Active Projects

A University-Community Partnership to Reduce Exposure to Disinfection Byproducts in Appalachia

In 2021, the project, A University-Community Partnership to Reduce Exposure to Disinfection Byproducts in Appalachia, was selected for funding by the National Institutes of Health's National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences' (NIEHS) Research to Action program. The five-year project brings together University of Kentucky researchers and members of three community-based nonprofits to identify and reduce drinking water disinfection byproduct (DBP) exposure in Martin and Letcher counties, using a multidisciplinary, stakeholder-engaged approach. The team is led by Jason Unrine, professor in the UK College of Agriculture, Food and Environment (CAFE), and Anna Goodman Hoover, assistant professor in the College of Public Health. The research team also includes Lindell Ormsbee, Director of the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute, Kelly Pennell, Director of the UK Superfund Research Center, Jay Christian from College of Public Health, and Wayne Sanderson from CAFE . Community-based co-investigators are Mary Cromer from Appalachian Citizens’ Law Center, Hilary Miles from Headwaters Inc. and Betsy Taylor from Livelihoods Knowledge Exchange Network.

This study will build on findings from two previous pilot studies and one community grant funded by the UK Center for Appalachian Research in Environmental Sciences (UK-CARES). These projects identified needs to expand DBP exposure sampling for both ingestion and inhalation and to incorporate seasonal fluctuations in DBP formation to understand factors influencing exposure risks. The researchers expect the study will generate new insights about DBP formation and exposure pathways while building local partnerships and capacity to reduce DBP exposures at the local level.

Appalachian Community Technical Assistance and Training (ACTAT) Program

Many Appalachian communities are entrenched in poverty, lack jobs, have declining populations, experience resource depletion, and suffer from inequality and injustice that impacts their ability to provide adequate water services. To address these challenges, KWRI has joined with experts at West Virginia University (WVU), directed by the institution’s National Environmental Services Center (NESC), to provide free training and technical assistance to small Appalachian communities to proactively improve drinking water or wastewater services. This endeavor — the Appalachian Community Technical Assistance and Training (ACTAT) program is a partnership of NESC, the University of Kentucky’s KWRI, and the University of Tennessee-Knoxville’s Hydraulics and Sedimentation Lab and is funded by the Rural Utilities Service, a division of the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Development Program.  Using the USDA and EPA's Rural and Small Systems Guidebook to Sustainable System Management and the companion Workshop in a Box: Sustainable Management of Rural and Small Systems Workshop (WIB) as a basis to provide outreach, technical assistance, and training activities to small communities in Kentucky, West Virginia, and Tennessee. Target participants include small water system operators and managers; local decision-makers such as mayors, commissioners and board members; and service personnel.

More information about the program is available on the Appalachian Community Technical Assistance and Training (ACTAT) page on our website.


Kentucky Watershed Academy

Kentucky’s watershed coordinators fulfill a critical role in carrying out local water quality improvement projects effectively.  They are often the most visible face and voice of water quality information to local citizens and oversee many and varied watershed education and management activities.  For this reason, watershed coordinators need a range of technical support and guidance from the Kentucky Division of Water and others to succeed in their generalized role within the water quality profession.  To assist with this need, in 2017, the Kentucky Division of Water provided 319h Nonpoint Source Grant funding to KWRI to develop six training modules for the Kentucky Watershed Academy.  These modules provide a strong foundation for watershed coordinators and other water quality professionals to better understand and navigate the wide range of challenges and opportunities they will inevitably confront in their daily efforts to improve water quality in Kentucky. More information and the material for each module is available on the Kentucky Watershed Academy page on our website.

Kentucky River Authority Watershed Grant Program

Since 2003, KWRI has been administering a Watershed Grant Program on behalf of the Kentucky River Authority (KRA).  These small grants of up to $3,000 enable community organizations to pursue local efforts to improve water quality conditions. In 2018, five projects were funded by this KRA grant program. To read more about current and past funded projects, visit the Watershed Grant Program page.

Kentucky River Watershed Watch

Kentucky River Watershed Watch is a tax-exempt, nonprofit organization formed in 1997 through the cooperation of the Sierra Club, the Kentucky Waterways Alliance, and the Division of Water's Water Watch program. Its membership focuses water quality monitoring and improvement efforts within the Kentucky River Basin. The basin extends over much of the central and eastern portions of the state and is home to approximately 710,000 Kentuckians. The watershed includes all or parts of 42 counties and drains over 7,000 square miles, with a tributary network of more than 15,000 miles.

