Thirty years ago in 1993, the Nobel Peace prize was awarded to Mandela and de Klerk, hundreds of levees failed along the Mississippi and Missouri Rivers during the Great Flood of 1993, the first Beanie Babies were sold, the European Union was established, Al Gore was talking about climate change, the Clean Water Act was 20 years old, and the Kentucky Waterways Alliance (KWA) was founded.
The world has changed a lot in the last thirty years. What hasn’t changed is the KWA commitment to protect, restore, and celebrate Kentucky’s 90,000 miles of waterways as a source of cleaner and safer drinking water, to protect wildlife and endangered species, and to preserve the beauty of our greatest natural resource.
In the Beginning
The origins of KWA are reflected in the word ‘Alliance’. Eighty representatives from government, industry, community organizations and individuals from across the state, motioned to create a formal organization to work together on waterway issues. As a result, KWA was incorporated and granted non-profit status in 1993. River Network provided start-up funds with in-kind support coming from various state and local agencies.
As an alliance, we have placed a priority on working with communities across the state on local watershed issues. Much of our first decade was dedicated to helping small watershed groups. Over this decade we helped over 50 watershed groups across the state from Paducah to Prestonsburg, Louisville to Bowling Green, Covington to London protect their river or stream and to educate the community about the importance of clean water. KWA was instrumental in the founding of Watershed Watch of Kentucky, resulting in thousands of citizens who have been trained to take water samples and have learned about their local streams as well as about their larger watershed. In 2022, KWA’s Watershed Network program was established to continue the work of previous decades with the goal of increasing collective impact to improve water quality for wildlife and people who rely on clean water.
As an Alliance we have and continue to advocate for better policies and programs at the state and national levels. Over the years, KWA staff has served as watchdog over permits that discharge pollutants into Kentucky’s waters by reviewing, commenting, and in some cases challenging, bad permits. KWA staff reviewed and commented on hundreds of permit applications, helping to improve the permits and thereby protect our waterways. A citizen suit filed by KWA against the USEPA set national precedent on antidegradation that helped provide better protection for over 90% of Kentucky’s waterways. We successfully advocated to the Division of Water and U.S. Forest Service for the addition of new Outstanding National Resource Waters that permanently protected over 62 miles of streams and 2040 acres of wetlands. We fought and succeeded to keep a cold-water habitat designation for 16 Kentucky streams, which protected their use as trout streams. KWA won an 8 yearlong court battle to ensure there will be no more valley fills from coal mines under generic nationwide permits. KWA won a lawsuit requiring a more thorough assessment of the impacts of any nationwide permit before reauthorization.
As we have seen time and time again, an impaired, polluted waterway can be restored. KWA helped co-author a Watershed Planning Guidebook, a valuable resource for watershed groups all over Kentucky and we have helped author many watershed plans through the years. Six years ago, KWA began implementing the Red River Watershed plan in Eastern Kentucky. This nationally designated Wild & Scenic River has benefited from cleanups, environmental education, and septic system repair and replacement.
KWA established and managed the Kentucky Aquatic Resources Fund (KARF), created to provide a sustainable source of funding for aquatic ecosystems in Kentucky. Outcomes from the partnerships created through this fund resulted in the removal of the Green River Dam 6 in 2017, the Barren River Dam 1 in 2022, and next the Green River Dam 5 will be removed. We have hosted and coordinated thousands of volunteers in river and stream cleanups across the state and removed hundreds of tons of trash from our waterways.
In 2022, KWA began working with the National Wildlife Federation and other partners on the creation of an Ohio River Restoration Plan which will be presented to Congress in late 2023. This plan, if enacted, could bring millions of federal dollars to the Ohio River Basin to protect and restore it for future generations.
