Environmental Protection

Volunteers Sample Kentucky Loading to Ohio River

On the morning of July 11, citizen volunteers in Owensboro, Ky., conducted a coordinated water testing to assess the amount of pathogen and nutrient pollution loading that state waterways put into the Ohio River.

These Watershed Watch in Kentucky volunteers collected water quality samples as part of the Ohio River Action – 2009 study, from the Big Sandy River to the Tennessee River.

Working in partnership with the Ohio River Valley Water Sanitation Commission (ORSANCO), volunteers took samples from the tributaries to be delivered to the commission's Mobile Lab in Owensboro, in Louisville, and at the ORSANCO offices in Cincinnati.

“It is impressive to see a statewide volunteer monitoring group so organized as to be able to conduct a coordinated event such as this. ORSANCO is pleased to provide its assistance in this water quality survey of Kentucky tributaries to the Ohio River,” said Jason Heath, Jason Heath, manager – Monitoring, Assessment & Standards at ORSANCO.

More than 40 volunteers grabbed from 80 to 100 samples from the Big Sandy, the Little Sandy, the Licking River, the Kentucky River, the Salt River, the Green River, the Lower Cumberland.

Volunteers were trained to sample water quality by the Watershed Watch in Kentucky program. Another 700-plus volunteers will sample more than 700 addition al sites across Kentucky during July to take a statewide “water quality snapshot.”

Tim Guilfoile, a Water Sentinel with the Sierra Club, who will help collect samples from his boat at the mouth of the Kentucky River and the Licking River, explained the purpose of the study, “The more data we can collect, the better we can pinpoint the sources of pollution problems. Kentucky has a unique obligation to improve the water quality within the Ohio River – it is our river. We all need to take personal responsibility for this special resource.”

The study will use the data from the Kentucky tributaries along with available flow data to seek to estimate to total mass of pathogen and nutrient pollution loading into the Ohio River.

ORSANCO has conducted studies of the pathogen pollution in the Ohio River for many years and has determined that much of the Ohio River is classified as impaired where the bacteria concentrations exceed water quality standards, making portions of the Ohio River currently unsafe for swimming and other contact recreation. Ohio River Action – 2009 will help ORSANCO and other agencies determine the Kentucky contribution to that ongoing pollution problem.

Recent studies have concluded that water flowing from Kentucky into the Ohio River and the Mississippi River contains excess amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus, contributing to the excess nutrient loading into the Gulf of Mexico, causing a hypoxia or “dead zone” where the oxygen is so depleted that the area will not support aquatic life.

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