Cane Run Creek Watershed is located in the southern part of Scott County and the north/central part of Fayette County. The actual basin is comprised of 26,186 acres and is situated in the Outer Bluegrass Hills of the Bluegrass Physiographic Region. Cane Run Creek flows north/west a distance of 17.4 miles to its confluence with North Elkhorn Creek.

Local concern for overall quality of water in Cane Run Creek and the entire Elkhorn Creek Watershed, prompted an Intercounty Consortium to request assistance inventorying resource concerns and promoting programs to protecting the Elkhorn. Developing an ecosystem based assistance plan for the Cane Run Watershed is critical, for the majority of the watershed is the recharge area for Royal Spring. This two county shared watershed is the primary drinking water source for the city of Georgetown.

Assistance will be provided from federal, state, and local agencies to define the problems and opportunities associated with water, recreation, related land resources, and pollutants generated by various non-point sources. Back in 1992 the Elkhorn Intercounty Consortium and Conservation Districts of the Elkhorn Creek Watershed chose to sponsor a universal watershed plan for the entire Elkhorn Creek drainage area. This text was harvested from that plan.

The overall resource concerns expressed at a local meeting were prioritized as follows:

1) Water Quality

2) Water Quantity

3) Recreation and Aesthetic Issues

4) Flooding

5) Solid Waste Disposal

6) Property Rights

Problem Identification

1. Non-agricultural sources effecting natural resources:

A. Failing Septic Systems/Package Sewage Treatment Plants

B. Urban Development and Construction Site Erosion

C. Illegal Dumping and Solid Waste Problems

D. Flooding

E. Hazardous Waste Spills & Industrial Pollution

F. Depletion of Wildlife Habitats


2. Agricultural sources effecting natural resources:

A. Surface and Groundwater Pollution (Royal Spring)

B. Erosion and Sedimentation

C. Pesticide Pollution

D. Animal Waste & Nutrient Pollution

E. Cropland Tillage (Regulatory issues)

F. Silvicultural Activities

G. Dead Animal Dumping

H. Horse Muck Dumping

I. Overgrazed Woodlands and Riparian Areas J. Poor Pasture/Hayland Management

Principle Project Measures

1. Septic Systems/Package Treatment Plan Regulation Enforcement: Local laws and education programs

2. Controlling Erosion Problems on Construction Sites: Erosion control projects for developmental areas

3. Solid Waste Education and Local Ordinances: Recycling programs and Local cleanup efforts

4. Flooding Protection Programs: Streambank protection programs

5. Industrial Pollution/Hazardous Material Control: Protection from hazardous waste spills and leaking underground fuel tank program

6. Wildlife Protection & Enhancement: Increased wildlife habitats and utilization of sustainable agriculture

7. Sinkhole and Groundwater Protection: Recharge area protection plan

8. Erosion and Sedimentation Management: BMP construction for farmland erosion practices

9. Improved Pesticide Management: Integrated pest management and chemical application education

10. Controlling Nutrient & Animal Waste Pollution: Agricultural and livestock management

11. Environmental Regulation Laws and Compliance: Meeting government regulations without sacrificing agricultural production

12. Silviculture Management: Controlled trail systems and logging sites

13. Proper Dead Animal Disposal: Dead animal pickup program

14. Proper On-site and Off-site Horse Muck Programs: Education on composting systems

15. Woodland and Riparian Exclusion: Livestock exclusion from highly erodible areas

16. Proper Pasture/Hayland Management: Reduce overgrazing problems

Other Impacts:

1. Watershed protection of Cane Run Creek (main tributary and its sub-tributaries.

2. Improved public health and safety from improved water quality. Decreasing the cost of public health and safety through the reduction of contaminants accessing various water sources.

3. Increased environmental education through public consensus resulting in eco-system based watershed planning and with demonstrational best management practices.


