The Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet is warning swimmers and boaters to stay away from several streams and tributaries in Eastern Kentucky.
The waterways are contaminated with E.coli bacteria, which comes from human and animal waste, and the problem is so extensive that the swimming advisories have been expanded to include all of Kentucky’s lakes and rivers after heavy rainfall.
Untreated sewage is released into streams and rivers from combined sewer systems—or CSOs—in cities like Louisville. It also runs off agricultural fields, leaks from aging septic tanks and is deposited directly into the river through straight pipes in some rural areas. Tim Joice of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance says data shows the number of stream miles affected by E.coli is growing, and it could take another 15 to 20 years to get the problem under control.
“We likely, especially in cities, will not see substantial improvement in CSO issues or insufficient wastewater treatment capacity issues for another number of years,” Joice said.
The state’s swimming advisories—which include the Upper Cumberland River, Kentucky River and Licking River—are in effect until further notice.