How the Kentucky Division of Water Helped Secure Water for a Growing Population

By Chloe Brantley

Barren River Lake. Photo courtesy USACE Dan Taylor.

Prompted by the projected population growth in Warren County and Bowling Green, and the potential for limited water supplies, the Kentucky Division of Water (DOW) and Bowling Green Municipal Utilities (BGMU) have carried out a plan to provide a more reliable water supply to accommodate growth while balancing competing uses and water quality standards.

With Warren County projected to grow by 49.5% between 2015 and 2040, its “water footprint” needed to expand. Although most Americans assume that water supply is both reliable and plentiful, less than 1% of freshwater is available for human use. While water plays a vital role in supporting communities and economic growth, increasingly it is used beyond sustainable levels.

The average American has a “water footprint” of 2,220 gallons per day when taking into account the water associated with household uses, energy and fuel consumption, shopping, and meal choices.

Some growing communities face even greater challenges as the development of new water supplies are limited because there is little chance of building new reservoirs and reliable groundwater supplies may not exist.

As water utilities consider options, the DOW provides technical support for water management planning and analysis of water quality and quantity to ensure access to and sufficient supplies of this valuable resource.

Bowling Green, Warren County and the Barren River

In the face of its pending population growth, Warren County and Bowling Green provide an example of how a multi-agency, cooperative effort provided a solution for regional water supply issues.

Barren River is the primary water supply for more than 117,000 customers served by BGMU directly and indirectly through the sale of water to the Warren County Water District (WCWD).

Barren River Lake. Photo courtesy of USACE

The water supply available from Barren River historically has been sufficient to meet water needs of BGMU. However, if periods of insufficient availability increase, that may no longer be the case.

This has resulted in the City of Bowling Green and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Louisville District entering into a water storage agreement that reallocates water storage space in Barren River Lake.

USACE reservoirs store large quantities of water for a wide variety of purposes, such as municipal and industrial water supply, flood control, energy production and recreation. These reservoirs represent a combination of large economic investments and valuable natural resources. However, as population grows, existing reservoirs may no longer satisfy the original need.

The water storage agreement allows the USACE to release water stored in Barren River Lake into the Barren River during low flow periods so that BGMU is able to withdraw additional water from the river. BGMU intends to withdraw water from Barren River at the location of their existing water intake structure approximately 41 miles downstream of Barren River Lake.

The increased releases will assure that flow in the Barren River in Bowling Green is sufficient to meet the projected needs of BGMU while meeting state regulatory requirements. The city will pay for the cost of reallocated water storage with interest in addition to a percentage of joint use costs under this agreement. This hallmark achievement will create a more sustainable water supply for one of fastest growing regions in Kentucky. 

Mike Gardner, water/sewer systems manager with BGMU and Bill Caldwell, environmental consultant with DOW, were instrumental in getting this agreement.

“The Water Storage Agreement was a major step in providing for the growing needs of Bowling Green and Warren County,” Gardner said. “While the Barren River provides excellent water quantity and quality under most circumstances, occasional summer droughts result in low river flows.

“The supplemental water provided through this agreement will secure the availability of the public water supply for the growing area, allow further economic development within the county, and at the same time protect the natural environment of the river’s flora and fauna. BGMU is grateful for the assistance of Bill Caldwell and the Division of Water and the USACE Louisville District in securing this Agreement.

Bill Caldwell, environmental consultant with Division of Water.
Mike Gardner, water/sewer systems manager with BGMU.

Water Efficiency and Conservation

While BGMU provides a unique and successful example of a solution to potential water shortages, many communities in Kentucky face significant challenges in finding adequate water supplies. Increased demands and competition for water resources, in addition to limited and costly options of developing new water supplies, has emphasized the importance of adopting water conservation and efficiency .

Water utilities can do their part by improving the water efficiency of their own operations and by helping customers conserve water with programs like WaterSense, a voluntary partnership program sponsored by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

WaterSense products and services are certified to use at least 20% less water, save energy, and perform as well as or better than regular models. The EPA recommends installing water-efficient fixtures and appliances in order of greatest savings, including toilets (71%), clothes washers (19%), showerheads (5%), and faucet aerators (5%).

Water utilities can pursue best industry practices for water efficiency, such as:

  • System-wide water loss accounting,
  • Leak detection and repair, and
  • Pricing that encourages consumer water conservation.

Water efficiency and conservation measures can be implemented with unchanged or improved levels of service to consumers, while reducing operating costs (e.g., pumping, treatment/chemical, and energy), stabilizing revenues, and avoiding or minimizing the need for new water supply development and expansion of water infrastructure. These measures can be an untapped “source” that can help meet demand and avoid more expensive supply development and associated impacts.

Promotion of water conservation and efficiency programs can help communities and water utilities make the best use of their water resources and build resilience to water shortages. All Americans should understand the importance of water efficiency and conservation and take positive actions to reduce their water use in their homes, outdoors, and at work.

Because we rely on water, it is incumbent upon all of us to manage and achieve equitable and sustainable use of this finite resource.

For any questions, please contact Chloe Brantley with Kentucky Division of Water at or 502-782-6898.

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