Water Quality

According to the Groundwater Branch of the Kentucky Division of Water, "Groundwater is a vital, renewable natural resource that is widely used throughout Kentucky. Wells and springs provide approximately one-third of public domestic water supplies in the state. Surface streams, the major source of Kentucky's water supply, are primarily sustained during base flow by groundwater discharge from adjacent aquifers. This resource is susceptible to contamination from a variety of activities at the land surface. Once contaminated, groundwater can be difficult or impossible to remediate."

Quality of Groundwater in the County

Several aquifers in the Jackson Purchase Region are capable of yielding large amounts of good-quality water. Water from most of the formations is commonly low in dissolved solids and is soft to moderately hard. Water from the Ohio River alluvium is generally hard to very hard, and is generally of good quality. In Ballard County, iron and hydrogen sulfide (sulfur water) are the main naturally occurring constituents occasionally encountered in objectionable amounts in the groundwater. Groundwater pollution is a serious issue, which should be evaluated when considering groundwater usage. Residential water, at a minimum, should be treated to eliminate bacterial contamination. It is a good practice to have any residential water source tested at least once a year.

At a time when surprisingly little information is available on groundwater quality, groundwater contamination has become a major environmental issue. Reliable information about water quality is necessary in order to develop plans for protecting groundwater. The absence of accurate and broad perspectives on groundwater quality may lead to inappropriate and ineffective regulatory policies. Because groundwater supplies a large percentage of rural drinking water and water for agricultural use, rural landowners have become increasingly concerned about the quality of groundwater. The Kentucky Farm Bureau, Kentucky Division of Conservation, University of Kentucky Cooperative Extension Service, and the Kentucky Geological Survey conducted a water-quality survey of nearly 5,000 rural domestic wells. The results are discussed in "Quality of Private Ground-Water Supplies in Kentucky." Additional references are contained in the Water Research Library on the Kentucky Geological Survey's Web site.

Salt Water

Salt water (saline water) is found below fresh groundwater at variable depths throughout the entire state of Kentucky. Depths to the saline groundwater range from 50 feet or less down to 2,000 feet below land surface in Kentucky. "Salinity" is defined as a measure of the quantity of dissolved mineral matter or total dissolved solids (TDS) in water, reported in parts per million (parts per million) or milligrams per liter (mg/L); the two forms of measurement are usually equivalent. The term "salt" or "table salt" as used by most people is pure sodium chloride. Sodium and chloride are generally the major component of saline waters in Kentucky, but are not the only constituents. Water having a TDS concentration of less than 1,000 parts per million is classified as fresh and water having a TDS concentration of 1,000 parts per million or more is classified as saline. Recommendations by the U.S. Public Health Service for drinking water suggest that total dissolved solids should not exceed 500 parts per million, but less than 1,000 parts per million may be used. In agriculture, the recommended TDS levels vary with uses, as shown in the following table, which was taken in part from "Fresh-Saline Water Interface Map of Kentucky" (Hopkins, 1966).

Upper limits of total dissolved-solids concentration in water to be consumed by livestock or used for crops.
parts per million
All crops, including forage
Most fruit and vegetable crops
Cattle (dairy)
Cattle (beef)
Adult sheep


Being aware of the depth to saline groundwater is valuable when planning a water-supply well. Drilling a well too deep through the freshwater interval may cause a good well to be unsuitable for various uses. Care must be taken to prevent contamination of the freshwater zones by the deeper saline waters. Properly constructed water wells will screen the production zone in the targeted aquifer and isolate all other zones by casing and properly grouting and cementing of the space outside the casings in the boreholes.

In Ballard County, the fresh-saline interface ranges from elevations of -900 feet (below sea level) in the southwestern corner of the county, up to -300 feet in the northern edge of the county. This corresponds to depths of 600 to 1,200 feet below the level of the principal valley bottoms.

Sensitivity of Groundwater to Pollution

According to the Groundwater Branch of the Kentucky Division of Water, Ballard County has areas of low to moderately high sensitivity to groundwater pollution (see "Groundwater Sensitivity Regions of Kentucky"). The hydrogeologic sensitivity of an area is defined as the ease and speed with which a contaminant can move into and within a groundwater system. The sensitivity assessment addressed only the naturally occurring hydrogeologic characteristics of an area. Possible impacts of human activity upon groundwater, such as mining, logging, industry, and the use of pesticides, injection wells, and landfills, were not considered in the production of this map. Because of its small scale and generalized nature, this map is not intended for site-specific use, such as detailed land-use planning for city, county, or State agencies. The map should prove useful as a broad-scale management, educational, and planning tool, however.

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