FRANKFORT – About a week ago, state officials released the latest annual report on the quality of a resource we too often take for granted: our drinking water.
In short, the news is good for those who rely on the treated water provided each and every day by our nearly 450 public utilities.
Monitoring and reporting violations are about half of what they were in 2007, and while the number of health-based violations doubled between 2013 and 2014, that was largely due to tighter federal regulations. Even with the uptick, this figure still represents less than two-tenths of one percent of the samples evaluated.
The Division of Water also says the public is reporting fewer problems as well. The number of complaints investigated by the agency has declined by more than a third over the last six years.
Some might be surprised to know that most of the water Kentucky uses each day isn’t for our schools, homes and businesses, but our power plants. They account for about three-fourths of the total.
The remaining fourth is no small number, however. It comes to about 900 million gallons each day, with two-thirds going into a public drinking supply that now reaches nearly every Kentuckian. Twenty-five percent is used by industry, and the remainder is split among several areas, including mining and farming.
Earlier this year, the Kentucky Infrastructure Authority complemented this report by highlighting just how extensive our water and sewer systems are.
That agency estimates there are more than 62,000 miles of waterlines criss-crossing the state, but 10,000 of those are 50 years or older. Our water treatment plants are, on average, nearly 40 years old, and our water tanks are 26.
Among our sewer plants, which reach 60 percent of our population, there are 20,600 miles of lines. About half are at least 30 years old, but a tenth has been around for at least 70 years.
To help bring these numbers down, KIA estimates we would need to spend almost $4 billion over the next decade alone.
Although Kentucky is a land-locked state, few states have as close a relationship to water as we do.
Only Alaska has more miles of streams and rivers, for example, and the number of navigable miles in the commonwealth is about double the length of our interstates.
Kentucky Lake is the largest manmade reservoir east of the Mississippi River, while Lake Cumberland is the largest by volume in that category. Interestingly, that lake has just a little less shoreline than Florida’s Gulf and Atlantic coasts combined.
Two other areas where we excel are aquaculture and houseboats. Kentucky State University is a national leader in studying and promoting farm-raised seafood, and Southcentral Kentucky set the stage for being the world leader in houseboat construction when it debuted the first back in the early 1950s.
It’s worth adding that students at the University of Kentucky also became world leaders themselves in 2011, when the Guinness Book of World Records declared that they had held the largest water balloon fight ever. Nearly 9,000 participants threw more than 175,000 water balloons at each other that day.
Now that Kentucky has largely succeeded in getting treated water to most corners of the state, and is moving in that direction with sewer service, the long-term goal is making sure that these utilities maintain the high level of service we have come to expect. It’s not an issue we can afford to ignore in the years ahead.
As we work toward making these upgrades, I would like to know your thoughts about this or any other area affecting Kentucky. If you would like to write, my address is Room 366B, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601; or you can email me at Rick.Rand@lrc.ky.gov.
To leave a message for me or for any legislator by phone, please call 800-372-7181. For those with a hearing impairment, the number is 800-896-0305.
I hope to hear from you soon.