Kentuckians Enjoy High-Quality Drinking Water

More than 95 percent of the population of Kentucky have access to public water systems that are producing consistently high-quality drinking water. The 461 public water systems – some with treatment plants and others as purchasers from other plants – that produce and/or distribute safe, reliable drinking water are regulated by the Kentucky Division of Water (DOW)) and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency through the Safe Drinking Water Act.  When compared to other states surrounding Kentucky and in the southeast, only Illinois has more water service available to more of its citizens.

Drinking Water Lines in Kentucky

“Tap water plays a critical role in the success of a society, from meeting the basic public health needs of providing safe drinking water and adequate sanitation to supporting economic, industrial, agricultural, medical and recreational activities,” said Leonard K. Peters, secretary of the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet. “To that end, the continued improvements in regulatory compliance is a shared success which has brought about safe public water supply to a great majority of Kentuckians.”

About 70 percent of the water withdrawn in Kentucky for the production of public drinking water supplies comes from surface water bodies, including streams, lakes and reservoirs. The remaining 30 percent obtain their source water from aquifers. Protection of these public water sources from pollution and ensuring safe delivery of treated water from these supplies to homes are high priorities at DOW.

The DOW’s Drinking Water Program works closely with more than 460 water systems across Kentucky to ensure its citizens are provided safe drinking water. Twenty-five percent of those systems are considered drinking water “producers,” meaning they have an active water treatment plant; the remaining 75 percent purchase treated drinking water from one of these producers. The majority of Kentucky’s drinking water systems (70 percent) serve fewer than 10,000 people.

One indicator of continued improvement in Kentucky’s drinking water is the steady, five-year decline in the number of violations issued by DOW to public water systems (see graph below). It should be noted that this has occurred during a time when the EPA promulgated six significant new drinking water regulations. This is significant because it shows that the public water systems continue to operate effectively and safely while making adjustments in procedures and techniques to make sure they are adhering to the new regulations.

DOW Director Sandy Gruzesky credits division staff for helping drinking water plant operators meet the demands of expanding regulations.

“Many of these small water plants have come to depend on the expertise provided by our Drinking Water Program specialists at DOW,” said Gruzesky. “Our staff members regularly provide one-on-one technical and compliance assistance to public water system operators and utiliity managers. They also work with other regulatory agencies and professional organizations to support system management and funding.”

It is also noteworthy that of the violations that have been issued by DOW, the majority typically relate to monitoring and reporting. That is to say, they involve errors in transcription or missed deadlines. The health-related violations that have occurred typically involve the presence of disinfection byproducts. Disinfection byproducts are chemical, organic and inorganic substances that can form within the distribution system during a reaction of a disinfectant with naturally present organic matter in the water and, if consumed over time, may be harmful to human health.

The DOW works closely with drinking water treatment plants and distribution systems to ensure they make good source water choices, that they treat and distribute water properly and that they test and monitor water appropriately. Public water systems must sample the finished water on a prescribed schedule to ensure that treatment is removing pollutants originating in the source water before it is distributed to consumers.

Although most Kentucky households have access to public drinking water, 440,000 citizens still rely on private, single-residence water supplies like wells, springs and cisterns. Individuals on private water systems have sole responsibility for ensuring the purity and safety of the water they drink. While construction standards for drinking water wells have been enforced by DOW since 1986, there are no federal or state regulations that affect the daily use, quality, and maintenance of a private water supply. DOW groundwater specialists work with drinking water well owners concerning proper well construction and maintenance as well as water treatment.

For a more in-depth look at the drinking water status and trends in Kentucky, click here to view a Division of Water powerpoint presented at the 2012 Governor’s Conference on Energy and the Environment. Further questions may also be directed to Julie Roney, coordinator of the DOW Drinking Water Program, at or 502-564-3410.