Saving the locks and dams

Published:

In 1986, when the General Assembly created the Kentucky River Authority, its purpose was simply to take ownership of the locks and dams on the river above Frankfort from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

With no commercial river traffic beyond Lock 4 here, and the condition of the locks and dams seriously deteriorating, the Corps proposed to abandoned the system to whatever befell it in the years ahead. That could have spelled ruination for hundreds of thousands of people in Central Kentucky, including Fayette County, who depend on stable pools between the dams for their water supply.

That became even more urgent only a few years later, when a serious drought throughout the area forced strict water conservation measures.

In the years since, the debate over how best to protect that river water supply has ranged over any number of proposals and solutions.

Last week, the General Assembly once more came forth with a solution involving the Kentucky River Authority. In a surprise move, the joint conference committee on the budget agreed to a $55 million plan, $17.5 million from the General Fund and the remainder approved bonded debt, to replace three of the most deteriorated dams on the river and also replace two locks, including Lock 4 here. Locks 1-4 are now under control of the Authority as well.

What this means is that Central Kentucky will have a far more assured supply of water, and the river between Carrollton and Frankfort once again will be open for boaters.

Twenty years ago we argued that the entire length of the Kentucky River from Beattyville to the Ohio has the potential of being every bit as important a recreational water resource as the great lakes of Western Kentucky. The Boaters from Kentucky and surrounding states who flock to Lake Cumberland, Herrington Lake, Kentucky Lake and Lake Barkley spend hundreds of millions of dollars a year in the state. There is no reason the Kentucky River should not join those attractions.

With new locks here and in Owen County, the General Assembly has given this and other downriver communities an opportunity to demonstrate that investing in new locks will yield high dividends as recreational boaters take to the river in large numbers.

In a legislative session lacking any great surprises, this one is a pleasure to receive.

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