Get to Know Your Receiving Water

In a recent U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) study, the results found that more than half of the nation’s waterways – 55 percent – are in poor condition for aquatic life. As a regulated entity, you may ask how this affects you and what role you play in the health of Kentucky’s waterways. For many wastewater dischargers, including storm water and direct dischargers, the quality of the receiving water body directly impacts the limits that are contained within your permit. The EPA’s recent study found the following findings, and as you notice when you look at your KPDES permit, it is not that difficult to see these types of limits and operating conditions as permit requirements. 

  • Nitrogen and phosphorus are at excessive levels. Too much nitrogen and phosphorus in the water—known as nutrient pollution—causes significant increases in algae, which harms water quality, food resources and habitats and decreases the oxygen that fish and other aquatic life need to survive.
  • Streams and rivers are at an increased risk due to decreased vegetation cover and increased human disturbance. These conditions can cause streams and rivers to be more vulnerable to flooding, erosion and pollution. Vegetation along rivers and streams slows the flow of rainwater so it does not erode stream banks, removes pollutants carried by rainwater and helps maintain water temperatures that support healthy streams for aquatic life.
  • Increased bacteria levels. High bacteria levels were found in 9 percent of stream and river miles, making those waters potentially unsafe for swimming and other recreation.  
  • Increased mercury levels. More than 13,000 miles of the rivers in the U.S. have fish with mercury levels that may be unsafe for human consumption. For most people, the health risk from mercury by eating fish and shellfish is not a health concern, but some fish and shellfish contain higher levels of mercury that may harm an unborn baby or young child’s developing nervous system.

So, what can you do beyond complying with your permit conditions? Get to know the designation of your receiving water body and understand how you and your community contribute to the health of Kentucky’s waters. The health of Kentucky’s waterways is influenced by both nonpoint and point sources. Below are five steps for getting informed and involved.

  1. Know your designation by reviewing Kentucky’s waterways report. 
  2. Get informed about Kentucky Nonpoint Source Management Plan.
  3. Understand your local requirements. Many communities are regulated under the KY MS4 Program and have community-specific storm water requirements.
  4. Understand who is discharging what pollutants in your area. The EPA provides a tool that maps wastewater dischargers in your area.
  5. Finally, get involved in your local watershed groups. There should be a basin coordinator for your area and volunteer with a local water watch group.

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