Learn more about the Kentucky River Watershed Watch.

Completed Projects

North Fork: Whitesburg Tributaries Watershed Plan, Letcher County, KY

KWRI assisted the Kentucky Division of Water and Whitesburg's Headwaters organization with the development of a Watershed Plan for assessing three headwater tributaries of the North Fork Kentucky River.  This collaborative effort provided helpful insights into water quality problems, which will lead to specific management recommendations to improve water quality for this Letcher County community. For more information, visit the Watershed Plans page on our website. 

Bayou Creek Metals Study

The Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW) first placed Bayou and Little Bayou Creeks on their 303(d) list of impaired waters in 1998. The listing was based upon potential impacts of the concentrations of one or more of four (4) chemicals: 1) Copper; 2) Mercury; 3) Lead; and 4) Iron. In order to evaluate the need for copper, mecury, lead and iron TMDLs for Little Bayou Creek and Big Bayou Creek, a plan was developed and implemented for collection and assessment of surface water metals data in 2007. The Kentucky Research Consortium for Energy and Environment's (KRCEE) TMDL development activities are documented in the following reports for KRCEE Project 6: Surface Water Assessment and Management of the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PGDP) Facility and the Surrounding Wildlife Management Area

Based on historical KRCEE project results and ensuing discussions with the KDOW, this project's supplemental data collection and assessment was undertaken to determine the need for specific Little Bayou Creek and Big Bayou Creek TMDLs. This project addressed: 1) collection of flow and metals concentration data over a 1 year period on Little Bayou Creek and Big Bayou Creek; 2) data quality assessment; and 3) comparative assessment of the collected data relative to the need for TMDL development. Comparative assessment included comparison of data from each site and analyte to: 1) Water Quality Standard (WQS); 2) background concentrations; 3) upgradient/downgradient location relative to discharges from the PGDP; and 4) reference concentrations. A copy of the final report is available, Summary of University of Kentucky Surface Water Metal Data Collection Efforts Relating to Total Maximum Daily Load Development for Little Bayou and Bayou Creeks at the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant 2007-2008 (PDF, 146 pgs).

Eastern Kentucky PRIDE Assessment Project

The Eastern Kentucky PRIDE (Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment) initiative was first announced by U.S. Congressman Harold "Hal" Rogers and Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Cabinet Secretary James Bickford in 1997. PRIDE was the first comprehensive, region-wide, local/state/federal cooperative effort designed to address the serious challenge of cleaning up the region's rivers and streams. The initiative focused on 40 separate counties located in the southeastern part of Kentucky that form the headwaters for the Big Sandy, Licking, Kentucky, Green and Cumberland river basins. Also included in the region were small segments of the Salt and Little Sandy river basins. Since its formation in 1997, PRIDE has been responsible for the funding of numerous projects in the 40 PRIDE counties, many of which focus on the elimination of straight pipes and the upgrading of wastewater treatment plants.

In 2000, PRIDE contracted with the University of Kentucky to provide a baseline water quality assessment of the PRIDE region and to continue the on-going monitoring and assessment program. The efficient utilization of federal funds in improving the water quality and aquatic habitat of the region requires a process for assessing and evaluating the impacts of proposed and ongoing projects as well as some mechanism for prioritizing the allocation of additional funds. In order to evaluate the effectiveness of these projects, it is important to provide a formal monitoring and assessment program based on sound scientific principles. Four separate reports were initially developed to provide an assessment of the existing water quality conditions in the 40 county PRIDE region (along with an identification of the water quality problems) and associated state and federal programs that have been designed to address these issues. In particular, the reports establish baseline conditions in the region for evaluating the impacts of the PRIDE programs and the extent to which such programs are satisfying their stated objectives of cleaning up the rivers and streams.

From 2000 to 2006, researchers from the University of Kentucky collected water quality samples from 80 separate sites across the PRIDE project region.  In addition to field data (i.e. flowrate, pH, temperature, and conductivity) laboratory analyses were also performed for fecal coliform, total nitrogen, and total phosphorus.  The results of these analysis can be obtained from the KWRRI PRIDE website.

