The Kentucky River Authority was first established by the Kentucky General Assembly in 1986 to take over operation of the Kentucky River locks and dams 5 through 14 from the United States Corps of Engineers.
Following the drought of 1988, the Authority was given a mission to protect and improve the waters of the Kentucky River through environmental management of the entire watershed. This was the first effort by the Commonwealth of Kentucky to protect a major water resource through watershed management. Watershed management recognizes that the focus of the river should not just be on the water flowing through it, but also including human activities throughout the basin that affect the amount and quality of water that flows through the basin.
The Authority is charged with developing comprehensive plans for the management of the Kentucky River Basin, including long range water supply, drought response and ground water protection plans. The Authority is to adopt regulations to improve and coordinate water resource activities within the basin among state agencies and develop recreational areas within the basin.
The Authority is responsible for maintaining the 14 lock and dam structures on the Kentucky River. These structures were constructed by the United States Army Corps of Engineers for navigation purposes but are now only used for recreational boating and water supply.
The Authority is supported by water use fees collected from facilities that withdraw water from the basin. Exemptions are given to facilities using water for agricultural purposes. These fees are then passed on the citizens in the basin who purchase water or the product manufactured by use of the water resources.