Jump to main content or area navigation.

Contact Us

Water: Nonpoint Source Success Stories

Kentucky (Section 319I - 1994)

Kentucky will continue to look at priority watershed demonstration projects from a multiagency perspective. In addressing priority pollutants, Kentucky prefers to deal with problems holistically, whether they stem from agriculture, on-site septic disposal systems, or other sources. Kentucky is particularly proud of the cooperation and coordination among federal, state, and local agencies to reach a common goal.

Water Quality Improvements Protect Popular Tourist Attraction

The Mammoth Cave National Park is a major tourist site, attracting over two million visitors annually. This natural wonder has created 2,250 jobs and adds more than $70 million each year to the area's economy. In the past few years, Kentucky has become concerned that water quality degradation from intensive agriculture could seriously affect the area's economy, spoiling a natural wonder and turning away the lucrative tourist industry. So the state used a portion of its section 319 grants to support water quality monitoring, technical assistance, demonstration farms, and educational outreach.

The unusual geology that attracts visitors to the park also makes it particularly vulnerable to poor water quality. Instead of flowing into surface streams, rain falling within the karst (limestone formation) sinkhole plain flows into some 15,000 active sinkholes. The water travels through underground streams and caves, including Mammoth Cave, before emerging as spring water in the Green River. Activities within the sinkhole plain greatly affect the quality of water flowing through the cave system.

In fact, a host of potential pollution sources were threatening the Mammoth Cave area. Point source - discharges from domestic and industrial wastewater treatment facilities, agricultural activities, and failing or improperly installed on-site wastewater treatment systems outside the park were contaminating surface and groundwater with high levels of bacteria and nutrients. Monitored fecal coliform data, obtained from a tributary flowing directly into the Green River within Mammoth Cave National Park, documented the bacterial contamination problem.

Hundreds of livestock feedlots and dairy operations in the watershed drain through the park's cave system. Therefore, nutrients and bacteria from agricultural could potentially contaminate water quality. A 1990 report to Congress identified agriculture as a source of sediment and pesticide pollution in the Turnhole Spring ground- water basin, an underground tributary of the Green River. Southcentral Kentucky includes 243,000 acres and 1,300 farms in Barren, Edmonson, Hart, Metcalfe, and Warren counties. These counties rank in the top 8 percent of the state for tobacco, alfalfa, milk, hay, wheat, and beef production. Such intensive agriculture on karst topography could easily contaminate the water.

The Mammoth Cave/Karst Area Water Quality Project was designed to reduce pollution in the park area and the surrounding karst sinkhole plain. Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) used part of its section 319 grant to support the project's water quality monitoring, technical assistance, and demonstration farms totaling $541,700 from FY 1991 through 1993.

The Mammoth Cave/Karst Area Water Quality Oversight Committee--sponsored by the conservation districts and county governments--oversaw monitoring and water quality improvements among citizens, land users, and government agencies. Activities were coordinated among the committee, a technical advisory group made up of - representatives from several agencies, and a project manager who receives some section 319 funding. Five farms were selected--based on land resource needs, accessible water quality monitoring locations, and farmer cooperation--as demonstration sites. Appropriate BMPs were installed on each farm to achieve water quality. The demonstration farms are currently being used to educate other area farmers about the importance of clean water and the role of BMPs and to gain feedback on the program's progress.

Monitoring on some demonstration farms, funded by section 319, is being conducted before and after installing BMPs and constructing animal waste management systems to determine water quality improvements. The data is also being used to educate farmers about water quality impacts, current technologies available to reduce those impacts, and the financial assistance available to farmers who use BMPs.

To date, only pre-BMP data has been collected for the Mammoth Cave Project. However, Kentucky is optimistic about water quality improvement being made on two demonstrations farms.

On the Wilkerson farm, located in Edmonson County, two samples were collected after storms from a ditch below the confined feedlot area before the animal waste lagoon or storage pond BMP was installed. A third sample was also collected from runoff leaving a previously constructed stack pad (a concrete floor where manure is stored). The pre-BMP nitrogen and phosphorus - concentrations are shown on Table 4-2. The animal waste lagoon is designed to contain waste so that no runoff occurs. Therefore, no post-BMP sampling is necessary. Occasional storm water samples have been collected from runoff in the ditch below the animal waste lagoon. - Although these samples still show that nutrients are present, they are a fraction of their pre-BMP levels. These nutrients are probably caused by runoff from an adjacent area.

An animal waste facility has been installed and is being evaluated on the Ballard farm in Hart County. In 1991, before the animal waste lagoon was installed, wastewater from the feedlot/ milk parlor area flowed into a nearby sinkhole. Data from two stormwater grab samples are shown in Table 4-2. As on the Wilkerson farm, no runoff occurs so post-BMP samples cannot be collected. The waste will be land applied according to an approved nutrient management plan. The state believes that this measure has significantly reduced the nutrient and bacteria levels.

Other agencies and projects involved with the Mammoth Cave/ Karst Area Water Quality Project include ASCS, which provided Agriculture Conservation Program cost-share funds totaling $960,000; SCS, which provided technical assistance--design, planning, and implementation--to farmers; National Park Service, which monitors water quality; Tennessee Valley Authority, which conducted a low-altitude aerial photography survey; Kentucky Division of Conservation, which provided technical assistance to demonstration farms; DOW, which funded the American Cave and Karst Interpretive Program through section 319 funds; and many more.


Jump to main content.