Swimming Advisories Posted Along A River

By: Jeff Allen Email
By: Jeff Allen Email

It's a river that runs right through many parts of eastern Kentucky, but much of it is unusable.

Raw sewage in the water is forcing the state to keep swimming advisories in place on much of the Cumberland River.

Why is the problem continuing and what's being done to stop it?

WYMT's Jeff Allen went to one of the biggest problem spots.

The community of Sunshine is one of many in eastern Kentucky where sewage still flows from many homes right into the Cumberland River.

Officials are trying to stop that, but they say some people still aren't cooperating.

People living there are frustrated.

“If they don't get it cleaned up soon I guess we won't ever be able to use the river anymore like when I was a kid,” David Napier said.

David Napier says he used to eat the fish he'd catch from the Cumberland, but now he can't even fish out of it.

One of the main problems is raw sewage. For years it's flowed from homes here in Sunshine right into the river.

The city of Harlan installed sewer lines and about sixty percent of the community is hooked on, but the other forty percent refuse to.

“This is not acceptable behavior until we can find an agency willing to enforce it we're just marking time,” Harlan Mayor Daniel Howard said.

Harlan Mayor Daniel Howard says state agencies are the only ones that can actually force people to get rid of straight pipes.

A state water official says they require new houses to be hooked up to a sewer, but it's harder to force older homes to hook on.

They say they are seeing some improvement in the water in the last couple of years.

State water officials say they will survey many parts of the Cumberland River this summer

For now, they've posted several swimming advisories.

Here are some tips.

1. Do not swim when you have diarrhea.

2. Do not swallow pool water or get pool water in your mouth.

3. Shower before swimming and have your children shower.

4. Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.

5. Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often.

6. Change children’s diapers in a bathroom, not at poolside.

Swimmers should also heed swimming advisories issued to protect the public from contaminants in some areas of Kentucky waterways. The Division of Water and the Division of Public Health Protection and Safety agree advisories issued last summer will remain in effect due to high levels of E. coli.

People should avoid swimming and other recreational contact with waters in the areas specified because of the bacteria, which occur in human and animal waste and indicate the presence of untreated or inadequately treated sewage. Swimming advisories will remain in effect for the following:

Upper Cumberland River
· The Cumberland River from Fourmile Bridge (Highway 2014) to Pineville at the Highway 66 Bridge and from Wallins Creek Bridge (Highway 219) to Harlan.

· Martins Fork from Harlan to the Cawood Water Plant.

· All of Catron Creek, all of Clover Fork and all of Straight Creek.

· Poor Fork from Harlan to Looney Creek.

· Looney Creek from the mouth to Lynch Water Plant Bridge.

Illegal straight pipe discharges, failing septic systems and bypasses from sewage collection systems contribute to water quality problems in these areas.

Kentucky River
· North Fork of the Kentucky River upstream of Chavies.

Numerous illegal straight pipe discharges of sewage contribute to water quality problems along this section of the river. However, water quality has continued to improve and is approaching an acceptable level for swimming in some stretches of the river.

Licking River
· Banklick Creek to its confluence with the Ohio River.

The swimming advisory includes all of Banklick Creek and Three Mile Creek. High E. coli levels in this area are caused by combined sewer overflows and sanitary sewer overflows.

Residential and agricultural areas
The agencies also recommend against swimming or other full-body contact with all surface waters immediately following heavy rain, especially in dense residential, urban and livestock production areas. This recommendation is due to an increased potential for exposure to pollution from urban nonpoint source pollution, bypasses from sewage collection systems, combined sewer overflows and runoff from livestock waste.

State and local agencies continue efforts to reduce E. coli levels. The Cabinet for Health and Family Services works with local health department environmental health staff to ensure that all new septic system installations are properly installed. Division of Water staff work with wastewater plant operators to ensure sewer overflows are minimized. Both agencies routinely address straight pipe issues and are gradually reducing the number of these discharges across the state.

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