In 2016 the “celebration of waterways' was added to the mission of KWA during a strategic planning process. KWA believes that our waterways are worthy of celebration through participation in community events, art, music, film, photography, and writing. KWA believes when we celebrate the beauty and joy our waterways offer, it offers a chance to inspire activism and a love for nature. We protect what we love. Celebrations through the years have included hosting our Wild & Scenic Film Festival, the establishment of a KWA artist-in-residence program, Aveda Earth Month events, the Wild & Scenic Red River Festival, participation in AFLOAT, inspired by the art and environmentalism of Harlan and Anna Hubbard, and participation Ripple Effects, a water themed photography contest for students. This year, KWA is holding our 30th anniversary celebration, an evening of music and film, on August 18 at Waterfront Botanical Gardens on the bank of Beargrass Creek, Louisville’s primary urban stream.
Looking to the Future
While much has been accomplished, much work is ahead. We know there will be continued threats to the Clean Water Act, that bad actors will put profit before our greatest natural resource, and that Black communities and communities of color will bear a disproportionate burden from polluted water and other environmental harms. We also believe that when we come together, resolved in our commitment to clean, healthy waterways, our actions can make a difference. Kentucky Waterways Alliance, its members, and partners will continue to strive to improve the quality of our waterways, for all Kentuckians and our neighbors downstream. Please join us!
KWA’s Beargrass Creek Environmental Education Program was generously supported by a grant from the Norton Foundation. This funding allowed KWA, along with our partners at Kentucky Association of Environmental Education (KAEE) and Louisville Nature Center (LNC), to host an in-person field trip for 8th grade Jefferson County Public School (JCPS) students and to provide professional development training to JCPS teachers.
Middle school teachers from seven JCPS schools received professional development using Project WET and Aquatic Wild curriculums that included classroom learning as well as experiential learning to replicate lessons they will teach their students. Teachers received Project WET and Aquatic Wild curriculum and guidebooks to keep in their classrooms as resource for future lesson plans.
Eighth graders from Farnsley Middle School had the opportunity to hike through the forest in Beargrass Creek State Nature Preserve to Beargrass Creek where they collected crawfish, mussels, dragonfly larvae, and other aquatic creatures and observed them with creek-side microscopes. In addition, in small break out groups the students studied benthic macroinvertebrate and riparian zones.
Following the field trip, Melissa Brown, an eighth-grade teacher Farnsley Middle School, wrote to tell us, “I was inspired to reach out to the Soil and Water Conservation District to help our school's Environmental Club to create a new pollinator garden on our campus. We are using the benefits of this experience to maximize student learning as well as protect an ecosystem here at our school.”
Kentucky Waterways Alliance has long held that the health of the Ohio River (“La Belle Riviere”) is critical to the well-being of our Commonwealth and country, both its citizens and wildlife. KWA has been working for 30 years to protect it. The Ohio River Basin is a region of 204,000 square miles covering parts of 14 states and including a population of nearly 25 million people. For 664 miles the Ohio River flows along the Kentucky shore. KWA is pleased to see renewed attention from many sectors focused on restoring, protecting, and celebrating the Ohio River, one of the great rivers of the world.
Bad News and Good News:
First, the bad news: A report released in September 2022 by Environment America titled “Wasting our Waterways” noted that heavy industries including coal-fired power plants, steel and aluminum manufacturers, petrochemical plants dumped 41 million pounds of toxic pollution, including “forever chemicals” polyfluoroalkyl substances – known as PFAS, into the Ohio River watershed, more than any other in the United States in 2020. Ward Wilson, KWA’s Executive Director says, “It's disheartening to hear that the Ohio River once again is at the top of this list of polluted waterways. But let's not write it off - it is still a beautiful river and deserves to be protected, restored, and yes, even celebrated.”
