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Despite a reduction in the number of straight pipes dumping raw sewage into eastern Kentucky streams, water quality is still bad in many locations, the Associated Press reported.
According to the Kentucky Division of Water, the number of straight pipes has fallen from an estimated 34,000 to 28,500 since 1997, when the state began a major push to stop people from flushing their toilets directly into creeks.
Despite the efforts, the state is still warning residents along several streams not to swim in the water because of high levels of fecal coliform bacteria. In Harlan County, portions of the Cumberland River and several of its tributaries have been declared unsafe for human contact.
Some county streams detected fecal bacteria levels have been 10 times higher than the safe levels.
"To see those high values still in the river, you know it's a straight pipe issue," said Greg Pond, a spokesman for the Division of Water.
Eastern Kentucky counties, such as Harlan, are especially affected by the news because they are trying to build a tourism industry.
"We could have a large draw for fishermen who come here to fish in our streams and lakes," said Harlan County Judge-Executive Joe Grieshop. "That cannot happen until we have those streams and lakes cleaned up."
According to Grieshop, Harlan County has set a goal to be have all its streams safe for swimming by 2010.
The government-sponsored environmental group PRIDE-Personal Responsibility in a Desirable Environment-has been providing funding so that low-income homeowners and business owners in eastern Kentucky can install septic systems or connect to sewer lines to replace straight pipes.
Grieshop believes attitudes toward straight pipes are changing. "After five years of involvement with the PRIDE programs, I have watched individuals go from not caring to becoming interested in doing the right thing with their sewage and streams," he said.