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.