And now the good news: The river is healthier than it’s been in one hundred years. But there is much work left to accomplish. The National Wildlife Federation (KWA is the NWF Kentucky affiliate) and the Ohio River Basin Alliance (ORBA) are overseeing a process to craft a regional restoration plan to protect and restore the Ohio River, its tributaries, wetlands, and surrounding habitats in the 14-state region. The restoration plan will address serious threats to fish, wildlife, and people, including problems such as sewage contamination, mining waste, polluted runoff, and toxic pollution. The plan will also seek to reverse environmental injustices, including inadequate water sanitation services, unaffordable drinking water, and flooding concerns. The restoration plan will be delivered to the U.S. Congress in 2023, with the goal of securing new federal investments to implement the plan and to provide clean, safe, and affordable water to every person in the region. This restoration plan is modeled on successful large-scale initiatives to restore Chesapeake Bay and the Great Lakes regions. KWA held a Listening Session for the restoration plan in August, on one of the hottest and most humid days of the summer. A capacity crowd filled the unairconditioned Community Boathouse located just steps from the Ohio River, demonstrating their support and passion for the health of the Ohio River.
In addition to our work with NWF, KWA also applauds the efforts of many volunteer and nonprofit groups who are committed to the Ohio River. KWA is engaged with organizations large and small whose work benefits the Ohio River, including Salt River Watershed Watch, Rotary Club of Louisville, Ohio River Way, Payne Hollow on the Ohio, AFLOAT: An Ohio River Way of Life, Artist at Exit Zero, Albertus Gorman, and watershed groups across the state. KWA encourages our members to join us in being a voice for the Ohio River.
KWA has been following the ongoing disaster in Eastern Kentucky from historic and sudden flooding in late July. Our hearts go out to all of those that were affected - those that lost loved ones, those that lost homes, those that were sickened by the contaminated waters and the mold that grew, and those suffering from the mental and emotional stress of it all. We have donated to fundraisers, amplified voices from the area in our social media, and we have done one trip to Breathitt County. The photo above shows some of the flooding there.
We are thinking about what else we can do to be helpful. We want to be constructive while also being compassionate. Many of our members and partner organizations are talking about the causes of the flooding. There is good evidence to support the role of climate change, mountaintop removal for coal mining, and lack of infrastructure as contributors to the devastation. KWA will continue to highlight those issues, but right now we are thinking of our fellow Kentuckians and how to support them. When the initial response and recovery efforts are completed, KWA will be working with our partners to be part of the solutions, which are complex and will take time. Here are some things we are considering, based on our mission statement.
KWA has been working for years to protect and restore wildlife habitats in and around waterways in Kentucky. Now we are excited to share that there is a chance at serious funding for this important work. Kentucky would receive over $15 million/year to conserve lands and waters that support over 300 species of wildlife.
Check out the attached fact sheet with more information and then click the Support KY Wildlife button to lend your support to this historic effort!
Our 4th annual Make a Splash Water Fest for Wolfe County 6th graders was, you guessed it, a little different this year due to COVID restrictions. But it didn’t stop us from re-figuring in order to bring Wolfe County students fun, engaging, environmental educational programming to learn about water quality. We all have an effect on the land and water we are surrounded by though those practical lessons are not always taught/re-iterated. Students went away from the event with knowledge in the following:
What is a watershed?
Stormwater runoff takes pollution into our streams, rivers, and lakes. What are some ways we can reduce pollution in our waterways?
KWA's 13th annual Wild & Scenic Film Festival premiered in-person Thursday, June 17 at the Sauerbeck Family Drive-In in LaGrange, KY. Simultaneously, the virtual festival experience took place from June 17-June 22. 120 individuals attended our drive-in experience, and 60 households watched the virtual experience. At the drive-in we had several different organizations present: Beargrass Creek Alliance, Forecastle Foundation, Quest Outdoors, Kentuckiana Air Education, Louisville Grows, Jefferson County Soil and Water Conservation District, Kentucky Natural Lands Trust, Kentucky Conservation Committee, and Louisville Climate Action Network.
KWA Artist in Residence, Albertus Gorman, the Artist at Exit 0, was on site constructing a live sculptural exhibit. He had several different works on display, including his Waterfoul or Plastic Quackery Collection.
