Kentucky voices: Thank you, Andy Mead

I have read most of Andy Mead's articles over the 34 years he spent as a reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader. I enjoyed his "Reflections upon retirement" on Dec. 26, but regretted that his retirement would end a great run. Thank you, Andy Mead.

Mead's reflections summarized his "Top 10 most memorable stories." I won't quibble with his Top 10, but there was one important story omitted, a story that has been helping change Kentucky over the past 14 years.

In early 1997, members of the Sierra Club, the Kentucky Waterways Alliance and the Kentucky Water Watch program were discussing ways to improve Kentucky's water. We wanted to teach ordinary citizens how to gather useful water quality data. We knew this activity would help inform participants, and we hoped that government agencies would pay attention to the findings. But we did not know how to get anybody to show up.

We also knew that Mead had written stories about Kentucky's environment and about the Kentucky River. Fortunately, he found our plan newsworthy.

Mead's story was headlined, "Volunteers needed to monitor water quality in the Kentucky River." The story described a program to teach volunteers field chemistry, habitat assessments and macro-invertebrate assessments and how to get our samples to the lab on time. We held our breath — would anybody show up? They did. Thirty strangers spent that Saturday in a Sunday school building and in a tributary of the Kentucky River.

From that first article by Mead and that first training event, the Kentucky River Watershed Watch was born.

On Jan. 22, we will hold our 14th Annual Watershed Protection Conference at Midway College.

This year we will review the water quality data from last year, as we have done at the prior 13 conferences. Each year, our 100 to 150 volunteers sample from 100 to 200 sites within the Kentucky River watershed and we add between 3,000 and 4,000 new pieces of water quality data to the statewide data repository.

Visit our Web site at www.uky.edu/OtherOrgs/KRWW/

Last year, our science advisers at the University of Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute compiled 10 years of our data into our first "Ten Year Report" at: www.uky.edu/OtherOrgs/KRWW/KRWW_Ten_Year_Report_Final_Version.pdf.

In 1998, we expanded the Watershed Watch program into the Salt River and Licking River watersheds and over the next three years we were able to extend the Watershed Watch program statewide. Visit the statewide Web site maintained by the Kentucky Division of Water at water.ky.gov/wsw/Pages/default.aspx.

In 2000, Sierra Club members affiliated with the Watershed Watch program in Kentucky urged the Sierra Club to develop a citizen water monitoring program: the Sierra Sentinel program. Tim Guilfoile, deputy director, will be the keynote speaker at the Kentucky River Watershed Protection conference. Visit the national Sierra Club Water Sentinels web page at www.sierraclub.org/watersentinels/.

Our volunteer water samplers are encouraged to use their data to advocate for improving water quality. Some of our volunteers have created local watershed protection organizations, such as the Friends of Wolf Run in Lexington. You can review its activities at: http://www.wolfrunwater.org/.

Earlier this year, the University Press of Kentucky published Kentucky's Natural History, edited by Greg Abernathy, Deborah White, Ellis Laudermilk and Marc Evans, with a forward by Wendell Berry. The book opens with this Wendell Berry quote:

"The care of the Earth is our most ancient and most worthy and, after all, our most pleasing responsibility. To cherish what remains of it, and to foster its renewal, is our only legitimate hope."

In his forward, Berry considers "all that we have lost, ruined, or squandered since our European forebears came to live in this place only 235 years ago..." He then gives this reason for hope:

"What I do see, and I see great hope in it, is what we could call leadership from the bottom; individuals and local groups who, without official permission or support or knowledge, are seeing what needs to be done and doing it."

Watershed Watch in Kentucky offers Kentuckians an opportunity to look around and see where we are — what we have lost, what remains, and what we must do.

But we might not be here if Andy Mead had not written that article in March 1997.

Volunteers are still needed to monitor water quality in the Kentucky River. Find out how you can help Saturday at the 14th annual Watershed Protection Conference.