Tradewater River Basin Description

Tradewater River Basin: The Tradewater River Basin lies between the Shawnee Hills (Western Coal Fields) physiographic region to the northeast and the Pennyroyal physiographic region to the southwest. The Shawnee Hills portion is underlain by Pennsylvanian age sandstone, limestone, and shale which contain deposits of coal. The Pennyroyal region drained by the upper portion of the Tradewater and its tributaries flowing from the southwest has Mississippian age limestone bedrock. This latter region consists of a dissected upland plateau with some karst topography, but no sinkholes. It is mostly a ridge and valley area characterized by long, somewhat steep slopes. The northeastern side of this plateau is drained by the tributaries of the Tradewater River Basin while the drainage from the southwestern side flows into the Lower Cumberland. As the Tradewater approaches the Ohio River, it flows through deep alluvial soils.

The Tradewater River originates in northwestern Christian County and flows northwest for 132 miles to the Ohio River. The basin includes 520 miles of streams draining an area of 943 square miles. The stream gradients are moderate to very low (less than one foot per mile in the last 73 miles). Major tributaries include Caney Creek, Buffalo Creek, Piney Creek, Flynn Fork, Donaldson Creek, Clear Creek, Craborchard Creek, and Cypress Creek. Lake Beshear is the largest impoundment (reservoir) in the basin.


The predominant contribution to nonpoint source pollution in the Tradewater basin has been from agriculture including cropland, pasture land and feedlots. Portions of the Tradewater River system have been heavily impacted by acid mine drainage and silt from coal mining. Many streams consistently exhibit pH values of 3-4 pH units and are also high in suspended solids. Craborchard Creek has reportedly been impacted by underground mining. The aquatic life of the eastern tributaries and the mainstem of the Tradewater below Dawson Springs has been severely degraded by acid mine drainage and siltation. Silviculture (logging) is an important source of nonpoint pollution in the Tradewater River Basin. Construction, streambank erosion and flow regulation/modification are also sources.

A Division of Water ambient monitoring station is located on the Tradewater River near Sullivan. In the period from 1994 to 1995, water quality at this station improved from nonsupport to full support of all uses. A biomonitoring station is located on the Tradewater near Olney. Biological sampling, including algae, macroinvertebrates, and fish, was conducted at this station in 1994.

The 1996 Division of Water Report on Water Quality indicates that of 520 total stream miles in the Tradewater basin, (182.2 miles which were monitored) only 68.3 miles of streams support aquatic life, 26.3 provide partial support, and 87.6 miles do not provide support. The stream was not evaluated for fish consumption. Only 16.7 miles were monitored for swimming, and all 16.7 miles were considered acceptable. Sampling for drinking water use included only 5.1 miles, all of which supported that use.

The 1996 Report on Water Quality lists the following streams in this eastern part of the basin (Hopkins Co.) as unfavorable for aquatic life because of low pH resulting from acid mine drainage: Brooks Creek, Buffalo Creek, Cane Run, Caney Creek, Clear Creek, Fox Run, Lambs Creek, Lick Creek, Pogue Creek, and Pond Creek. The Tradewater River (in Union Co.) is also listed as only partially supporting aquatic life, due to siltation from mining activities. The nonpoint source program has designated as high priority the following streams, degraded by low pH and siltation impacts from mining and agriculture: Craborchard, Vaughn Ditch, Clear Creek, Lick Creek, Caney Creek, and Buffalo Creek. Aquatic life and primary contact recreational uses (swimming) were not supported in portions of each of the streams listed.

Though habitat conditions throughout most of the basin have been impacted by sedimentation, the western tributaries, by comparison to the eastern, are relatively unimpacted. In fact, three streams in this part of the basin (Piney Creek, Flynn Fork, and Montgomery Creek) are designated "Natural Areas." Sandlick Creek and the Upper Tradewater River, both in Christian Co., are included as "Reference Reach Sites." These streams have been selected as relatively unimpacted streams which are being studied to provide baseline, or background, conditions for comparison to other possibly impacted streams in the region.

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