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Cane Run Watershed

About Cane Run Watershed

The Cane Run is one of the most interesting streams in Central Kentucky. Cane run watershed signThe Cane Run Watershed is 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 the creek continues on the surface, it joins with other tributaries and travels through parks, open green spaces, and agricultural lands. The two largest property owners within the watershed are the University of Kentucky’s Agricultural Experiment Station and the Kentucky Horse Park. What makes Cane Run special is that before it leaves Fayette County, a significant portion of its flow has already disappeared underground. Along the creek bottom, there are small cracks and crevices in the limestone bedrock where the creek seeps underground and recharge the Royal Spring Aquifer. It takes a heavy rain to supply enough water for Cane Run to continue above the surface into Scott County. Eventually it joins with the North Elkhorn Creek, which flows into the Kentucky River. 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. 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 on sidewalks, and lawn and agricultural fertilizers. Because of this pollution, the stream is unable to support aquatic wildlife habitat and is unfit for primary contact recreation, such as swimming. Cane Run has been placed on Kentucky’s 303(d) list of impaired streams.

Watershed-Based Planning

In 2007, the University of Kentucky’s College of Agriculture was awarded a United States Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) 319(h) grant to develop a watershed-based plan, develop pathogen and nutrient total maximum daily loads (TMDLs), and begin implementing these documents to reduce, remediate, and prevent the effects of nonpoint source pollution in the watershed. The watershed-based plan was approved in 2012, and a second grant was awarded to continue implementing the plan. Because the Royal Spring is the primary drinking water supply for the city of Georgetown, improving water quality in this watershed not only improves environmental quality, but improves human health and safety within the region.

The primary goal of the Cane Run and Royal Spring Watershed-Based Plan (WBP) is to reduce the effects of nonpoint sources of pollution in the watershed to allow the watershed to meet or exceed state water quality standards. The WBP describes best management practices (BMPs) that can be targeted to individual reaches along the Cane Run and its tributaries. The mix of agricultural, suburban, and urban landscapes in the watershed requires a broad range of BMPs. The efforts of this project are focused on the upper Cane Run watershed (15,000 acres), which is the recharge zone for the Royal Spring Aquifer. This target area extends from the northern sections of Lexington, KY to the Kentucky Horse Park

The secondary goal of the project is to make the restoration effort as visible as possible to not only the residents of the watershed, but across the state and nation, and the WBP details education and outreach opportunities for a variety of audiences, including watershed residents, community members, students, and visitors to the watershed. The location of the watershed within the Bluegrass Region of the state and along the I-75 and I-64 corridors makes the watershed highly visible for educational opportunities. The FEI World Equestrian Games and the creation of the Legacy Trail in 2010 brought new visitors to the watershed and created ongoing opportunities to education the community and the world the watershed.

Read the full version of the Watershed-Based Plan

Watershed Council

The Cane Run Watershed Council was formed in December, 2007 to involve all stakeholders in the development of the Watershed Based Plan and subsequent implementation of the proposed activities. The Cane Run Watershed Council is a place where issues relating to the Cane Run watershed are addressed, potential problems discussed and relevant solutions are sought out. The Council elaborates on plans to monitor the status of water quality in Cane Run and provides funding or other support to programs that help improve the quality of life of its citizens as well as the environment. Council meetings are open to the public. Anyone with an interest in the Cane Run watershed is invited to attend meetings and participate in council activities. Please visit the events section for information on the next council meeting.

Riparian Buffers: A Livestock Best Management Practice for Protecting Water Quality (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id175/id175.pdf) In Kentucky, cattle on pastures are often watered by streams. Although this practice solves water requirements for cattle, providing livestock free access to streams and riparian areas can lead to a contaminated water supply and damaged ecosystems. This publication explains the role of riparian areas and how they can benefit the livestock producer, the herd, and the environment.