Endangered Species:

Threatened or endangered species which reside in the area include:



All known potential pollution sources which exist in the watershed were identified by local landowners and farmers. The sources of possible pollution were divided into non-agricultural and agricultural related

groups and evaluated as to the impact each has on water quality. This information was gathered through a consensus survey questionnaire and with the consulting of various agencies, resource inventories, and water quality monitoring data.


Several non-agricultural pollution sources were evaluated as possible contributors to the Cane Run Creek watershed and/or potential ground water quality problems. These sources also effect other significant water sources such as North Elkhorn Creek and Cane Runs sub-tributaries. The main sources of pollution include the following:

A. Failing Septic Systems/Package Sewage Treatment Plants:

Around 30% of the homes in this watershed have either no septic system or a failing system. Since state law increased mandatory regulations since 1989, there are several systems that don't operate properly. Unfortunately, some systems have reportedly been diverted into abandoned wells, therefore injecting effluent directly into the groundwater supplies. After 1986, farmstead exemptions allowed landowners with more that 10 acres to install a septic system without requiring assistance. This exemption was repealed effective July 1992.

With increasing urban development near lakes and streams, the need for approved and working septic systems is vital to water quality. Even properly installed systems are subject to leaching during winter months, when the ground becomes frozen and effluent runoff is evident. New methods for handling human waste is in the form of wetland cells. This type of system requires a combination of different factors that are critical to its success. The type of soil is important for its, permeability, slope, and the leaching ability must be adequate for the wetland system to function properly.


Various well locations in the Scott County area have been tested during a state-wide program of the Division of Water. The results didn't indicate high levels of coliform and the nutrient levels were acceptable. Elevated levels of coliform bacteria would have indicated contamination by animal and/or human waste. The nutrient and phosphorus levels will fluctuate from trace levels to high levels during the winter months, when cattle are concentrated along water sources. Karst geology in this region can facilitate rapid transport of pollutants and renders the groundwater extremely vulnerable to contamination.

Improperly managed septic systems have a definite impact on the ground water aquifer, which accesses surface water. However, the impact of the pollutants from these systems on the water quality of Cane Run Creek and its main tributaries can not be accurately determined without extensive sampling and monitoring. The total amount of possible pollutants produced by septic systems may still be minor, but with increased residential development this can become an important factor.

Inadequate municipal and domestic sewage treatment systems have adversely impacted and continue to impact water quality. Unlike most aquifers where effluent slowly percolates into the groundwater, waste disposed in karst terrains is quickly entrained into the conduit system through highly transmissive epikarst. There are even cases where sewer and septic lines run directly to sinkholes.

Pollutants from inadequate municipal and domestic sewage treatment systems combined with untreated animal waste have contained elevated levels of chloride, pathogenic bacteria and viruses, organic matter, and decreased levels of dissolved oxygen.

Although the municipal sewer system will benefit small communities, the majority of the rural population will still utilize septic systems. The majority of homes located in the karst aquifer recharge area use septic systems. The typical septic systems in the project area consists of a septic tank and a soil absorption field, and is the only method of domestic waste disposal (wetland cells have not recently been adopted for the Cane Run area). The soil must treat the septic tank effluent before it percolates down to the water table. The effluent must percolate verily slowly to provide a long "die-off" time for pathogenic bacteria and viruses.

In the Cane Run watershed, many of the septic tank system failures occur because the effluent sinks rapidly into crevices in the underlying limestone bedrock and then directly into the aquifer. These failures occur because of thin soils over cavernous limestone and because of macro-pores in the soil, such as cracks, burrows and holes left by tree roots after they die and decay.

Many of the septic systems in the project area are contributing effluent directly to the karst aquifer without ever being detected from the surface. This makes determining the number of failing septic systems very difficult to count.

B. Urban Development and Construction Site Erosion:

The development activity in the watershed is practically increasing daily. This area is heavily used for industrial development and the expansion of existing factories, primarily because of the basins geographical location. There is a significant amount of prime land that would be required to be disturbed or displaced. Construction sites are always potential sources of pollution and new growth will require increased erosion control measures.

