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River Basin Coordinators work to improve water quality across the state

By Lanny Brannock

Department for Environmental Protection

Hidden amongst the trees and in the ravines of Kentucky are rivers that rival any in our country for beauty and quality.  Not only are these rivers aesthetically pleasing, they provide drinking water, a resource for crop irrigation, and recreational opportunities like boating, swimming and fishing.

The Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) employees are invested in Kentucky’s rivers as a resource for generations to come. They work in nearly all of Kentucky’s seven major river basins to protect and improve the Commonwealth’s  rivers.

Chad Von Gruenigen is the basin coordinator for the Licking River. He grew up spending his days swimming and fishing on the Cumberland River, but now, with other basin coordinators, looks for opportunities to educate and engage the public and to leverage grant funding to reduce effects of nonpoint source pollution, known commonly as runoff.

“Pollutants and rain water flushed off the land from hard surfaces and storm drains into the river hamper us from enjoying our rivers as they were meant to be,” Von Gruenigen said. Chad pic 2

Runoff pollution can come from many various sources, including everyday activities such as lawn and garden fertilizing. Other sources include litter, failing septic systems, logging, farming and more. It may not seem like much, but combined runoff pollution is the number one source of water pollution.

While each of us plays  a part in reducing runoff pollution,  effectively addressing runoff on a watershed scale requires planning. When the DOW  basin coordinators such as Von Gruenigen create a watershed plan, existing data is gathered and additional information is often needed to better understand the issues. A developed watershed plan outlines the improvements and Best Management Practices (BMPs) that are needed to provide the best results.

Basin coordinators can’t do the job alone. They need you, along with communities, agencies, universities and non-profit groups all working together to reduce runoff pollution.

“Together we can work to reduce bacteria, trash and chemicals that enter our rivers,” Von Gruenigen said.  “We can even reduce erosion and flooding by reducing the amount of water that goes into rivers.”

And the river that he is now working to protect and enhance, the Licking River,  Starts as a small spring in East Kentucky, travels north meandering through the Daniel Boone National Forest to Cave Run Lake.

There, for just a moment, Von Gruenigen said, a person could feel as though they were one of the first travelers to set eyes on such beauty. It then goes through lands of fertile crops and livestock and thriving cities built along the river before joining the Ohio River.

The Licking is rich in history, getting its name from the salt springs, remnants of ancient seas, that now seep up from the ground.   Animals and people have used the these “licks” for the essential mineral.  Native Americans and massive bison herds in recent history congregated at these salt licks.  In the even more recent past frontiersman, often our own ancestors, came to this land following the Licking River sending back seemingly mythical tales of its beauty and wonder. They found the land of plenty and salt, a mineral that we take for granted today.  When near the Licking River or any river in Kentucky for that matter, the history is rich and omnipresent.

It’s something Von Gruenigen said you have to experience first-hand.

“If you want to see the beauty of one of our most precious natural resources, while getting a better understanding of what you can do to keep runoff out of our rivers, get out on the water,” he said. “Get in a boat and explore one of Kentucky’s best kept secrets. Don’t be afraid to get out there, but always be careful!”

An avid boater and fisherman, Von Gruenigen loves to spend time on the water in a kayak, going for miles at a time. His reminder: safety first!

“Be sure to prepare for circumstances that can be encountered on a river. Avoid going on rivers after storms, wear your lifejacket, do your research, go with a friend and stay within your skill level,” he said.

His goal as a DOW Basin Coordinator is to make sure that future generations can paddle down similar clean waterways and enjoy the beauty of our natural resources.

For more information go to the Division of Water’s Watershed Planning website (water.ky.gov/watershed/Pages/default.aspx), check out the Licking River Story Map (watermaps.ky.gov) and contact your local Basin Coordinator to learn how you can be a friend to your water!

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