The Upper Cumberland River Watershed Watch (UCWW) was formed in 1999 as an entirely volunteer-driven organization that performs a variety of chemical and microbial tests on streams in the Upper Cumberland watershed. Its members are people that live in or near the watershed and are concerned about the quality its water. It is said that if you want to measure the health of the land, judge the health of its streams. As streams pass over the landscape, they take on the characteristics of that environment. By testing the water, we can monitor the health of the surrounding land.

Our mission is to raise awareness of water quality issues in the drainage basin. The way we fulfill that mission is to organize and run water quality sampling events 3 times each year to collect data on stream health. The data collected since 1999 is instrumental in determining baseline data and highlighting problem areas.

During the sampling event, volunteers travel to their specific sampling location (site) and collect a sample of water from the stream or river.  While still at their site, the volunteer then measures that sample for pH, conductivity and dissolved oxygen using testing equipment provided free by UCWW to graduates of our training workshop. Volunteers also collect a sample of their stream water to be tested by a professional laboratory for other parameters, such as fecal contamination (as indicated by the presence of specific types of bacteria). During some years, funding has been available for herbicide and pesticide testing, and for monitoring of metal contaminants. Click on Monitoring Data from the side navigation menu to see results of our testing.

Samples have been taken at as many as 100 stream locations during an event; how much data collected (stream sites tested) is dependent on how many active volunteers we have at that time. With as large a watershed as UCWW monitors, volunteers are always needed. If you are concerned about water quality, contact UCWW to volunteer.

UCWW is a 501(c)3 organization comprised of a four-member annually elected board. In addition, UCWW is actively driven by a Steering Committee. For more information about the operational structure of UCWW please view the Bylaws UCWW.

UCWW has received annual funding from the Virginia Environmental Endowment (VEE). Annual reports submitted to VEE can be found by clicking below:

2008 VEE Report

As an example of how our data is put to use, please check the “Citizen Action Plan” as published by neighboring Madison County Kentucky.


The Cumberland River watershed covers more than 18,000 square miles located in portions of southeast Kentucky, north-central Tennessee, and western Kentucky. The main stem of the river begins near Harlan, Kentucky and stretches for 697 miles before spilling into the Ohio River near Smithland, Kentucky. Along its route, it is impounded 5 times to form Lake Cumberland, Cordell Hull Lake, Old Hickory Lake, Cheatham Lake and Lake Barkley.

The Upper Cumberland River watershed is the portion of this watershed located primarily in southeast Kentucky. About 300 miles of the main stem of the Cumberland River drain the watershed, including about 110 miles of Lake Cumberland. That is just the ‘backbone’ of the watershed. There are also more than 10,000 miles of streams and creeks. Some of the major streams that feed into the Cumberland River or Lake Cumberland include Big South Fork, Rockcastle, Buck Creek, Clear Fork, Laurel River and many more. Each of these streams is fed by countless creeks. The see a downloadable map of the Upper Cumberland  click here

Threats to water quality…

There are numerous sources of pollution that threaten water quality in the watershed.

  • Human and animal waste
  • Historical and active mining
  • Agriculture
  • Logging
  • Permitted discharges

Click on the links to see how UCWW tests to discover the impacts of these threats.

Additional water quality information collected by state and federal resource agencies can be found at KY Division of Water.

Special Water Resources

The Upper Cumberland watershed is home to numerous unique water resources. These include:

  • Five Kentucky Wild Rivers
  • An Outstanding National Resource Water
  • Numerous threatened and endangered aquatic species. Info about these species can be found at US Fish and Wildlife.

For a detailed listing of these unique waters go to KY Division of Water’s Special Use Water site.

Delivering science to the people and people to the water’s edge