Excavated areas create an excessive amount of erosion mostly by the lack of sediment control measures. Clearing of ground cover exposes these heavy use areas and creates channels for the soil loss to exit the site. Also increased is the hydrology of the cleared area which tends to increase the amount of runoff to lower lying properties or streams. These areas become plagued with overloads of sediment, possibly degrading an individuals property and/or effecting the quality of a stream.

Woodland areas are often subject to most of this development and several acres of hardwood timber could be disturbed. These sites become a major source of erosion problems when they are not managed properly. Hardwood forest areas that are cleared have an erodibility factor twice as great as normal tillage practices on crop land. This will require constructed BMP's to help alleviate erosion control problems. These areas will have to shaped properly and appropriately seeded to help control excessive erosion. County developers should contact the local Soil Conservation Service to keep informed of what measures are available.

C. Illegal Dumping & Solid Waste Problems:

Illegal dumping of waste is very evident in the Cane Run watershed due to development sites, major interstate traffic, rural farms, and sinkholes. This is not only an aesthetic problem, but is a potentially serious hazard. Illegal dumps can be a major source of pathogens and/or chemical contamination of surface and groundwater resources. Small amounts of hazardous waste material in the domestic water supply system can impact all users.

Sinkholes are usually common sites for dumping and are direct contributors to groundwater supplies. Even abandoned wells are used as dumping sites of household or agricultural chemicals and waste. Dumping along Cane Run Creek and its main tributaries is not major problem. Most of these creeks meander through isolated farms not accessible from the road.

Tourism in Scott County is increasing on daily basis due to the accesses being made available along the Elkhorn. The tributary streams along the Cane Run watershed don't provide as much recreational value do to the inability of canoeing and game fishing. The one major problem is that interstate access roads lie in the middle of the watershed. Interstate roadsides are common breading grounds for littering of solid waste or garbage. Farmlands along the interstate are isolated from the roads with fencing, this makes garbage buildup increase along the road. Areas like these are not as taken care of compared to local Intercounty roads, making the interstate an eyesore.

D. Flooding:

Flooding in the Cane Run Creek area is primarily due to sediment buildup in creek bottoms. This is a result of excessive erosion occurring in areas below overgrazed woodlands and cattle accessing creeks Increased silt and sediment buildup mostly occurs in slow shallow streams, by forming mounds of deposited soil. The stream depth is decreased, therefore forcing the flow of water to redirect outside the streambanks. Streambanks begin to breakdown and erosion starts to occur, resulting in sediment problems.

This force of water is extremely damaging to bottomland crop fields and is not a suitable site for any type of development. The narrow bottoms in the Cane Run area are subject to flooding year round. Flooding problems are generally increased in areas where steep hillsides feed low lying bottoms. Without water control structures, bottom fields are subject to intense washing and severe erosion. The topsoil is stripped from the fields and deposited into the streams.

E. Hazardous Waste Spills and Industrial Pollution:

The Cane Run watershed has one significant factor and that is two major interstates travel through the basin. One highway runs north to south connecting Cincinnati and Lexington, the other runs west to east connecting Louisville and Lexington. Several vehicles travel this interstate and transportation of hazardous material is a daily activity. This poses a significant threat to the watershed surface and groundwater supplies in the event of a accident or spill. Due to the topography and the karst geology the transport of hazardous materials could create a threat to several surface and groundwater resources.

Each of the streams within the Cane Run watershed are tributaries to the main Elkhorn Creek branch, which is considered Scott County's alternative drinking water source. The majority of the watershed is directly related to the groundwater drainage area that affects Royal Spring. This is the primary drinking water source for Georgetown and its surrounding area. Also, the contamination of springs and surface waters would cause harm to livestock, wildlife, and aquatic life.

