Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories
The Tripplett Creek Project -
On-site Wastewater Issues in Rural Areas
The Tripplett Creek Project, a 20-month program to reduce septic system effluent in Rowan County's Tripplett Creek watershed, was developed and implemented by the Gateway District Health Department in response to high in-stream levels of bacteria, mostly downstream from older residential clusters. The overall goal of the project was to reduce pathogen loadings into Tripplett Creek by reducing or eliminating the number of unpermitted straight-pipe discharges, increasing compliance with home septic regulations, installing and demonstrating best management practices (BMPs) (including constructed wetland wastewater treatment systems), and initiating a maintenance and management educational program for owners of home septic systems and other on-site wastewater treatment technologies.
Graduate students from Morehead State University's Environmental Science program monitored the watershed during all phases of the project, which also featured an extensive public education and outreach component: walking surveys, direct contact with homeowners, news media releases, feature articles, radio and television interviews, and presentations to various student and community groups.
Background and results
Tripplett Creek was part of an ongoing effort by the Nonpoint Source Section of Kentucky's Division of Water to explore innovative strategies to address on-site wastewater treatment problems in low-income rural areas. Project staff have been advocating the development of a statewide cost-share, plus a low-interest loan program to encourage low-income rural residents to comply with on-site wastewater treatment regulations.
Replacing failed septic system components, eliminating straight pipes, and installing demonstration systems in places that have substandard systems are the obvious ways to reduce human pathogens in the watershed. Success in the project area will determine whether it can be carried over to other low-income rural counties.
More than a hundred applications for assistance were distributed to businesses and individuals in the project area, with other referrals provided by county agencies and health department staff. The project received more than 48 applications for cost-share funds, and approved 30 for assistance. Eligibility for cost-share support was determined using conventional public assistance program guidelines. A three-member committee approved all cost-share projects, and arrangements for repairs to existing but inadequate systems were handled on a case-by-case basis. Health department environmental staff designed and inspected all installations and repairs.
Applicants who had substandard septic systems were eligible for subsidized replacement of the wastewater line (from the residence to the septic tank); the concrete, 1,000-gallon tank; the line from the tank to the distribution box; and the distribution box. Installation of the remaining components (e.g., trench and gravel lateral field, leaching chambers, and plant/rock filters) was the responsibility of each property owner, who agreed to complete the work within a specified time period.
Project success, in terms of improvements in the water quality of Triplett Creek, will be measured by follow-up pathogen monitoring, which is scheduled to begin during late summer 1997. However, other measures of project success have already been documented. For example, in addition to the many homeowners who repaired or upgraded their on-site wastewater systems with section 319 funds, 20 additional community members used their own money to voluntarily correct their on-site wastewater disposal problems as a result of this project.
Although the specific factors motivating these 20 individuals are not known, this project's extensive public education outreach program, BMP demonstrations, and successful formation of partnerships have fostered tremendous contributions and progress toward assuring a bright future for the Triplett Creek watershed and its inhabitants.
CONTACT: David Daniels
Gateway District Health Department
Renovating a Constructed Wetland -
Rock Creek's Answer to Acid Mine Drainage Treatment
Mining practices in the coal-bearing strata of Appalachia have created a serious water pollution problem in the Rock Creek Watershed. When pyrite is exposed to the atmosphere, it forms acid mine drainage (AMD), a low pH, iron- and sulfate-rich, highly acidic water.
In 1989, a 1,022-square-meter surface flow wetland was constructed at Jones Branch, a tributary of Rock Creek, to reduce the effects of acid mine drainage. Metal concentrations and acidity were reduced substantially during the first six months of treatment; however, the system failed thereafter. It did not sufficiently use the treatment area and produced inadequate alkalinity and metal overloading.
In an attempt to improve treatment efficiencies, a two-phase renovation project was developed that incorporates the use of anoxic limestone drains and a series of anaerobic subsurface drains that promote vertical flow through limestone beds overlain by rich organic compost. The modified design is intended to increase pH and bicarbonate alkalinity through limestone dissolution and bacterially mediated sulfate reduction. Moreover, the subsurface drains force the interaction of AMD within the substrate, leading to increased residence time and possibly increased filtering of contaminants within the wetland system.
Looking for results
Analyses of postconstruction water quality monitoring data are encouraging. Mean iron concentrations have decreased from 788 to 35 mg/L; pH increased from 3.41 to 6.38; and acidity has been reduced from 2,280 to 124 mg/L CaCO3. The renovated wetland retains the following pollutants (figures after each element refer to how much of the total pollutant load is retained): aluminum, 98 percent; iron, 95.5 percent; acidity, 94.4 percent; sulfate, 57.3 percent; and manganese, 48.6 percent. Monthly performance data revealed dramatic changes in water quality after construction and have continued to indicate good consistency in treatment efficiency ever since.
Prior to renovation, the surface flow system was curtailed by a two-hour residence time and an acid-forming environment. Results from the renovation indicate that sulfate- reducing bacteria are effectively precipitating heavy metals as insoluble sulfides and producing a net alkaline drainage capable of neutralizing acidity from metal hydrolysis. In addition, an increased residence time in the subsurface flow system of nearly 94 hours has been observed through the use of a bromide tracer. Thus, modifications from the renovation have enhanced heavy metal removal efficiencies and contributed to the increased life expectancy of the treatment system.
CONTACT: Dr. A.K. Karathanasis
University of Kentucky
Beginning with Information and Technical Assistance -
Kentucky's Agricultural Water Quality Act
In 1994, Kentucky's legislature passed an Agricultural Water Quality Act that requires the use of best management practices on all logging and farming operations larger than 10 acres. A 15-member panel, the Kentucky Agriculture Water Quality Authority, also established by the act, representing farmers and loggers, environmental groups, agriculture and forestry agencies, commodity groups, and industries, then examined water quality data and evaluated management practices.
With additional input from 250 producers and commodity groups, the Authority developed a manual of best management practices (BMPs) to be used by all state agencies. The manual includes 58 BMPs and encompasses a broad range of land uses: livestock, crops, farmsteads, and silviculture. A special category was also created for stream protection management.
Kentucky farmers and loggers must develop and implement a management plan based on this selection of BMPs. A producer's notebook that accompanies the manual provides a series of questions to help them make appropriate selections among the practices. Producers have five years to implement their management plans. This schedule ensures that education and technical and financial assistance will precede the statutory requirements statewide. After that, enforcement will rely primarily on complaints or documented water quality problems. A "bad actor" protocol will be the enforcement arm for implementing this statute.
If documented water quality problems are occurring because of agricultural operations, these operations will be reviewed and if they have not implemented all appropriate BMPs, they will be given another opportunity to do so. Should a producer fail to comply with this statute, the producer is subject to a "notice of violation" and enforcement action, and may no longer be eligible to participate in cost-share programs.
Division of Water Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection