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Preserve and Protect

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Are cattle the culprits of the county’s water woes?

By The Staff

OWEN COUNTY – More than half the streams and rivers here pose high risks for swimming and fish consumption, and even more remained “threatened,” according to federal water quality standards. Buck Creek and Moesby Branch Creek in the northern region are the most degraded, environmental reports show. Those creeks are not suitable for humans or wildlife. Leading water pollutants for those sites include siltation and metals, which likely flow downstream from more urban areas. But the most surprising culprit for the county’s water supplies? Cows.

That’s according to Kim Strohmeier, a local agent with the University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, who said cows and other farm animals pose a higher risk to local water qualities than pesticides and erosion. “There are some stream issues, mostly bacteria based,” Strohmeier said. “The bacteria is from livestock.” An anecdotal survey conducted by the University of Kentucky in 2007 found Owen County residents overwhelmingly valued the quality of their lakes and streams – even more than agriculture, wildlife and forest land. The survey – which included fewer than 50 residents – offered little analysis on how to improve local water quality here, but showed those surveyed were interested in taking action.

Clean water awareness has grown among Owen County residents – especially farmers – over the past 15 years, Strohmeier said.

To prevent – or at least slow – bacterial water problems from livestock, farmers should keep cattle away from creek beds and use alternate water sources such as ponds or troughs, if possible.

“A few people are starting to go to organic farming,”an environmentally sensitive method that reduces pesticide run-off into water sources, Strohmeier said.

All watersheds in Owen County ultimately drain into the Kentucky River – although some streams in the eastern part of the county first pour into Eagle Creek. The Clean Water Act of 1972 requires states to assess the quality of their streams and lakes and report to Congress every two years. The most recent report from the Clean Water Act classified 31 percent of Owen County’s streams as “fully supporting.” That means those streams are safe for swimming, recreation, wildlife and fish consumption. However, about 54 percent of the county’s streams – including the Kentucky River – are classified as “partially supporting” or “not supporting.”

Full and partial bans are in place for swimming and fish consumption there and the ecosystem for wildlife has been degraded. Severn Creek, which runs between Monterey and Owenton, is the only stream “threatened” by pollution, according to federal guidelines. If swift action is not taken to improve water standards, its condition could be downgraded.

Only Gallatin County streams and rivers are in worse condition in the region. Owen County Judge-Executive Billy O’Banion would like to improve that situation.

He said the county is actively targeting litter, which can contaminate water quality.

“Litter is not just an aesthetic problem, it affects the watershed as well,” O’Banion said.

Residents can take immediate action to improve water quality.

Here’s how:

• Mulch or compost grass clippings and keep them clear from sidewalks, driveways and streets. There they can be washed away, ultimately ending up in our waters. Mulching grass reduces the need for fertilizer; and less fertilizer on the lawn means less fertilizer in the water.

•If you do fertilize, use one that doesn’t contain phosphorous. Phosphorous accelerates algae growth in our lakes and wetlands and one pound of phosphorous in runoff can result in 500 pounds of algae-growth in streams and rivers.

• Reduce storm water runoff from your property by directing downspouts onto the lawn and away from hard surfaces. Anything that drains into the storm water systems, eventually ends up in our water.

• Properly dispose of household hazardous waste – including paints, gasoline and medicine – at the county waste site. Don’t pour them down drains.