Hank Graddy: An Elk Creek water catastrophe is closer to Ky. than you think

Hank Graddy of Midway is a board member of the Kentucky River Watershed Watch.
Hank Graddy of Midway is a board member of the Kentucky River Watershed Watch. HO

"Thank God for West Virginia." We Kentuckians have been willing to tolerate an otherwise unacceptable environment, economy and government by pointing to those few states that measure worse than us.

When we pray, we are likely to thank God that we did not lose our water for a week like those nine counties in West Virginia. I fear that some, less prayerful Kentuckians may be so intoxicated with big-blue hubris to conclude that the catastrophe of Elk Creek, W. Va., cannot happen here.

That confidence is misplaced. Elk Creek is very close and that catastrophe can happen here.

Elk Creek is close to us because it is upstream, so that the spilled chemicals flow into the Kanawha River and into the Ohio River, where many Kentuckians draw their drinking water. In that sense, the catastrophe has already happened to us. Fortunately we had more warning and utilities like the Louisville Water Company were better prepared. The same laws that protect our water supply were supposed to protect West Virginia's water supply. There are four dates that help us see how close we are to Elk Creek:

■ Dec. 16, 1974: Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. Less well known than, and frequently confused with the Clean Water Act, this is the law that protected the people in Charleston, W.Va., from losing their drinking water, but only if there were people willing to enforce the law. In Kentucky we are just as vulnerable to people that are not as worthy as the law they are supposed to enforce. Gov. Steve Beshear's new budget will gut the agencies that protect our water and air.

■ Aug. 6, 1996. A very divided Congress, at the peak of the Newt Gingrich era, passed a stronger Safe Drinking Water Act, which required source water protection, mandating that cities investigate, map and discuss with the public all threats to drinking water intakes.

■ Jan. 26, 2005. Sometime after midnight, Mid-Valley Petroleum discovered a petroleum leak from its pipeline into the Kentucky River 16 miles upstream from Carrollton. The initial report was that the leak was 63,000 gallons of crude oil. On Feb. 2, the Environmental Protection Agency updated its report to advise that the leak was actually 83,000 gallons of crude oil, with about 49,000 gallons captured. On Nov. 18, EPA updated its report again to advise that the leak was actually 260,000 gallons into the Kentucky River.

The good news is that, at the urging of the Kentucky River Watershed Watch and the Sierra Club, Gov. Ernie Fletcher and Environmental Cabinet Secretary LaJuana Wilcher appointed the Kentucky Spill Advisory Task Force.

The bad news is that this task force met only four times, issued a "first" report in 2007. The report did give some support for the "high consequence area" designation, a pipeline-planning concept that may protect parts of Kentucky from the threat of the proposed Bluegrass Pipeline. However, almost nobody has seen the report and nothing has been done to implement the recommendations of this task force.

■ Feb. 1, 2014. This Saturday, the Kentucky River Watershed Watch will hold the 17th Watershed Protection Conference at the AgScience Facility, Locust Trace, on Leestown Road in Lexington. Our meeting will not protect Kentucky from a spill like the one in Elk Creek. What our meeting may be able to do is help ensure the Safe Drinking Water Act works as intended.

What our meeting may do is help dust off the 2007 pipeline report and put in place the people and protections to make Elk Creek less likely. Our meeting will be able to help you take action.

For more information about the conference, with keynote speaker Tom FitzGerald of Kentucky Resources Council, go to www.wwky.org amd look under Kentucky River. Please join us. And keep praying.