Using Soil Cement on Horse and Livestock Farms (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id176/id176.pdf) Most farmers in Kentucky can identify with a myriad of problems associated with mud in high traffic areas. Concrete and heavy traffic pads are traditional remedies for reducing mud on horse farms, but another option is soil-cement, which is about one-third of the cost of concrete. This publication describes how to install soil cement in high traffic areas to reduce mud.

Enhanced Vegetative Strips for Livestock Facilities  (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/id/id189/id189.pdf) An enhanced vegetative strip is a best management practices that can be installed to protect surface waters from pollution produced by animal production facilities. If properly managed, enhanced vegetative strips can be used to trap, treat, and absorb pollutants, which can be removed from the designated area by harvesting or grazing. This publication details where and how to install an enhanced vegetative strip.

Alternative Water Source: Developing Springs for Livestock  (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/aen/aen98/aen98.pdf) Water supply is a key component in livestock production. One option producers have when providing water is to develop an existing spring, which occurs when groundwater running along an impervious rock layer hits a fracture and discharges on the surface. This publication describes how to develop a spring to provide water for horses or cattle.

Building a Grade Stabilization Structure to Control Erosion  (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/aen/aen100/aen100.pdf) Gully erosion creates large eroded channels that become problematic for many farms. This publication describes one way to remediate gullies, reducing pollution and creating productive pasture land.

Stream Crossings for Cattle  (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/aen/aen101/aen101.pdf) Limiting cattle access to riparian areas can decrease pollutant loads to streams and encourage cattle to graze upland areas more frequently, promoting uniform grazing.

How to Close an Abandoned Well  (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/aen/aen104/aen104.pdf) Abandoned wells are often the only structures remaining after an old house or barn has been removed. If left unmanaged in agricultural areas, these abandoned wells can pose a serious threat to livestock and human safety because of the large surface openings they often have. This publication provides information on the proper way to close an unused well, which helps prevent accidents and protect drinking water.

Sinkhole Management for Agricultural Producers  (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/aen/aen109/aen109.pdf) In a rural landscape, karst features can occur anywhere, but they are a concern in crop fields, pastures, and near production areas. It is important for agricultural producers to understand the risks associated with farming near karst features, which include water pollution and injuries and losses due to sinkhole collapse. This publication is designed to explain to agricultural producers the types of best management practices that should be implemented in a karst landscape to reduce these risks.

Nutrient Management Concepts for Livestock Producers  (http://www.ca.uky.edu/agc/pubs/aen/aen113/aen113.pdf) It is important for livestock producers and anyone using animal manures as fertilizer to understand the concepts of nutrient management. This publication describes what producers may see on their operation and offers basic nutrient management strategies and information about environmental regulations and requirements.

What is a watershed?

You may not realize it, but you are always in a watershed. A watershed is nature’s boundary for water. It includes all the land that drains to a single stream, river, lake or body of water. Rainfall and snow melt flow into streams, rivers, wetlands, lakes and eventually to the ocean. Or, the water may travel through the soil to become groundwater.

Watersheds may be as small as just a few acres, or as large as several states. The watershed of the Mississippi River is about 1.2 million square miles and contains thousands of smaller watersheds. These smaller watersheds drain to smaller streams that empty into a larger river like the Ohio River or Missouri River.

These larger rivers then empty into the Mississippi River. The land in a watershed affects how the water flows. If a watershed has lots of hills and mountains, rain runs off quickly. This runoff will reach the stream or body of water soon after the rain falls. If the land in the watershed is mostly flat, rain will runoff more slowly and not reach the stream or body of water as fast. The rain may soak into the soil and become groundwater.

The land in a watershed may be used for many different things. You may find houses and shopping centers. Parks and golf courses may be found. Factories and farms also are common land uses, as are roads. All these uses affect how water flows. They also affect water quality.

Water that is moving across the land may carry trash, soil, chemicals, or other things. These items may be taken to the stream or lake where the runoff goes. This can change the quality of that body of water. The things we do also can change the water quality. If you dump things like oil on the ground, it can wind up in a lake or stream. If your neighbors are doing the same thing, more oil will travel to the lake or stream. Everyone in a watershed can impact water quality.