Floyds Forks Watershed Stakeholder Engagement Project

The Kentucky Water Research Institute (KWRI) promotes effective strategies for balancing Kentucky's economic development and environmental stewardship needs through successful watershed management. In 2011, the Kentucky Division of Water asked KWRI to implement a stakeholder engagement process for the Floyds Fork Watershed that would provide insights into a range of perspectives and community preferences regarding possible nutrient management strategies for use in the Floyds Fork Watershed. To help determine how best to insure stakeholder engagement, the Kentucky Division of Water wanted to acquire a better understanding of the perspectives and desires of watershed residents and other watershed stakeholders. The project involved interviews, stakeholder focus groups, and larger public meetings through which stakeholder preferences were identified and quantified. 

The final project report, Community Visions for Nutrient Management for the Floyds Fork Watershed (PDF, 512 pgs.), was submitted to the Kentucky Division of Water in July 2014. More information on the project can be obtained here.

Kentucky Nutrient Model

The Kentucky Nutrient Model (KYNM) was developed in 2014 to provide the Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW) with a simplified tool for use in developing nutrient based TMDLs and in evaluating different nutrient management strategies. The KYNM is a user-friendly model for several reasons. KYNM is an Excel spreadsheet augmented with VBA (Visual Basic for Applications) code for enhanced functionality. The spreadsheet is organized into several distinct sections in order to facilitate data input, analysis, and output. Because Microsoft Excel is widely used in business, education, and science, the KYNM user typically has a significant head start on learning to use it. Instead of learning a completely new and unfamiliar software application, the KYNM user only has to see where to input particular data, where to look for particular results, and discover how to adjust certain inputs that control the mathematical modeling within the spreadsheet formulas.

In addition to the development of the model, KWRI produced a report and a tutorial for the end user. The report provides a brief overview of the KYNM along with a discussion of the validation of the model against observed hydrology and water quality data, and a comparison of the model results against the results obtained by the Loading Simulation Program in C++ (LSPC) model developed by Tetra Tech for the Floyds Fork Watershed. The tutorial was developed to illustrate how to calibrate the KYNM using two different example watersheds

Kentucky TMDL Projects

Since 2000, the KWRI has been assisting the Kentucky Division of Water in developing a comprehensive TMDL program for the state. Since that time faculty and staff associated with the Institute have developed 32 separate TMDLs or associated water quality reports for streams impacted by pH impairment, pathogens, and nutrients. To see a full list of the TMDL projects and their reports, see the Kentucky TMDL Project page.

Kentucky Stormwater Control Project

In 2010, the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute, in partnership with Kentucky Department for Environmental Protection, Division of Compliance Assistance, awarded three communities with MS4 Phase II community grants for a compliance assistance project related to Stormwater Control in Phase II communities. The cities of Nicholasville, Pewee Valley, and Shelbyville were selected as awardees of these community grants. The overall focus of the project was to assist small municipal separate storm sewer system (MS4) communities in developing a stormwater program. This funding assisted the three grantees in implementing Best Management Practices (BMPs) to showcase stormwater controls. The City of Nicholasville used the funding to address water quality concerns at Lake Mingo Park by removing a concrete-lined channel and replacing it with a naturalized stream with aquatic vegetation. The City of Pewee Valley installed bioswales along three sides of a new park in the city center. Finally, the City of Shelbyville installed a bioretention treatment system and a constructed wetlands area at the community public works facility. 

Project Summaries

Paducah Stakeholder Engagement Project

This project involved the development of an end state vision for the community of Paducah for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant (PDGP) for use in communicating their preferences in response to the planned closure of the facility. The project involved interacting with 17 different stakeholder groups through the three basic steps: 1) interviews, 2) stakeholder focus groups, and 3) community meetings. The project integrated three new methodologies/technologies in identify community preferences: 1) Community Based Participatory Communication, 2) Structured Stakeholder Participation, and 3) Case-wise Visual Evaluation.

The final project report is publicly available, Community Visions for the Paducah Gaseous Diffusion Plant Site (PDF, 512pgs), and additional information on the project can be accessed here.

