Lexington Herald Leader OpEd: Real river cleanup must begin in state legislature

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Lexington Herald Leader OpEd: Real river cleanup must begin in state legislature  Posted: July 19, 2003
Posted on Mon, Jul. 14, 2003

By Will Herrick

For 35 years, I have lived on the North Fork of the Kentucky River near the Wolfe, Lee and Breathitt county lines. In that time, I've become very familiar with the wretched state of the river, and it's slow healing.

In fact, the decline of flotsam and trash in the North Fork is largely because of the implementation of effective garbage collection in rural counties combined with volunteer efforts like those described in the Herald-Leader. The PRIDE program has been a big help in covering the capital cost of open-dump remediation, but the real numbers are in the daily collection of household trash.

PRIDE also deserves great credit for the effort to eliminate straight pipes. However, it is important to note that that effort began as an initiative in Letcher County, the headwaters of the Kentucky. The impoundments, like Carr Fork and Buckhorn, also play a big role as "primary filters" that capture large quantities of solid waste.

It is the combination of all these efforts that has led to the Kentucky River's improved water quality. It is important to note that most of this effort began as local initiative.

There is a natural alliance between those upstream and down. It is in both our interests to improve the river's water quality. It is imperative for Central Kentucky's economic future that the Kentucky's waters be as clean and plentiful as possible. It is important to those upstream that the river be clean, safe and attractive. That alliance is not always well understood. While the Kentucky River Authority, the state Division of Water, Kentucky Water Watch, the Kentucky Waterways Alliance and similar statewide organizations have long understood the role of folks upstream in quality remediation, it's been my experience that organizations with narrower agendas and focus have not.

As Lexington faces the water issue head-on, choosing to regain control of its water supply by condemnation, it seems a good time to invite the reaffirmation of the alliance between the upper basin community and Central Kentucky consumers.

Regardless of the success of the condemnation initiative, it's incumbent on the voters of Central Kentucky to join with those upstream to implement programs that make their water cleaner and safer. Those programs have to succeed upstream, so the benefits can come downstream.

The state legislature must work with counties to implement mandatory garbage collection; pass legislation that improves the anti-degradation policies on the Kentucky River; further limit the soil-disturbing, acid-runoff-producing practices of the mining and forestry industries; stop the destruction of watersheds by mountaintop removal mining and broaden the scope of the straight pipe initiatives. A bottle bill would be a terrific help, too.

The tire fee program needs revision. The current system pays folks to pitch tires into the river -- I counted 1,800 tires in an 11-mile stretch between Frozen and Primrose recently. The fee should be paid only when the tire is properly disposed of, not when the tire is received by the guy at the gas station. It's in his interest to dump the tires and pocket the money. Large tires go for $5, and you can bet that there are a disproportionate number of them in the river.

If Central Kentucky voters join with Eastern Kentucky voters, Frankfort will act.

------------------------------------------------------------------------ Will Herrick lives in Wolfe County

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