Do you know what stream, river or lake is closest to your home? To learn more about your watershed, find out where the water in your backyard goes. Visit the Environmental Protection Agency’s Surf Your Watershed to learn more. Remember - we all have a watershed address and can impact water quality.

Success Stories

Stakeholder Outreach
The Cane Run Watershed Project also works with stakeholders to affect changes on a large scale. So far, these efforts have resulted in a change in thinking at the corporate level, as entities in the watershed have taken a more “go green” approach to land management. Projects at the Kentucky Horse Park, Lexmark International, and UK’s Agriculture Experiment Station have led to a greater awareness that streamside buffers can be aesthetically pleasing. These and other large stakeholders have also cooperated to install signage near the stream, along the Legacy Trail, and near various BMP implementation projects during and after construction, resulting in an increased awareness of the stream, the watershed, and improvement projects.

Kentucky Horse Park Riparian Buffer Planting
In preparation for the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games, the Kentucky Horse Park partnered with the University of Kentucky to protect water quality along Cane Run. A landscape planting along a tributary to Cane Run was created with trees, shrubs and wildflowers. This stream buffer serves as both a visual enhancement to the property as well as a water quality Best Management Practice (BMP). The plants along the creek make good use of excess nutrients in the soil and water. As the plants grow and develop, the dense system of roots will also hold the soil together and reduce erosion. By creating a vegetated buffer, the plants help to filter pollutants from surface runoff before they enter the creek. The dense canopy of trees and shrubs also provide both shade help to keep the water cool and shelter to improve aquatic habitat.

Student Watershed Education

  • In July 2009, 55 Robinson Scholars toured the Cane Run watershed and spent four days learning about the watershed. To see the press release written by the students regarding the project, click here.
  • The Southern Region 4-H2O Ambassador Program is currently being piloted in Kentucky, Tennessee, and Georgia. In Kentucky, one pilot location is Russell Cave Elementary in Fayette County, where many of the students live in the Cane Run Watershed. In September, 2009, all Russell Cave Elementary 5th graders attended a 2-day, 1-night 4-H2O Camp and used Cane Run as a case study. The students learned about watersheds, stormwater pollutants and watershed stewardship. Currently, the class is planning a community service project to implement in the Cane Run Watershed.
  • In 2010, 32 Russell Cave Elementary 5th graders toured the Cane Run Watershed and participated in a clean-up event along Cane Run. To learn more about what they found, click here. Students also developed a brochure on watershed basics and took it to the Northside Branch of the Lexington Public Library.
  • In 2011, Bryan Station High School students enrolled in the AP Environmental Science course toured the Cane Run Watershed and explored water quality by conducting basic water sampling and stream assessments. This participation by Bryan Station High School has led to the development of additional involvement with AP Environmental Science students planned for the 2012-2013 school year.


Watershed Festivals
Working with the Cane Run Watershed Council, the project has conducted two watershed festivals in the Cane Run Watershed. In 2010, the festival was at Green Acres Park, and over 300 people attended. In 2011, Castlewood Park hosted the festival, and nearly 250 people attended. These festivals featured workshops and speakers that educated attendees on what a watershed is and how everyone can take steps to improve water quality by picking up after pets, not littering, using fewer pesticides, and installing rain barrels.

Watershed Tours and Workshops
Cane Run Watershed Project staff give watershed tours and workshops for professional, academic, and student groups. Professional audiences for watershed tours have included KY Association of Conservation Districts, US EPA, NRCS, and KY Division of Water personnel, county Extension agents, the National Exotic Pest Plant Council, and university sustainability coordinators. Three agriculture best management practice and stream buffer restoration workshops have been conducted for engineers, landscape architects, county Extension agents, KY Division of Water personnel, and other watershed professionals. Additional tours have been conducted annually for UK sustainable agriculture and natural resources courses, garden clubs, and high school students.