Watershed restoration efforts bring improvements to Licking River water quality

A segment of the Licking River in northern Kentucky that formerly failed to support its aquatic life designated use now shows sufficient improvement in water quality to warrant removal from the state’s list of impaired waters.

Data collected by the Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) in 1999 indicated that the lowermost segment of the Licking River did not meet Kentucky’s water quality standard for dissolved oxygen (DO), which is necessary to support aquatic life.  In 2000 DOW added the section of the river to the Clean Water Act (CWA) Section 303(d) list of impaired waters for only partially meeting its aquatic life designated use. Suspected pollution sources included combined sewer overflows, urban runoff and storm sewers, impacts from agriculture, improperly treated wastewater and loss of riparian habitat.


From 1999 to 2006, Kentucky invested CWA section 319(h) (nonpoint source pollution) funding in four watersheds which are all tributaries to the larger Licking River. The four included Banklick Creek, Townsend Creek, Strodes Creek and Fleming Creek.


In the Banklick Creek watershed, CWA Section 319(h) funding was used to help establish the Banklick Watershed Council, a group composed of local agencies, officials, and concerned citizens. The group worked with local stakeholders on an education and outreach campaign that was essential to the success of stormwater management programs and the implementation of nonpoint source BMPs.

Efforts to restore the Townsend Creek watershed began in 2005 and focused on building capacity through field days and landowner meetings. This coordinated effort prompted landowners to implement agricultural BMPs, such as installing stream crossings, excluding livestock from streams, restoring riparian areas, and stabilizing areas frequently used by livestock.

In the Strodes Creek watershed, the Strodes Creek Conservancy has worked with landowners since 2003 to conduct watershed planning, repair and replace septic tanks, exclude livestock from streams, restore riparian areas, and acquire and protect land.

In the Fleming Creek watershed, stakeholders implemented agricultural BMPs that helped to restore a 4.8-mile creek segment. In 2010 stakeholders continued their work by developing and implementing a Fleming Creek subwatershed plan.

In 2004, DOW collected monthly samples to reassess conditions along the impaired segment of the lowermost Licking River. The data showed that DO levels ranged from around 6.0 mg/L to 8.0 mg/L during the sampling season, well above the minimum level required for aquatic life use support. As a result, DOW removed this segment (river miles 0.0–4.6) from the state’s list of impaired waters in 2006. This represents a move from partial to full support of the aquatic life designated use for this segment of the Licking River.

This segment of the lowermost Licking River remains listed as impaired for failing to meet the primary contact recreation designated use because of elevated bacterial levels.

To read more about the Licking River watershed restoration project, visit http://water.epa.gov/polwaste/nps/success319/ky_lick.cfm. You may also contact john.webb@ky.gov.