Three higher education institutions are coming together to collaborate with and support the Upper Cumberland River Watershed Watch (UCWW) in their efforts to improve water quality and water protection.
Somerset Community College (SCC), Southeast Kentucky Community and Technical College (SKCTC) and Eastern Kentucky University (EKU) are teaming up to recruit and train volunteers in the eastern reaches of the Upper Cumberland River’s basin. The goal of the partnership, according to SKCTC’s Dr. Matthew Druen, is to coordinate a citizen monitoring effort to improve and protect water quality by raising community awareness and supporting the Clean Water Act, which seeks to make water more fishable, swimmable and safer to drink. The UCWW encourages people to venture out into the Upper Cumberland River Basin to see and document the condition of their local streams and rivers.
Since 1999, UCWW volunteers have been sampling Bell and Harlan County streams and rivers in order to learn more about water quality in the area. In the past, sampling has occurred in more than 50 sites, including on the Cumberland River, Clear Fork, Yellow Creek, Greasy Creek and several other locations in Bell County. Formerly sampled sites in Harlan County include Martin’s Fork, Poor Fork and the Cumberland River. Currently, there are no active samplers in either county. Through collaboration between the two KCTCS colleges and support from a Virginia Environmental Endowment grant, UCWW hopes to reinvigorate interest in the initiative. Volunteers in those counties are vital to monitoring the quality of the Upper Cumberland River, which provides critical habitat for a number of aquatic species as well as important recreational activity for residents and tourists.
Druen is working with fellow SKCTC biology faculty member Dr. Ray McDonnell and SCC Biology Professor Loris Sherman to reestablish UCWW activity in their service region. With the support and encouragement of SKCTC Natural Sciences & Mathematics Division Chair Professor Rhonda Creech, Dr. McDonnell will serve as the laboratory manager of a newly equipped testing site for analysis of stream water collected by volunteers.
Samples gathered through the initiative will be tested for fecal contamination in Dr. McDonnell’s lab. Fecal contamination, indicated by the presence of E. coli, is the biggest threat to water quality in this region. The presence of E. coli in water indicates the potential for waterborne disease. Sources of contamination may include failing septic systems, leaking sewer lines, livestock manure, and pet and wildlife wastes.
Volunteers are needed to assist in collecting water samples. Volunteer training will be held in the spring and will cover field survey techniques and proper methods for taking samples. Participants who complete the training will receive testing kits to monitor oxygen levels in the water, pH and conductivity; data report forms and collection bottles.
“Anyone that lives near a stream or river can participate,” said Sherman. “Though having some scientific skills would be a plus, caring about your creek or river and a willingness to pitch in are all the qualifications you need to participate.”
Once samples are tested in the laboratory, the results of the analysis will be given back to the volunteers so they will know the condition of their streams. The data will also help guide resource management agencies in their efforts to clean up pollution problems and protect high quality areas.
Equipping the laboratory was possible through the leadership of Dr. Alice Jones, Eastern Kentucky University professor of Geosciences and director of EKU’s Academic Engagement Programs, and financial support from EKU’s Center for Appalachian Regional Engagement and Stewardship program.