Kentucky’s Hinkston Creek Watershed

The Hinkston Creek Watershed is located in the headwaters of the South Fork of the Licking River, east of Lexington, between the Bluegrass and Knobs regions. The Hinkston Watershed is located mostly in Bourbon, Montgomery, and Nicholas counties, with small portions lying in Bath, Clark, and Harrison counties. It includes the municipalities of Sharpsburg, Carlisle, Millersburg, and Mount Sterling. The watershed covers 166,464 acres (260.1 square miles). The population is approximately 53,000.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) has a national numeric coding system that is used to identify watersheds. The 8-digit hydrologic cataloging unit (HUC8) code for the Hinkston Creek Watershed is 05100102, which also includes other nearby watersheds that feed into the South Fork of the Licking River. This code can be used to locate information on the South Fork of the Licking River in the U.S. EPA’s Surf Your Watershed and the WATERS Expert Query Tool.


An area of land where runoff flows to a common stream. See page 25 of the Watershed Planning Guidebook for Kentucky Communities for more information on watersheds and the hydrologic cycle.

The Hinkston Creek Watershed is located in the Outer Bluegrass region of Kentucky, located mostly in Bourbon, Montgomery, and Nicholas counties and small portions of Bath, Clark and Harrison counties. Sections of Hinkston Creek have been identified as impaired, meaning that the water is not clean enough to support activities like fishing, wading, and swimming.

Hinkston Creek joins Stoner Creek at Ruddell’s Mill in Bourbon County to form the South Fork of the Licking River. This river is used as a drinking water source and a recreational resource by communities in Harrison and other counties, making good water quality a public health concern. Kentuckians deserve to have clean water in their streams and rivers, allowing residents to swim, wade, and fish without concern for their health. These waterbodies should also be clean enough to support wildlife and be free of trash, algae, manure, and polluted runoff like mud, bacteria, and fertilizers.

The health of a waterbody is connected to the everyday actions of the watershed’s residents. Runoff from rain and snow washes pollutants from the land and into local waters, like Hinkston Creek. In order to prevent pollution from reaching the creek, residents can adopt soil and water conservation and land management practices that protect our lakes, rivers, and creeks. We have the tools and the resources to restore Hinkston Creek – all we need is support from residents and action from land managers to provide good stewardship practices.

Top of page

Hinkston Watershed Land Use and Land Cover

The land cover of a watershed is a critical feature with complex interactions. A long established native land cover may have any combination of vegetation and root structure. When lands are developed, the native vegetation is removed and the soil and root structures are disturbed. Collectively these disturbances may result in altering the stormwater runoff from both overland and subsurface.1 The majority of the Hinkston Watershed’s land use is pasture and hay (70%). The remaining primary land covers are forest (20%), low intensity (mostly residential) development (7%), and cultivated crops (2%).

Land Use and Land Cover in the Hinkston Watershed

Pie chart showing land use and land cover in the Hinkston Watershed.
  • Hay and Pasture (70%)
  • Forest (20%)
  • Low Intensity Development (7%)
  • Crops (2%)
  • Medium and High Intensity Development (0.6%)
  • Open Water (0.2%)

Land use, land cover, and land management practices define the types and amount of pollutants that are washed from the land surface by rain and snowmelt. For example, pasture land that is managed to maintain optimum grass density/height for cattle production generates minimal erosion and sediment runoff. Conversely, poorly managed pasture with low grass densities, large bare spots, and compacted soils provides poor support for livestock and contributes heavily to sedimentation of Hinkston Creek and its tributaries. Stormwater management at commercial, industrial, and institutional facilities—such as factories, shopping centers, and educational facilities—can also impact water quality in the creek, by generating rapid runoff flows after storms, washing pollutants from loading docks into ditches, and carrying herbicides and pesticides into waterways.

Top of page

Management of Tributaries and the Main Stem of Hinkston Creek

Runoff from heavy rains flows over the landscape into ditches, culverts, and swales that lead to creek tributaries and the main stem. How these flow channels are managed determines:

  1. The rate of channel bank erosion
  2. The amount of sediment flowing into the channel
  3. General habitat conditions within the channel corridor

The riparian density—trees, shrubs, etc.—along stream corridors and at the edge of waterbodies such as reservoirs and lakes is important for slowing overland runoff water velocities, filtering detritus (soil, leaves, organic matter), and water quality. An analysis of the riparian buffer showed 80 percent of the areas are impacted or changed from their native state.2 For each subbasin, the riparian buffer deficiency ranges from 74-96 percent. The buffer deficiencies are greatest in the subbasins near Mt. Sterling. The entire watershed has an overall riparian buffer deficiency of 83 percent.3

Top of page

Hinkston Watershed Impervious Area

An area is considered impervious if precipitation cannot soak into the ground. Roads, parking lots, sidewalks, and buildings are examples of impervious areas.

Within the Hinkston Creek Watershed, impervious areas are generally confined to the central municipal areas. It is generally accepted that negative impacts on water quality will be observed when the impervious area is 10 percent or more of the total watershed area. There are 1,816 acres of impervious area in the watershed, which represents 1.09 percent. The areas of highest imperviousness are located in the headwaters near Mt. Sterling. In the downstream half of the study area, imperviousness is concentrated near Carlisle and Millersburg.4

Top of page

Hinkston Creek Watershed Maps

The following maps show different aspects of the Hinkston Creek Watershed. Click on a map to view larger version of the map.

Hinkston Creek Watersheds Impervious Cover Land Use and Land Cover Riparian Buffer Status
Impaired Waters Map Explore the Hinkston Creek Watershed
Map of the Hinkston Creek area.
View Larger Map

The Hinkston Creek Watershed Project Presentation (PDF) (36 pp, 8.7MB) includes a series of maps, graphs, and other information on nitrogen, phosphorus, sediment, and bacteria in the watershed. This presentation highlights sections of the watershed management plan, and has been presented to planning partners across the region.

Top of page

  1. The existing land cover was analyzed using NLCD 2001.
  2. Land cover, vegetation, and imperviousness in the Hinkston Creek watershed was evaluated using geospatial data, specifically the National Land Cover 2001 Dataset (NLCD 2001) and the Landscape Fire and Resource Management (LANDFIRE) map.
  3. A MLRC geospatial dataset known as the Landscape Fire and Resource Management (LANDFIRE) map, which provides vegetation and wildland fuel maps, was obtained to determine riparian buffer health status. The advantage of this particular MLRC coverage over the traditional NLCD 2001 dataset is that while it has the same LULC classes as the NLCD (e.g., Pasture/Hay), its processing goes a step further for vegetated LULC classes (tree cover, shrub cover, and herbaceous cover) and breaks them down into 10 equal intervals based on percent coverage (e.g., “Tree Cover ≥ 30 and < 40%”). Using methodology from a recent study (Roy, et al., 2005), any vegetated layers with less than 30 percent coverage were lumped together with other impacted riparian habitat LULCs (e.g., developed, open space, pasture/hay, etc.). The percent buffer deficiency within each reporting subwatershed was estimated using GIS.
  4. Impervious area in the watershed was assessed using a 30-meter resolution raster grid from the NLCD 2001. Each grid cell in the geospatial dataset describes the percent impervious area between 0 and 100percent.

Top of page