Virtual Observatory Ecological Informatics System (VOEIS) Outreach Project

Virtual Observatory Ecological Informatics System (VOEIS) Outreach Project

In 2009, the National Science Foundation (NSF) funded a collaborative project between Kentucky and Montana, and partners from industry and the public sector, that developed integrated water quality sensors and an ecological informatics system by creating an updated cyber infrastructure. The consortium was composed of faculty, scientists and students at Hancock Biological Station (KY), Flathead Lake Biological Station (MT), the University of Kentucky, the University of Louisville, Murray State University, Eastern Kentucky University, the University of Montana, and Montana State University. The total effort, denoted as the Virtual Observatory and Ecological Information System (VOEIS), provided a resource to enhance the environmental expertise in both states and served as a "test-bed" for similar approaches to be used by other states across the nation.

The cyberinfrastructure plan that was developed as part of the VOEIS project served to enhance the undergraduate and graduate educational curricula and research experiences at the participating universities, facilitated outreach to underserved and underrepresented members of society, provided relevant and contemporary ecological K-12 education, and offered web-based engagement with public interest groups. A special effort was made to include students from underrepresented groups (e.g., economically disadvantaged students from the Appalachian counties of Kentucky and students at the seven Tribal Colleges in Montana). Interaction with the public and K-12 students was channeled through the outreach programs at the Kentucky Water Research Institute (KWRI) and the Montana Water Center (MWC), which are both part of the national network of water centers. For example, KWRI and the University of Kentucky Robinson Scholars Program (RSP) partnered to educate high school students about water quality issues and emerging science and technology goals for future scientist. From this partnership, the Water Pioneers Program emerged. The Water Pioneers program targets impaired watersheds and emerging science through engagement with college-bound high school students who reside in impacted areas. Water Pioneers students participate both to raise awareness of water quality challenges and to implement programs designed to directly impact water quality. Students are engaged in future direction of research for water quality and other science and technology fields. Water Pioneers interact with real world scientist to investigate current problems within a watershed which include environment, social, and economic considerations. Through the program, KWRI provided programming for 150 eastern Kentucky students with addition educational opportunities including the Montana Water Summit.

This video provides more about the project's accomplishments in the areas of outreach and education.

Water Distribution System Security Projects

From 2010 to 2013, KWRI faculty and staff were involved with two projects funded through the National Institute of Hometown Security (NIHS).

Studying Distribution Systems Hydraulics and Flow Dynamics to Improve Water Utility Operational Decision Making (2010-2013)

The United States Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has established 18 sectors of infrastructure that comprise a network of critical physical, cyber, and human assets. One of these sectors is the Water Sector. The Water Sector Research and Development Working Group has stated that water utilities would benefit from a clearer and more consistent understanding of their system flow dynamics. Understanding flow dynamics is important to interpreting water quality measurements and to inform basic operational decision making of the water utility. Such capabilities are critical for utilities to be able to identify when a possible attack has occurred as well as knowing how to respond in the event of such an attack.

As a result of this identified need, DHS contracted with the National Institute for Hometown Security (NIHS) to administer a project to address this need. NIHS subsequently contracted with the Kentucky Water Research Institute (KWRI) to perform the research. The research team assembled by the KWRI included faculty and staff from the University of Kentucky, the University of Missouri, the University of Cincinnati, and Western Kentucky University.

This research project was implemented to better understand the impact of water distribution system flow dynamics in addressing such issues. In particular, the project: (1) tested the efficacy and resiliency of the real-time hydraulic/water quality model using stored SCADA data in order to understand the potential accuracy of such models, and understand the relationship between observed water quality changes and network flow dynamic and (2) developed a toolkit for use by water utilities to select the appropriate level of operational tools in support of their operational needs.

The Water Distribution System Operational Toolkit Website was developed to assist water utilities in the operation of their water distribution system. Specific operational objectives could include:

  • Maintaining adequate flows and pressures

  • Minimizing water quality problems

  • Minimizing operational cost

  • Scheduling maintenance and system rehabilitation

  • Responding to emergency situations

Best Practice Protocols for Response and Recovery Operations in Contaminated Water Systems (2010-2012)

This project involved the development of a decision support tool for providing post-contamination guidance for water utilities. Components of the tool include an expert system which is linked with a water distribution model for use in identifying impacted pipe segments as well as associated system parameters and statistics for use in managing a contamination event. The project was funded by the National Institute of Hometown Security (NIHS) through funding from the water sector of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The project involved a partnership with the University of Louisville, the University of Missouri, and Western Kentucky University.