Nutrients

When discussing watershed health and water quality, “nutrients” refer to nitrogen and phosphorus. Nitrogen and phosphorus are two naturally occurring elements that support plant growth and are among the primary components of fertilizer. Nitrogen and phosphorus in Hinkston Creek come from polluted runoff from some farmed areas, residential subdivisions, timber harvest sites, septic systems, and wastewater treatment plants.

Nitrogen is “water-soluble,” meaning that it easily dilutes into water. When it rains, if there is excess nitrogen on the ground, it runs off with the water and enters nearby creeks or storm drains. Once it enters a waterbody, nitrogen helps to fuel the growth of aquatic plants and algae.

Phosphorus is not water-soluble, and instead binds to sediment. When sediment erodes and is washed away, phosphorus often travels with it. Phosphorus enters a waterbody when sediment washes off a farm or fertilized yard, when livestock erode the soil by walking along the banks or into Hinkston Creek and its tributaries, when sediment washes into a storm drain, and when bare spots on a lawn or pasture erode during heavy rain. Once phosphorus enters a waterbody, it also fuels the growth of aquatic plants and algae. In fact, for most Kentucky water, phosphorus is the key factor in causing algae growth in our creeks, rivers, and lakes.

Allowing cows direct access to streams and rivers contributes to high levels of nutrients, sediment and bacteria in local waterways.

When too many nutrients (phosphorus and nitrogen) enter Hinkston Creek, the quantity of algae can increase to unhealthy levels. Thick green mats of algae can be found in some locations downstream, especially in the summer. Algae have a short life span. When it dies, it becomes food for bacteria which break down the algae. These bacteria—billions and trillions of them—are tiny air-breathing organisms. They use the dissolved oxygen in the water for their respiratory processes. This is the oxygen that fish, mussels, and other animals need. But during high periods of nutrient runoff, algae growth, and algae decomposition, the bacteria can use up the water’s dissolved oxygen, even to a degree causing fish kills.

Waterbodies across the country are experiencing excessive quantities of nutrients. Want to learn more about nutrients and their impact on the environment? Visit:

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Sediment

Sediment (also known as soil or dirt) erodes into Hinkston Creek from stream banks, some farmed areas, construction sites, logging operations, and other areas where sediment and erosion controls are absent. Excess sediment reduces fish habitat by sealing the bottom with silt, covering the small nooks where they hide, and smothering the underwater bugs and larva that fish eat. As discussed above, sediment also carries with it phosphorus when it enters the water.

Bacteria

Bacteria enters Hinkston Creek from human and animal waste, making the creek unsafe for swimming, wading, and fishing in some areas. When livestock walks along the banks or wades into Hinkston Creek and poops, bacteria enters the water directly (poop is more than half bacteria by dry weight!). In rural areas, household wastewater is treated by septic systems that require regular maintenance. If a septic tank is not regularly pumped out or is improperly placed too close to a waterbody, human sources of bacteria can enter Hinkston Creek.

What You Can Do

Excess sediment, nutrients, and bacteria are the key pollutants that have been identified to date in Hinkston Creek. These can be addressed by the implementation of the best management practices (BMPs) described on this site.

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Learn More

Check out some of the videos and other resources below, and on the resources page.

Water quality videos for citizens

Water quality videos for farmers

Banner photos courtesy of Emily Crain Anderson of the Fleming County Soil and Water Conservation District.

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Photos courtesy of Emily Crain Anderson of the Fleming County Soil and Water Conservation District