We were thrilled to be able to reconnect with KWA members, both new and old, and to celebrate by watching 10 environmental and adventure films together. Our guest emcee, Angie Fenton of Extol Magazine & Media, did a fabulous job introducing the films and sharing her personal connection to our natural world.
Two creek cleanup events were held on Beargrass Creek Saturday, January 30, 2021.
The Butchertown Neighborhood Association organized their cleanup event on Beargrass Creek at the Karen Lynch Park next to the Beargrass Flood Pumping Station. Huge thanks to Joe Bringardner and Michael Logsdon of Butchertown Neighborhood Association who helped to make this event a huge success. Four trucks were donated by volunteers and a total of seven truckloads of trash and debris were removed.
The Friends of the Forecastle Foundation organized a cleanup in Cherokee Park near Big Rock, a popular location for recreation. A special thank you to the #naturallyawesome Sylvia Holden, Kassi Cawood, Jerry Scrogham, and Liz Vail for making this happen.
Here’s what you need to know about the CARES Act, and how you and others may be able to use it to maximize charitable giving to KWA when it means the most.
On March 27, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act was signed into law to help combat the far-reaching impacts of COVID-19. The bill may provide increased tax incentives for charitable giving for some donors, but these benefits apply only in the 2020 tax year, so you must act by December 31, 2020.
First, donors who itemize can deduct cash contributions to KWA and most other public charities to offset up to 100% of their income. Ordinarily, this income tax charitable deduction for cash gifts is limited to 60% of income. The 100% limit allows especially generous donors to reduce their 2020 federal income tax to zero. Existing carry-over rules still apply, so those who are even more generous can carry forward unused cash contribution deductions for up to five years. This makes it easier for our most generous supporters to make a gift of a lifetime to KWA.
If you don’t itemize, you can take the standard deduction AND reduce your taxable income by up to $300 for gifts of cash to public charities by using an “above the line” adjustment.
Answers to few questions regarding the CARES Act and giving:
Can a donor age 70½ or older still make a gift to KWA from an IRA?
Yes. Most required minimum distributions (RMDs) from retirement plans have been eliminated for 2020; however, donors age 70½ or older can still make a qualified charitable distribution (QCD, or IRA charitable rollover) of up to $100,000 to KWA from their IRA. While the benefit of using a QCD to satisfy an RMD does not apply for 2020, a QCD remains a great way to make tax advantageous gifts, especially if the donor doesn’t itemize deductions.
Does the CARES Act have any impact on corporate giving?
Yes. The CARES Act increases the cap on how much corporations may deduct for charitable gifts from 10 percent of taxable income to 25 percent.
Does the CARES Act apply to any gifts other than “cash”?
No. The increased limits are applicable only to cash donations. Contributions of any kind of property, including marketable securities, real assets or otherwise, do not qualify.
Who should KWA supporters contact if they have questions?
We advise donors to check with their tax advisor to learn more about how the CARES Act may specifically apply to their tax situation. We would also be happy to have a conversation.
We know that our supporters have important priorities for their families and loved ones, and that their health and financial well-being comes first. We are here to help shape a charitable gift plan that suits a donor’s needs and allows them to keep supporting our important work. Please contact Charlotte Caldwell, our Director of Donor and Community Relations, at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Thanks again for your generous support of Kentucky Waterways Alliance.
This information does not constitute legal or financial advice. Consult your financial advisor and obtain professional counsel of an attorney to assist you in making a gift in a way that will benefit the people and organizations you care most about.
After three years, dam removal is paying off
Over Thanksgiving weekend 2016, the structure named Lock and Dam 6 on the Green River failed, meaning it cracked open to let the water run through. This failure of the century-old structure led to a success for paddlers, anglers, and the ecology of the longest river within Kentucky’s borders. KWA was a part of the team that had been planning to remove three dams from the Green and Barren
Rivers and now had our chance to get the first one out. In April 2017, the structure was completely removed and approximately 10 miles of Green River was free flowing again.
