Southern Regional Water Program

Research, Extension & Education Water Quality Programs through the Land Grant University System

Drinking Water & Human Health in Kentucky

ky_dwhh1.jpgKentuckians are fortunate to enjoy access to adequate supplies of safe drinking water in most areas of the state. An estimated 87% of Kentucky residents receive their drinking water from one of more than 650 public water systems. While many of these systems are small, the five largest drinking water systems serve nearly one-third of the state’s population. Since most Kentuckians have access to public water, protection of these public water sources from pollution and ensuring safe delivery of treated water from these supplies to homes are high priorities. About 90% of the water withdrawn in Kentucky comes from surface water bodies, including streams, lakes and reservoirs.

Although most Kentucky households have access to public drinking water, in some areas of the state, citizens still rely on private 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 in place in Kentucky since 1986, there are virtually no regulations that affect the daily use and maintenance of a private water supply.

Having access to a safe and adequate supply of drinking water should be a high priority for everyone, because water is an important nutrient for good human health. Teaching citizens the importance of water to human health and the roles they can play in protecting their water supply and their health are important goals of Extension professionals in Kentucky.

Conditions in Your Watershed

Information about water in your specific area is available from a variety of sources. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency maintains a web site with drinking water information available by county. The Kentucky Division of Water, Drinking Water Branch web site provides a great deal of information about Kentucky drinking water systems and programs as well. In addition, the Kentucky Environmental Quality Commission publishes a report on the state of Kentucky’s environment every two years. This report typically includes a chapter focused on drinking water issues and concerns. For public water system customers, your water company is required to prepare a water quality report, also known as a consumer confidence report, each year. These reports should be distributed by July 1st each year, and provide you with information about the source of your drinking water, any contaminants detected, and any contaminants found above health standards. In Kentucky, water systems serving more than 10,000 people must mail the report to their customers. Water systems serving between 500 and 10,000 customers must either mail the report or publish it in the local newspaper. Systems serving less than 500 customers are asked to notify customers when the report is available.

Resources and Programs

The land grant universities in Kentucky, the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University, offer a variety of programs targeted to drinking water and human health concerns. Outreach programs through the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service and the Kentucky State University Cooperative Extension Program deal with a variety of water-related topics. The outreach programs are based upon the latest research findings and assist individuals in protecting their health, their personal water supplies and the water resources of the state.

Extension Outreach

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture is home to the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service. The Cooperative Extension Service offers a variety of programs related to drinking water issues and concerns, often in cooperation with the Cooperative Extension Program at Kentucky State University. Major programs focused on drinking water and human health issues are described in the following paragraphs.

Basic Water Education is an outreach program implemented as a joint project between the University of Kentucky and Kentucky State University. The program provides basic education on six water topics, including drinking water well care and maintenance, cistern care and maintenance, and waterborne illnesses. Materials targeted to limited resource, low-reading level clientele have been developed, and are utilized through existing Extension programs targeted to these audiences. Twenty counties in Kentucky have utilized the materials extensively, reaching more than 2100 people through more than 330 educational programs. Agents and paraprofessionals working with clientele have documented practice changes, including the implementation of best management practices: having drinking water tested, cleaning cisterns, disinfecting wells and inspecting and repairing septic systems.

Each year the Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service observes and promotes the month of May as Kentucky Water Awareness Month. Packets of resource materials are developed annually and distributed to all county Extension offices in the state. While the materials cover a variety of current water topics, drinking water and human health issues are always addressed. The observance of May as Kentucky Water Awareness Month has been taking place since 1993, and grew out of the national drinking water week observance the first full week of May each year. Educational resource packets from recent years are available via the Environmental and Natural Resource Issues Task Force web site.

ky_dwhh3.jpgThe Ky-A-Syst for Home program offers tools to assess pollution risks around homes and farms. The self-assessment publications allow both farmers and homeowners to identify practices that could pollute water resources, and assist them in identifying changes to implement to protect their water supplies. These tools are beneficial in designing source water protection programs for both private and public water supplies.

Scientific Research

Scientific research is the basis for development of new technologies to ensure high quality drinking water. Researchers at Land Grant Universities work to develop these new technologies and evaluate their economic benefits. The University of Kentucky Water Quality Research and Education website has information about research that wqre.gifassesses water quality conditions across the state and which investigates the influence of agricultural practices on water quality in Kentucky. Some examples of major research efforts concerning drinking water and human health in Kentucky include:

The goal of a project entitled, “Protection of Well-Water Supplies from Nitrate Contamination,” is to determine whether poor well construction or aquifer contamination from domestic and/or agricultural land use practices are a major cause of nitrate contamination of water wells.

The project, “Role of Suspended Sediment in Facilitating Pathogen Transport in Inner Bluegrass Karst Aquifers,” characterizes suspended sediment and pathogen indicators in baseflow and storm flow and examines the extent to which pathogen indicators adsorb to suspended sediment during storm flow.

rain.gifFecal bacteria are a prime contributor to surface and groundwater degradation and a major reason for the impairment of water resources. The research project, “Mechanisms and Control of Fecal Bacteria Transport,” characterizes the most significant microbial and environmental characteristics influencing pathogen transport in surface and subsurface flow. Another goal of the project is to develop management options for controlling that flow.

College and University Education

Youth and continuing adult education are critical to develop new talent and human resources to address the water quality issues of the future. Educational curricula related to drinking water and human health are available within several departments, colleges and programs at the University of Kentucky. These include:

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