Beargrass Creek in Trouble, Special Report in C-J

(David Wicks and the Beargrass Creek Volkswagon, from the C-J.)

Despite not losing our power at home, we pretty much took last week off from blogging, mostly because we figured most of our audience wouldn’t be able to read anyway (plus sometimes it’s okay to just, y’know, take some time off). But we’re back this morning, and what a morning it is! Today, in the Courier-Journal, there’s a special report on how Beargrass Creek, which runs through Jefferson County, is heavily polluted and needs help.

“Beargrass Creek is in dire straits,” said Major Waltman, a project director with the Louisville Olmsted Conservancy, which is spending several million dollars to improve water quality of the creek’s section through Cherokee Park. “To me, it’s absolutely amazing that we have this stream, and it’s basically an open sewer.”

A court-imposed $800 million sewer improvement effort throughout Jefferson County that the Metropolitan Sewer District unveils this week should help address the problem. More than half of the money is expected to be spent in the Beargrass Creek watershed, which drains more than 60 square miles through the county, generally east of downtown to Middletown.

But that plan will focus only on the city’s antiquated sewer system, which allows about 1billion gallons of sewage into the creek each year.

A four-month Courier-Journal examination has found other factors bear even more of the blame for problems along the paths of the creek’s three forks — the Muddy, the Middle and the South. They include:

Physical changes. Over the decades, the creek has been dug up, moved and straightened — with some stretches even put in concrete, making it more like a drainage ditch than a natural waterway.

Urban runoff. In some neighborhoods, more than 80 percent of the ground around the creek has been paved or built upon. Oxmoor Center, for example, is built over it.

That means that even a moderate rain deposits pollutants from parking lots, roads and lawns — and can trigger a torrent into the creek, causing severe bank erosion.

While the special report includes some pretty dire descriptions of Beargrass’s current problems, there’s also some great history stuff in there too. Definitely essential reading if you’re at all interested in Louisville’s past and future.

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