The Green River drainage in central Kentucky is one of the most biologically diverse rivers in the Southeast United States, with over 150 species of fish, over 70 species of mussels, and 25 species
of crayfish. Dozens of these species are considered unique and imperiled, such as the stargazing
minnow (Phenocobius uranops), fanshell mussel (Cyprogenia stegaria), and bottlebrush
crayfish (Barbicambarus cornutus). Unfortunately, a series of navigational dams have existed within the lower half of the mainstem of the Green River for over 100 years, which has impacted the
There are nearly 90,000 dams in the U.S.; approximately 1,100 are in Kentucky. Although dams have provided benefits in navigation, flood control, and recreation, their presence within the waterways has been profoundly negative on the natural aquatic fauna, water quality, habitat, and hydrology. Dams disrupt the connectivity of streams and rivers, fragment populations, alter hydrology and
sediment transport, and decrease water quality. Overall, dams are considered one of the most
substantial threats to riverine ecosystems, often resulting in decreased biodiversity and shifts in ecological functions.
The removal of dams has increased over the last couple of decades in the United States as the purpose, need, and integrity of the infrastructures has decreased. Dams have become viewed more as liabilities and ecological hazards than as beneficial entities, and a shift in focus towards river restoration, species conservation, and sustainability has propelled the removal of them. Approximately 1,200 dams have been removed in the U.S., with 4 dams removed in Kentucky. Although it is perceived that the removal of dams is beneficial to the river ecosystem, less than 10% of the dams removed in the U.S. have been monitored and assessed to document the benefits obtained from the removals. Given the diversity and importance of the Green River, the removal of the old, obsolete, and hazardous dams within the drainage are a priority for resource managers.
More Dams to Fall
When lock and dam #6 (Dam 6) was removed, it was the first step in a process that began years
before with studies and permitting projects that allowed for the removal of Dams 5 and 6 on the Green River and Barren River Dam 1. KWA and partners US Fish & Wildlife Service, US Army Corps
of Engineers, Kentucky Fish & Wildlife, and The Nature Conservancy are working on plans to
remove the remaining two dams, which will set free much more of these beautiful, biodiverse rivers for those of us that love them and the wildlife that depend on the rivers for their home.
Since 2017, the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves (KNP) has led the monitoring effort of the response and recovery of the river following the removal of Dam 6 and the pending removal of Dam 5. The ecological assessment project studies how the fish, mussel, macroinvertebrate, riparian zone vegetation, and instream habitat are changing within 45 miles of the river corridor impacted, downstream and upstream, of the Green River dams. The project aims to document and measure the ecological response of the river ecosystem over time and determine whether diversity and ecological quality have improved.
Each component of the study is in different stages of data processing and is ongoing, but survey efforts so far have encountered 66 species of fish and 35 species of mussels, with four federally listed species, such as sheepnose (Plethobasus cyphyus) and rough pigtoe (Pleurobema plenum). Preliminary results indicate habitats and diversity are greater in the segments of river that resemble more natural conditions. In addition, downstream of Dam 5 several fish species, such as American eel (Anguiila rostrata), blue sucker
(Cycleptus elongatus), and bowfin (Amia calva) occur, but are rare or absent upstream of the dam. It is anticipated their dispersal and abundance would increase further upstream once Dam 5 is removed. The mussel community was indicative of the hydrology of the river and has been dominated by species tolerant of pool habitat upstream of the dams. The vegetation surveys indicated the newly exposed bank channel was in early succession, although unique ecological communities were discovered in some sections of river minimally disturbed by the dams.
Monitoring efforts will continue for many years to come as the river changes and stabilizes to the new hydrological changes, but early results are encouraging that the river will achieve a degree of recovery. For more information on the Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves’ projects see annual reports here.