West Cox Creeks and Rocky Run – before emptying into the Salt River. The watershed covers more than 65,000 acres. About 56 percent of the area is farmland, and 46 percent of that farmland is pasture, according to the study.
“The prevalent threat to streams from agriculture is bacteria loading from animal wastes,” the study said.
Livestock lie in or near streams in search of shade or drinking water, it added.
Shelby Jett, a former employee of the Division of Water who lives within the watershed on Louisville Road, said Monday he doesn’t think the problem with E. coli contamination has as much to do with illegal sewage discharges as with agricultural waste.
But Stapleton said the pollution is caused both by human and animal waste, and would not say which one was a greater cause of contamination of the watershed.
Everyone in the watershed contributes to the problem, she said, and everyone can be part of the solution.
Ultimately, she said, the goal of the study is to get the residents of the area to “restore the water quality” and make it usable for recreation.
The quality of drinking water may be another issue.
Although there are no public water supply sources in the watershed, Stapleton said, there may be people who have private wells.
The Division of Water’s public comment period ends Dec. 21. Comments can be emailed to Scarlett.Stapleton @kygov or mailed to Scarlett Stapleton, Division of Water, 200 Fair Oaks Lane, Frankfort, KY 40601.
Stapleton said that no public forum on the issue has been scheduled, but if enough residents of the area want one, the staff may arrange it.
The 113-page report can be seen at http://water.ky .gov/PagesPublicNotices.aspx.
Print copies can be obtained by emailing or writing to Stapleton at the addresses above, or by calling (502) 564-3410.