Environment

Kentucky has among the most miles of running water of any state in the country. Once every three years, the public has an opportunity to add their two cents on the state’s water quality standards. 

Next Tuesday the Kentucky Division of Water will hold a listening session where the public can offer comments on what they think state officials should include in the state’s triennial review of water quality standards under the Clean Water Act. 

All Kentucky waters, for example, are under an advisory for mercury. That’s why the department of environmental protection warns that the general population should eat no more than one meal per month of predatory fish like bass.

Mercury is a byproduct of burning coal for electricity and hangs around in the environment long after the coal’s burned up. The element accumulates in fish and can be bad for human health, if people consume too much of it. 

And mercury is just one of the 94 pollutants the division of water will consider in updating human health criteria. At the listening session, the division will provide an overview of the state’s water quality standards, and will ask for public input on what the state should consider in reviewing the standards. 

Perfluorinated chemicals like PFAS and PFOAS are not currently listed among the pollutants in the state’s water quality standards. These so-called “forever chemicals” are an emerging contaminant of concern and have been found in small amounts in the state’s drinking water.

The division is also considering establishing aquatic life criteria for aluminum, which can be harmful to fish; updating criteria for ammonia, which is bad for freshwater mussels; and designating new waterways as “Outstanding State Resource Waters,” which have additional water quality standards.

Ward Wilson with the Kentucky Waterways Alliance says the science behind the pollution is growing, and these reviews help keep the standards up to date. The listening session is one way for the public to get involved in protecting the state’s waterways.

“[Waterways] have a value, an intrinsic value in their own, not just the uses we can get out of them, and we have a responsibility to future generations to pass that on,” Wilson said. 

Tuesday’s listening session will be held at 6 p.m. eastern time. Find out more information at the Kentucky Energy and Environment Cabinet blog

Ryan Van Velzer is WFPL's Energy and Environment Reporter.