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Study Shows Regional Variations in the pH of Kentucky Groundwater

By Ralph Derickson

 

Groundwater pH is a fundamental property that describes the acidity and alkalinity of groundwater and largely controls the amount and chemical form of many organic and inorganic substances dissolved in groundwater.

 

Jan. 17, 2003 (Lexington, Ky.) -- A study just released by the Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS) at the University of Kentucky summarizes statewide data for pH values in groundwater. The study includes summary data tables and a map showing pH values in Kentucky wells and springs.

KGS director Jim Cobb said that investigating regional patterns of groundwater quality is important because many citizens and municipalities rely on wells and springs for drinking water. Identifying regions of similar groundwater quality helps citizens, resource managers and environmental planners anticipate the conditions they will encounter when new groundwater supplies are developed.

Groundwater pH is a fundamental property that describes the acidity and alkalinity of groundwater and largely controls the amount and chemical form of many organic and inorganic substances dissolved in groundwater.

Steve Fisher, author of the publication “Groundwater Quality in Kentucky: pH,” said many important properties of water are determined by pH. “For example, both the suitability of groundwater for domestic and commercial uses and the ability of water to transport potentially harmful chemicals are controlled by pH,” Fisher noted.

An important finding in Fisher’s research is that pH values in groundwater in Kentucky are primarily controlled by bedrock geology and physiographic region. His findings are based on analysis of more than 7,000 pH measurements from more than 1,400 sites. The values of pH are variable in the Eastern and Western Kentucky coal fields; near neutral in the Inner and Outer Bluegrass, and the Eastern and Western Pennyroyal regions, where limestone bedrock buffers the acidity in groundwater; and mildly acidic in the sandy terrain of the Jackson Purchase Region.

No health-based drinking water standards exist for pH. However, water with a pH that is outside the range 6.5 to 8.5 can lead to high concentrations of some dissolved metals, for which there are drinking water standards, as well as potentially harmful health effects. Most groundwater in Kentucky has a pH between 6.5 and 8.5. Exceptions are most common in the Eastern Kentucky coal fields and the Jackson Purchase Region.

The new publication is a product of the Kentucky Interagency Groundwater Monitoring Network, which collects groundwater-quality data, characterizes groundwater resources, and distributes the resulting information to the public. The publication may be downloaded for free from the KGS Web site. It may also be purchased for $1.50 by calling the KGS Publication Sales Office at (859) 257-3896. Customers outside of Lexington may call toll free at (877) 778-7827.


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