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Be Advised: Kentucky's Waterways May Carry E.Coli

Signage warns people not to swim, fish or wade in Beargrass Creek near Beargrass Road and Alta Vista.
Alix Mattingly/WFPL News
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Signage warns people not to swim, fish or wade in Beargrass Creek near Beargrass Road and Alta Vista.
Signage warns people not to swim, fish or wade in Beargrass Creek near Beargrass Road and Alta Vista.
Credit Alix Mattingly/WFPL News
/
Signage warns people not to swim, fish or wade in Beargrass Creek near Beargrass Road and Alta Vista.

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.

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 in the water is something no one wants to think about while swimming or boating this summer. But often it’s there, and Tim Joice of the Kentucky Waterways Alliance says it appears the problem is getting worse.

In 2008, officials estimated 3,166 miles of stream were contaminated with E.coli. By 2012, that number had increased to 3,548 stream miles.

“So, it’s either getting worse or the state’s monitoring methods are getting better and they’re testing more streams and finding that the problems are more prevalent than they previously assumed,” Joice said.

In cities like Louisville, combined sewer systems can’t handle the volume and routinely release sewage into creeks and rivers. In more rural areas of the state, the problems are caused by a combination of aging infrastructure and issues like straight pipes that have never been adequately addressed.

The state and municipalities are addressing the problem through consent decrees and grant programs, but Joice estimates it’ll be years before the situation is under control.

The state’s swimming advisories—which include the Upper Cumberland River, Kentucky River and Licking River—are in effect until further notice.

Copyright 2014 89.3 WFPL News Louisville

Erica reports on environment and energy issues for WFPL, which run the gamut from stories about the region’s biodiversity to coal mine safety and pollution issues. In the name of journalism, she’s gone spelunking, tagged mussels and taste-tested bourbon. Erica moved to Louisville in June 2011 from Charleston, West Virginia, where she worked for the state’s public radio and television affiliate. Besides Kentucky and West Virginia, she’s lived in New Jersey, Minnesota and Illinois. She lives with her husband and son in Louisville.
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