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Energy and Environment Cabinet

Division of Water

Division of Water
Special Use Waters

Special use waters are rivers, streams and lakes listed in Kentucky Administrative Regulations (KAR) that are worthy of additional protection.  These special uses include cold-water aquatic habitat, exceptional waters, reference reach waters, outstanding state resource waters, outstanding national resource waters, state wild rivers and federal wild and scenic rivers.

The actual stream list of all designated uses is in 401 KAR 10:026, Table C. This Special Use Waters link accesses tables with all the special designated uses as defined here as well as location information.

Cold water aquatic habitats (CAH) are those surface waters and associated substrate that will support indigenous aquatic life or self-sustaining or reproducing trout populations on a year-round basis (401 KAR 10:031, Section 4).

Outstanding state resource waters (OSRW) are those surface waters designated by the Energy and Environment Cabinet pursuant to 401 KAR 10:031, Section 8, and includes certain unique waters of the Commonwealth, including those with federally threatened or endangered species.

See a map of 401 KAR 10:026, listing all OSRW and CAH waters in Kentucky (entire state). Also, see the detailed map of the Upper Cumberland River Basin for 401 KAR 10:026 waters.

Exceptional waters refers to certain waterbodies whose quality exceeds that necessary to support propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife and recreation in and on the water. Waters placed in this category are reference reach waters, Kentucky Wild Rivers, some outstanding state resource waters and waters with "excellent" fish or macroinvertebrate communities (401 KAR 10:030 Section 1).

Reference Reach Waters are a representative subpopulation of the least-impacted streams within a bioregion. These streams serve as chemical, physical and biological models from which to determine the degree of impairment (physical, chemical or biological) to similar stream systems in each representative bioregion. These are not necessarily pristine streams, but represent those least-disturbed conditions that are attainable in each bioregion.

Map of Exceptional and Reference Reach waters as listed in 401 KAR 10:030, Section 1, Table 2.

Kentucky Wild Rivers. Portions of nine rivers of exceptional quality and aesthetic character have been designated as Kentucky Wild Rivers (see link for more information about the program).  Each Wild River is actually a linear corridor encompassing all visible land on each side of the river up to a distance of 2,000 feet. Wild Rivers are designated by the state General Assembly in recognition of their unspoiled character and outstanding water quality and natural characteristics. In order to protect their features and quality, land-use changes are regulated by a permit system, and certain highly destructive land-use changes (for example, clear-cutting and strip mining) are prohibited within corridor boundaries.

Map of Kentucky Wild Rivers.

Federal wild river areas is a classification of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and refers to those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essentially primitive and waters unpolluted. These represent vestiges of primitive America.

Federal scenic river areas is a classification of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and means those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads.

Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW) are waters that meet the requirements for an outstanding state resource water classification and are of national ecological or recreational significance. They are listed in 401 KAR 10:030, Section 1, Table 1.

Map of Outstanding National Resource Waters.


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