The Cane Run watershed is also populated with several industries, tourist attractions, and agricultural research farms. The upper part of the watershed is the northern part of Lexington where several industrial sites are located. Each of these companies have hazardous waste that must be stored, delivered, or recycled. The disposal methods which they choose must meet not just state and federal regulations, but also local ordinances. Hazardous materials means any chemical, biological or radiological compound, gas, oil, gasoline, lubricant, or other petroleum products, substance, solution or mixture which because of its quality, quantity, concentration, physical or infectious characteristics, or any combination thereof, when released into the environment, presents or may present harmful or potentially harmful effects to human health or welfare of the environment.

Other industries such as the Kentucky Horse Park is comprised of 962 acres located in the northern part of Fayette County. This site is the home to several thoroughbreds, which creates a significant amount of horse muck on a daily basis. The parks method of disposal is to a local composting site within the county, where the horse muck is established into windrows and composted for mushroom farms. Only 20% of the thoroughbred industry utilizes this method of disposal, the remaining farms use inappropriate methods. '

F. Depletion of Wildlife Habitats:

Streamside forestation supports several types of wildlife habitation, these include woodland/forage cover for varmint species and birds, piled debris along the stream provides shelter for other animals and ducks, and the canopy cover provides shade to allow aquatic life to flourish. The temperature of the water is critical for aquatic vegetation, fish, and macro-invertebrates. Each of these are indicators of good water quality and without their existence there would be no contaminant intake.

Most streamside forest were extracted a long time ago for development, logging, and firewood. Though most of these areas are now starting to regenerate several acres of streambanks are still barren. These areas are decreasing in stability and erosion is becoming more evident. Other factors such as cattle access to streams is not only making the regeneration process slow, but their tromping is extremely damaging to the banks stability.

Adherents of sustainable agriculture are more likely than those who use conventional agriculture show more respect to fish and wildlife. They seem to recognize that wildlife helps gauge the general health of local ecosystems and enriches the countryside with beauty and economic opportunity.

Some of the conventional ways of agriculture have been past culprits in the damaging of wildlife habitats throughout the Cane Run watershed. Sedimentation from soil erosion is a number one threat to aquatic systems. Pesticides can be damaging to fish, birds, and animals. While many insecticides are short-lived and relatively nontoxic to vertebrates at normal application rates, most are poisonous to aquatic invertebrates, a vital link in the aquatic food chain.

Weed killers are less of a threat to wildlife, but when they enter water supplies they have been shown to harm fish, particularly when more than one chemical is applied. Herbicides eliminate many of the plants that ducks feed on and that birds and fish use as cover. These chemicals also stunt and kill shelterbelt trees and other non-target vegetation important as wildlife habitat.


The current land use management systems on agricultural land were evaluated to determine how they affect the water quality of the Cane Run watershed. The agricultural soil and water resources were evaluated according to erosion, sedimentation, and nutrient transport. Evaluation units were developed by grouping the watershed resources according to land use, soils, topography, and current management systems.

Table 1:

Summary of Land Uses in Cane Run Creek Watershed 1993


Total Watershed Area 26,186

Cropland 2,302

Pastureland 17,787

Woodland 1,378

Water 40

Urban Development


Number of Farms 126

Average Size of Farms 208 Ac

amount of Livestock 5,664

Based on information from KY Agricultural Statistics 1993.

A. Surface and Groundwater pollution <Royal Spring):

Groundwater is an important source of drinking water for individuals living in the Georgetown area, because of its reliability during times of drought and its general good quality. With the widespread reports of bacteria, nitrates, synthetic organic chemicals, and other pollutants in groundwater there has been an increase of public concern about the springs quality. This growing concern and the uncertainty about the health risks associated with long-term exposure to small concentrations of synthetic organic chemicals in drinking water, have led local organizations and government agencies to increase groundwater data collection, monitoring, and research programs. Other efforts being made are to develop state and local groundwater protection plans, and to increase efforts to educate the public about what actions people can take to reduce contamination. This growing concern for groundwater protection for Georgetowns drinking water lead to the development of a Water Quality Incentive Project for the Royal Springs Recharge Area. This area is located in the heart of the Inner Bluegrass of Central Kentucky and the Elkhorn Creek Watershed. The upper reaches of the watershed begin at the northern edge of Lexington and extends to the heart of Georgetown. Royal Spring discharges nearly 14 billion gallons of water each year, and provides the domestic water supply for 18,000 persons in the city of Georgetown and the surrounding area.

