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Assessment of Nitrate and Pesticide Impacts on Bedrock Aquifers in the Western Kentucky Coal Field

Contact: Glynn Beck

The movement and fate of pesticides and nitrate at an agricultural site in Henderson County, Western Kentucky Coal Field, are being evaluated. Twenty-eight monitoring wells and four domestic wells at the site are sampled on a schedule consistent with local agricultural practices. The study will determine if present agricultural practices have affected the groundwater. Results will be used to provide a conceptual model for groundwater flow in the coal field and relate it to transport and fate of agricultural chemicals in similar agricultural and hydrogeologic settings. This information will be used determine best management practices for this region.

Recent focus has been on the occurrence and movement of nitrate from a dairy barnyard, abandoned 25 years ago, to a sandstone aquifer approximately 35 feet below land surface. Nitrate-nitrogen concentrations are above 45 mg/L in the farmer's domestic water supply and surrounding groundwater. Nitrogen isotope samples indicate that nitrate in the groundwater is from an organic source (livestock manure). A remediation plan was developed using geostatistical modeling and data from soil cores collected in and around the abandoned feedlot area. Five-hundred-eighteen cubic yards of organic-rich soil was removed from the feedlot and spread on a nearby pasture. The excavated area was filled with native soil and leveled to original grade. Groundwater and soil quality will be monitored over time to determine if nitrate concentrations decrease in the aquifer. Additional abandoned feedlots in the coal field will also be sought.

Soil water and groundwater are also being monitored in an alfalfa field; this is the only known water-quality study of this crop in Kentucky.

This cooperative project between the Kentucky Geological Survey, University of Kentucky Department of Agronomy, and UK Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering is funded by Kentucky Senate Bill SB-271, administered through the University of Kentucky College of Agriculture.