Revised Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for bacteria-impaired surface waters gets EPA approval

FRANKFORT, Ky. ( March 7, 2019) – The Division of Water’s revised method for developing Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for bacteria-impaired surface waters has received the approval of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

The division tests Kentucky waters, evaluating the water quality, biology and habitat of waters to determine if they are meeting water quality standards. Those waters that do not meet standards are considered “impaired.”  The Clean Water Act requires each state to periodically identify impaired waters where expectations are not being met, and the state to prioritize the list of impaired waters, develop a TMDL of pollutants for those waters, and create plans to improve the water quality.

“Total Maximum Daily Load” describes the amount of a pollutant a body of water can receive and still meet water quality standards. These standards include limits for E. coli and fecal coliform bacteria that are intended to protect the health of those using surface water for swimming, wading, boating, and other recreation.

While past TMDL reports were written at the watershed scale, the recently approved Kentucky Statewide Total Maximum Daily Load for Bacteria Impaired Waters addresses all remaining bacteria-impaired waters for the state in one TMDL report. This new method will save thousands of work hours and allow the Division to more quickly address bacteria impairments in more than 400 waterways. Details about the new method and a fact sheet with more information can be found here.

Developing TMDLs has been a substantial undertaking for division personnel. The process involves spending two to three years in a watershed collecting additional samples, measurements, and data from impaired waters, then writing a detailed report of the findings. By continuing to use this process, it would have taken decades to complete the required TMDLs. The newly approved method will enable the division to meet its current obligations for bacteria TMDLs in just a few years. This reduction in work years will allow the division to otherwise use its resources to address a range of water quality issues in Kentucky.

Ultimately, the statewide bacteria TMDL will support local efforts to improve water quality by providing insight into the scope of the problem, raising public awareness of bacteria impairments, and spurring more citizens to play an active role in improving water quality.

A story map and fact sheet with more information are available at To learn if a bacteria-impaired water exists near you, visit the Water Health Portal at