A snorkeler explores under the water.
Green River A snorkeler explores under the water. © The Nature Conservancy

Stories in Kentucky

Profile of the Green River

The Green River is a national treasure for biological diversity.

Late summer and fall yield a slow and steady flow, while winter and spring bring periodic floods. These seasonal patterns orchestrate a cycle of life for the plants and animals residing in and around the Green River, cuing fish to migrate and spawn and floodplain trees to drop their seeds. Even cave-dwelling species such as blind freshwater shrimp depend on the river’s natural pulse.

Uniting the Green

Restoring the river’s pulse began in the in the 1990s when a beautiful 125-mile stretch of the upper Green—surrounded by forest and pastureland, and boasting one of the nation’s most diverse assemblages of freshwater mussels—attracted The Nature Conservancy's attention. Since then, we’ve worked with local landowners and partners on improving the ecology of this stretch of river through a variety of targeted land protection and conservation strategies.

During this time, TNC also began working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on managing the Green River Lake dam to mimic a more natural flow. Later, TNC expanded its focus to include the lower Green with the goal of protecting a whole, naturally functioning system. This included building on the partnership to include dams on the Nolin, Rough and Barren rivers—key tributaries to the Green.

This groundbreaking work has served as a model for subsequent efforts across the country and around the world.

Finally, because of the prevalence of row crop agriculture throughout this portion of the watershed, TNC is working with farmers on land management practices that reduce nutrient pollution. Preserving healthy soils also improves crop yields and increases carbon storage.

Fast Facts

  • 9,230 square-mile watershed
  • Located in Central Kentucky
  • Vitally important to providing wildlife habitat, clean drinking water, irrigation and a vibrant outdoor recreation economy.
  • Gives life to more species of plants and animals than any other Ohio River tributary—especially in an unhindered 100-mile stretch—flowing from the Green River Reservoir Dam and through Mammoth Cave National Park—which harbors one of the most diverse assemblages of fish and freshwater mussels in the United States.
  • Threats include forest loss, erosion, water demands, and increasingly volatile cycles of flood and drought caused by a changing climate.
  • Partners include: U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, USDA-Farm Services Agency, USDA-Natural Resources Conservation Service, U.S. Geological Survey, National Park Service, Kentucky Department of Fish & Wildlife Resources, Kentucky Division of Conservation, Kentucky Division of Forestry, Kentucky Division of Water, Campbellsville University, Eastern Kentucky University, Tennessee Technical University, Western Kentucky University and The Homeplace Farm

When I die let my ashes float down the Green River.

Green River Milestones

2017  The first of several obsolete lock and dams (Green River Lock & Dam #6 at Brownsville) is removed from the Green River.

2015:  Convened stakeholders and led facilitated discussions relating to several old lock and dams within the river basin.

2015:  Two-year project resulting in permanent protection for 200 acres of high-priority riparian acreage in Hart county, covering three miles of river and stream frontage. Over 100,000 native hardwood trees planted on the property.

2014:  Entered into formal partnership with the Natural Resource Conservation Service to advance sustainable agriculture initiatives throughout the Green River basin.

2014: Revisited priorities for the watershed with businesses, agencies and local residents during a Green River Summit.

2000: Made history by working with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to change operations at the Green River Lake Dam to mimic natural flows that support the river’s ecology.

1999: Began working on a 125-mile stretch of the upper Green River

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