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Although milder temperatures this week are certainly welcome, it will be some time before we forget the string of triple-digit temperatures and the lack of rain we have suffered through during the last month.
Even before June began, Kentucky was on track for an especially dry year. The rainfall from January through May was almost half of what the state got during the same period in 2011, and there have only been two years since 2000 that have been drier.
As a result, most of the state is classified as being in a drought or close to it, and only the Louisville region has seen relatively normal amounts of rain.
It doesn’t take a farmer to see the effect all of this is having in our fields. A recent crop report rated just one percent of our corn and soybeans as excellent, and their yields in some parts of the state are half of what had been expected. This comes at a time when corn was on track for a bumper crop, with 16 percent more planted this year than in 2011 and the most since the mid-1980s.
As a result of the dry weather, burn bans and water shortages are understandably much more common. On Friday, the state’s Energy and Environment Cabinet announced a water-shortage watch for nearly 30 counties, and as of early this month, almost 80 counties had burn bans, according to the Division of Forestry, which also reported that more than 13,000 acres have already been burned by wildfires. Unfortunately, many of these fires are being investigated as arson.
With dry weather on our minds, it’s a good time to consider that Kentucky does have some advantages when it comes to water.
Only Alaska has more miles of rivers and streams, for example, and our manmade lakes are some of the largest in the country. There isn’t a bigger one east of the Mississippi River than Kentucky Lake, and Lake Cumberland has more miles of shoreline than Florida.
Few states have a greater percentage of their homes, schools, and businesses connected to treated water. The rate for Kentucky now stands at 95 percent, which is up from 85 percent in 1999. The General Assembly has budgeted a sizeable amount of money - more than $840 million over the last dozen years - to help make that possible, and we’re working to close the gap by 2020.
As for the water we use on a daily basis, about 80 percent cycles through power plants. Of the remainder, a little more than half is treated by our water utilities and about a fourth is used by industry. Livestock, mining, aquaculture and irrigation account for much of the rest.
Interestingly, Kentucky is the only state to get more than half of its supply from surface water rather than groundwater. More than two-thirds of our treated water comes from rivers and lakes, while the figure for the next two highest states - Tennessee and Alabama - hovers around 40 percent.
Another area where Kentucky bucks the national trend is the size of our public water systems. While three-fourths of the country is served by companies considered small - serving 500 customers or less - more than half of Kentucky’s utilities are rated as medium or large.
It wasn’t always that way. In 1974, Kentucky had more than 2,100 public water systems, but now there are about 420. In this case, less is truly more, because the consolidation has increased both water quality and service.
Although it has only been a few weeks since summer officially began, it’s understandable if many feel like it is coming to an end with school starting back in most parts of the state in less than a month.
The hope is that the extreme heat and dry weather are coming to a close as well. Otherwise, if June’s trend continues, we may face even tougher days ahead. That’s the last thing anyone wants.
As always, if you have thoughts or concerns about anything affecting the state, I would like to know. I hope to hear from you soon.
Rick Rand, D-Bedford, represents the 47th House District in the Kentucky General Assembly. He may be reached by writing to Room 351C, Capitol Annex, 702 Capitol Avenue, Frankfort, KY 40601, or leave a message at (800) 372-7181 – TTY (800) 896-0305.