UK, KHP Foundation Partner to Improve Watershed

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation partnered in 2013 to make substantial improvements to the Cane Run Watershed.

Photo: University of Kentucky's College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment

The University of Kentucky College of Agriculture, Food, and Environment and the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation partnered in 2013 to make substantial improvements to the Cane Run Watershed, an important water resource for the region that is also currently on Kentucky’s 303(d) list of impaired streams. The two largest property owners within the watershed are UK’s Agricultural Experiment Station and the Kentucky Horse Park.

The collaboration is part of a ­longer-running project and a partnership between UK and many Kentucky organizations that began in 2006. It was funded in part by a $1.8 million grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under 319(h) of the Clean Water Act through the Kentucky Division of Water to the University of Kentucky in 2007. In turn, a sub grant award of $260,000 was given by UK to the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation in March 2013, with plans to bump that up to $465,000, said project lead Stephen Higgins, PhD, director of environmental compliance for UK’s Agricultural Experiment Station.

According to the project website, the Cane Run Watershed encompasses approximately 29,000 acres and is located in Fayette and Scott counties. It originates underneath urban areas on the north side of Lexington and is conveyed through a series of storm drains, pipes, and restricted channels. As Cane Run continues on the surface, it joins with other tributaries and travels through parks, open green spaces, and agricultural lands.

The Cane Run Watershed is an important water resource because it supplies water to the Royal Spring Aquifer, which is the major source of drinking water for the city of Georgetown, Ky. Segments of the waterway have been identified as having high levels of pollutants such as sediment, pathogens, and nutrients. Some of this pollution is called “point source,” as it comes from a defined location, such as a leaking sewer pipe, a sewer manhole overflow, or an industrial discharge. More commonly, the pollution sources are “non-point source,” meaning pollution comes from a wide range of agricultural and urban sources that are not discretely defined. These could include livestock in the creek, erosion from construction sites, failing septic systems, pet waste, and lawn and agricultural fertilizers. Because of this pollution, Cane Run is unable to support aquatic wildlife habitat and is unfit for primary contact recreation, such as swimming.

“The partnership between UK and the Kentucky Horse Park is yet further evidence of the park’s commitment to the environment and our determination to be a positive example for other equestrian facilities,” said John Nicholson, Kentucky Horse Park executive director. “This project, in addition to being the right thing to do for our land and our water, has also had a number of good practical effects, including much better drainage, both in the barn areas and around the rings. Dr. Higgins has been super to work with, and he has made a lasting contribution for the Horse Park. We are all grateful to the Kentucky Horse Park Foundation for being the vehicle that allowed this great endeavor to move ­forward.”

Higgins said some of the project’s results that will be noticeable to the public include aesthetically pleasing riparian areas (the interface between land and a river or stream), bioswales (landscape elements designed to remove silt and pollution from surface runoff water), and wetland areas. Signage is also being placed to identify and describe project areas and the benefits these projects have on the environment.

The public awareness and educational component is an important part of the project’s scope, he said, offering opportunities to educate visitors about environment and water issues. Publications, handouts, and flyers are available, and the team also plans education tours to show the implementation of environmental best management practices.

“The projects are designed to prevent, control, and trap pollutants from entering the waters of the commonwealth. This is accomplished by trapping sediment, filtering runoff, providing infiltration areas,” Higgins said. “Treatment systems are also being implemented to destroy harmful pathogens, utilize nutrients, and collect sediment. Storm water runoff or clean water diversion projects are also being implemented to keep clean water clean, which eliminates the need to spend funds on clean water contaminated with pollutants such as ­sediment.”

Other elements of the project include installing waterers to increase their longevity and reduce mud and installing feeding areas and heavy traffic areas in horse pastures to reduce erosion.

“Our latest work has been on installing all-weather surfaces on riding trails to reduce erosion and increase horse and rider safety. We have also constructed a covered manure stack pad to store the muck out of the weather,” Higgins said. “We have fenced off riparian areas and moved watering fountains to locations that are better for water quality. Other projects include bioswales, dredging the sediment from the pond, projects to reduce the sediment load, rain gardens, settling basins to capture eroded stone, and a wetland.”

“This is a perfect project for the College of Agriculture, Food and Environment, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government, and the Kentucky Geological Survey,” said Steve Workman, PhD, Kentucky Experiment Station Associate Director and assistant dean within UK’s College of Agriculture, Food and Environment. “The karst (a landscape formed from the dissolution of soluble rocks including limestone, dolomite and gypsum and characterized by sinkholes, caves and underground drainage systems) geology of the Cane Run is somewhat unique with the existence of the Royal Spring Aquifer directly under the Cane Run in numerous locations. The Royal Spring and Cane Run diverge at the Horse Park where the College and KGS monitoring stations are located.

"All water that enters the watershed above the divergence point can either be monitored with the surface flows in the Cane Run or the subsurface flows in the conduit that makes up the Royal Spring. Environmental benefits due to projects of this type and alterations to the watershed as a result of LFUCG compliance with the EPA Consent Decree can be monitored. In addition, significant education opportunities exist with land owners, homeowners, and school systems impacted.”

“This project would not have been possible without the passion and drive of our project team members, the willingness and assistance of our project stakeholders to participate, and the cooperation of the Kentucky Division of Water,” Higgins said.

Holly Wiemers, MA, is communications director for UK Ag Equine Programs.

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