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Special-use waters are waters listed in Kentucky Administrative Regulations (KAR) that are worthy of additional protection.  These special-uses include cold water aquatic habitats, outstanding state resource waters, outstanding national resource waters, exceptional waters, reference reach waters, state wild rivers and federal wild and scenic rivers.

Cold Water Aquatic Habitat (CAH) and Outstanding State Resource Water (OSRW) are designated uses that have additional water quality standards for their protection. 401 KAR 10:026, Table C contains a list of waters with the CAH or OSRW designated use.

Outstanding National Resource Water and Exceptional Water are antidegradation categories that apply to some waters. Kentucky's Antidegradation Policy Implementation Methodology, including categorization requirements, is in 401 KAR 10:30.

Special-Use Designations 

Cold Water Aquatic Habitats (CAH) are those surface waters and associated substrate that will support indigenous aquatic life or self-sustaining or reproducing trout populations on a year-round basis. 401 KAR 10:031, Section 4(2) specifies water quality standards that apply to cold water aquatic habitats.

Outstanding State Resource Waters (OSRW) are those surface waters designated by the Energy and Environment Cabinet pursuant to 401 KAR 10:031, Section 8, and includes certain unique waters of the Commonwealth including those with federally threatened or endangered species. 401 KAR 10:031, Section 8 specifies water quality standards that apply to outstanding state resource waters.

Outstanding National Resource Waters (ONRW) are waters that meet the requirements for an outstanding state resource water classification and are of national ecological or recreational significance. They are listed in 401 KAR 10:30, Section 1, Table 1.

Exceptional Water refers to certain waterbodies whose quality exceeds that necessary to support propagation of fish, shellfish and wildlife and recreation in and on the water.  Waters placed in this category are reference reach waters, Kentucky Wild Rivers, some OSRWs and waters with "excellent" fish or macroinvertebrate communities. They are listed in 401 KAR 10:030, Section 1, Table 2.

Reference Reach Waters are a representative subpopulation of the least-impacted steams within a bioregion. These steams serve as chemical, physical and biological models from which to determine the degree of impairment (physical, chemical or biological) to similar stream systems in each representative bioregion.  These are not necessarily pristine streams, but represent those least-disturbed conditions that are attainable in each bioregion.

Kentucky Wild River is a designation given to portions of nine rivers of exceptional quality and aesthetic character. Each wild river is actually a linear corridor encompassing all visible land on each side of the river up to a distance of 2,000 feet. Wild rivers are designated by the state General Assembly in recognition of their unspoiled character and outstanding water quality and natural characteristics.  In order to protect their features and quality, land-use changes are regulated by a permit system, and certain highly destructive land-use changes (for example, clear-cutting and strip mining) are prohibited within corridor boundaries. The Office of Kentucky Nature Preserves administers the Kentucky Wild Rivers program. Additional information on Kentucky Wild Rivers can be found on their site.

Federal Wild River is a classification of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and refers to those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments and generally inaccessible except by trail, with watersheds or shorelines essential primitive and waters unpolluted.  These represent vestiges of primitive America. The Red River in Menifee and Wolfe counties from the 746 bridge to Swift Camp Creek is the only designated Federal Wild River in Kentucky.

Federal Scenic River is a classification of the Wild and Scenic Rivers Act and refers to those rivers or sections of rivers that are free of impoundments, with shorelines or watersheds still largely primitive and shorelines largely undeveloped, but accessible in places by roads. The Red River in Menifee, Wolfe and Powell counties from Swift Camp Creek to School House Branch is the only designated Federal Scenic River in Kentucky.