The groundwater recharge area is underlain by limestones of the Lexington Formation, and has pronounced karst features. Sinkholes are common, and solution cavities and conduits are well developed. Groundwater can travel large distances in a short time. Because porosity of the limestone can be large, filtration of water as it moves through the bedrock system to Royal Spring is limited.

Land use and cultural practices within this recharge area have a critical effect and influence on the quality of water provided by the spring, and resulting effects on human health and satisfaction. Land use is predominantly agricultural (cropland, pastureland, and hayland comprise 78% of the watershed). Surface waters within this recharge area currently are only partially supporting warm-water aquatic habitat because of degradation from nonpoint source pollution from cropland and pastureland. In addition to diffuse farmland pollution, there are poor practices in common use throughout the watershed which are associated with sinkholes.

The water quality of Royal Spring is generally acceptable. However, this watershed is very vulnerable to the intrusion of pollutants into the groundwater. This source of drinking water has been and continues to be impacted by both point and nonpoint sources of pollution. These sources range from agricultural activities to urban development and runoff. In 1990, Royal Spring became contaminated by benzene from an undetermined source and it was necessary for the city of Georgetown and the surrounding area to obtain an emergency alternative water source for five days. Because of the direct impact which activities have upon this source of water, the use of best management practices is crucial.

B. Erosion and Sedimentation:

The agricultural soil and water resource problems evaluated in the Cane Run Creek watershed include erosion of cropland, pastureland, and grazing of woodland areas. One of the most important factors of erosion is the development of sediment to water sources. Sediment from eroding areas clog ditches and culverts, streams and ponds, reduces recreation and scenic values, and increases the likelihood of flooding. Sediment, along with accompanying nutrients and pesticides, can destroy fish and other aquatic life, and contributes to human and livestock health problems.

Erosion in streams is the most significant water quality problem we are facing. The erosion of streambanks causes excessive amounts of sedimentation in creeks and lakes bottom. This creates several problems in lower water levels, high chemical contents from croplands, and a decrease of aquatic life. Eroded soil usually makes streams, ponds, and lakes cloudy thus reducing the amount of sun light that penetrates to allow vegetation to grow and supply aquatic life the necessary foods they need to survive. The temperature of the water steadily increases due to low flows and the trapping of sunlight in the water. This causes streams dissolved oxygen levels to be- low and unsuitable to sustain life.

Minimizing soil erosion is beneficial to all of society and is cost effective. It is estimated that the cost of removing and correcting the damage of erosion is three times greater than preventing erosion.

Sediment fills farm drainage ditches, culverts, and stream channels, and shortens the economic life of reservoirs and farm ponds. It can plug water filters, erode power turbines and sprinkler nozzles, and damage pumping equipment. Maintenance costs are increased and additional treatment may be necessary before the water can be used for drinking or industrial purposes.


As human population and technology expand, impacts become more diverse for the chemical and physical controls that protect the resources in the Cane Run Creek Watershed:

a) Production of domestic effluents.

b) Erosion following alteration of landscapes by agriculture, forestry, and urbanization.

c) Alteration of stream channels and lake margins through dams, channelization, and drainage.

d) Diversion of other flow alteration.

e) Over harvest of biological resources.

f) Proliferation of toxic chemicals from point and nonpoint sources.

(More of the report can be found at the Scott County NRCS Office, See Cindy King to view the original and ONLY copy of the document. This was converted via optical scanning techniques that may have changed text or sentence structure. Please see original for citation or research purposes.

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