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Aerial View of a stream

General Information - Watersheds

This page provides general information about the watershed management, research, and planning efforts in Kentucky. Below you will find resources and contacts that can assist you in better understanding Kentucky's Watersheds.

Kentucky's River Basins & Watersheds

Kentucky River Basins Watershed

A River Basin is the portion of land drained by a river and its tributaries. All river basins contain several smaller watersheds. A watershed is simply a smaller version of a river basin. The state of Kentucky contains 12 major river basins: Big Sandy, Green, Kentucky, Licking, Little Sandy, Lower Cumberland, Mississippi, Salt, Tennessee, Tradewater, Tygarts, and Upper Cumberland below. The Ohio River constitutes most of the northern border of the state and several small watersheds drain directly into its main stem. 

In order to facilitate the management of water supply and water quality issues associated with the rivers of Kentucky, the state of Kentucky was subdivided into 7 basin management units. The basin management units were based on 6-digit hydrologic unit codes (HUCs), within which are nested 8, 11, and 14-digit HUCs (watersheds). HUCs were developed by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Natural Resources Conservation Service, and others, to standardize hydrologic unit delineations for geographic description and data storage purposes.

Click on a basin in the map for specific information on the River Basins and Reports regarding water and ecosystem health.

Kentucky River, Bridge near Lexington, Kentucky

Kentucky River Watershed Management Framework

Kentucky River Watershed Managment Framework

Watershed management became a specific focus of the USEPA during the 1990s when the agency embarked upon a national program to develop and implement a comprehensive watershed protection approach framework across the United States. This initiative built upon the Office of Water's Watershed Protection Approach Framework, first endorsed by senior USEPA managers in 1991 and then updated in 1996. The framework was stimulated by a recognition that a purely regulatory approach was unlikely to achieve the goals of the Clean Water Act, especially in light of the significant contributions of non-point source pollution.

As part of this national effort, the Kentucky Division of Water (KDOW) developed a comprehensive watershed management framework in 1997. The purpose of the framework was to "provide a means for coordinating and integrating the programs, tools, and resources of multiple stakeholder groups to better protect, maintain, and restore the ecological structure and function of watersheds as well as support their sustainable use". The specific goals of the program are summarized as follows:

  • Protect and enhance public health and safety

  • Conserve and enhance watershed ecosystems

  • Support sustainable watershed resource uses that meet water quality standards and conservation goals

  • Reduce or prevent pollutant loadings and other stressors in watersheds

  • Preserve and enhance esthetic and recreational values of watersheds

  • Provide adequate water supply to support sustainable human use and ecological integrity


​A watershed plan is a strategy that provides assessment and management information for a geographically-defined watershed, including the analyses, actions, participants, and resources for developing an implementing the plan. Kentucky approaches watershed planning through the Watershed Management Framework and the Watershed Planning Guidebook for Kentucky Communities. Use our interactive viewer to read through or download the guidebook. 

The original framework involved a collaboration of nearly 30 separate agencies. Representatives from each of these organizations made up an initial statewide steering committee, whose purpose were to review progress, set goals, and provide interagency coordination associated with various joint activities, including water quality monitoring. Basin Coordinators were established for the major river basin management units within the state. Additionally, separate Basin Management Teams were created for each of the major river basins that would provide strategic guidance and program support for implementing the management framework process in each basin. 


Kentucky River, Frankfort, Kentucky

Kentucky River Watershed Management Program

Kentucky River Watershed Management Program

As part of the Kentucky River Watershed Management Framework, the Kentucky River Authority (KRA) agreed to coordinate and fund watershed management activities in the Kentucky River Basin. Because of limited staff, the KRA contracted with the Kentucky Water Research Institute (KWRI) to act as its agent in the implementation of the process. In that capacity, the KWRI worked very closely with the statewide coordinator, the statewide steering committee and the Kentucky Division of Water. Since the program's inception in 1998, the funds from the KRA have been used to support a local basin coordinator for the Kentucky River Basin, to support volunteer water quality sampling across the basin, to implement each of the steps of the overall watershed management framework, and to fund a small grant program in support of water and water quality projects within the basin.

A review of the Kentucky River Watershed Management Program can be accessed from here.

Kentucky River, Overlook at Raven Run

Kentucky River
Organization Directory

Kentucky River Organization Directory

The Kentucky Watershed Organization Directory is intended as a reference tool for identifying useful resources and contacts that may be helpful in pursuing watershed and water quality improvements across the state. It was produced by KWRI and funded in part by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency under §319(h) of the Clean Water Act through the Kentucky Division of Water to the Kentucky Water Resources Research Institute.

Organizations are categorized in the document as:

  • Government Agencies

  • Consultants

  • Non-Profit Organizations

  • Universities

The listings within each of these categories are by no means exhaustive but include a good representation of important entities from those who were able to provide information. If you would like your organization to be added to the directory, please contact us at

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