KGS to Trace Water Source

Contact: Ralph Derickson

Image of map of Pulaski-Rockcastle County line
(click on map to enlarge)
The map above shows part of the area to be studied, with red arrows indicating the flow directions of ground water which has already been mapped, along with the identification numbers of known springs. (Map graphic by Terry Hounshell, KGS)

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The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is funding the work as part of an effort to minimize impact of the Interstate 66 highway project on groundwater. The field work for the groundwater tracing will cover most of eastern Pulaski County due to the nature of groundwater flow. Currens said the data will have many important uses not related to the highway project; the information will be used for a series of maps being produced for the state.

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LEXINGTON, Ky. (Dec. 2, 2004) -- A project to map the sources of springs in eastern Pulaski County will make it easier to estimate the availability and assess the safety of spring waters in that region of the state.

In December, Kentucky Geological Survey (KGS) researchers will begin mapping the source areas of cave springs located in the eastern part of the county. The work will determine the watershed, or runoff area, that contributes water to the springs. Jim Currens and Randy Paylor, KGS hydrogeologists, are conducting the project along with other KGS staff.

KGS is located at the University of Kentucky.

Limestone areas with sinkholes, caves and springs, known as karst terrain, make up much of Pulaski County. The watershed, or source, of most springs in Kentucky is unknown because the drainage basins of cave springs cannot be easily predicted by looking at a map of the land surface. In karst terrain, underground channels can unexpectedly cross under hills from one valley to the next. To determine the flow routes of the groundwater and the surface area that drains to a spring, groundwater tracing must be conducted.

“The best method for tracing groundwater in karst is to use harmless, environmentally safe dyes that fluoresce or glow under a ’black’ or ultraviolet light,” Currens said. A small quantity of the dye is poured into a sinkhole or sinking stream. Any spring the dye might flow to is monitored with packets of absorbent charcoal material.

After each tracer test, the absorbent material is taken to the laboratory, where it is checked for dye. The results show which area drains to the spring where dye was detected. KGS staff will be looking for springs to put the packets of charcoal in as well as sinkholes for the tracers. Each set of tracer tests requires several weeks to complete.

The results of the groundwater tracing have several practical applications. Springs are an important source of water in the karst areas of Kentucky, especially during droughts. Springs are used for irrigating crops, watering livestock, and drinking water for many people across the state.

The tracing results not only show where the water comes from, but how much water the spring is likely to produce in times of drought and how fast the water flows. In karst areas runoff from industry, pollution from straight pipes and failing septic tanks, urban development, and some agricultural practices can rapidly pollute springs.

The Kentucky Transportation Cabinet is funding the work as part of an effort to minimize impact of the Interstate 66 highway project on groundwater. The field work for the groundwater tracing will cover most of eastern Pulaski County due to the nature of groundwater flow. Currens said the data will have many important uses not related to the highway project; the information will be used for a series of maps being produced for the state.

Anyone seeing unusually colored water coming from a spring or flowing in a creek should contact Jim Currens or Randy Paylor at the Kentucky Geological Survey, phone (606) 257-5500, ext. 160 or 161, e-mail currens@uky.edu or rpaylor@uky.edu, and ask if a trace is in progress. Direct questions about the I-66 project should be sent to Joe Cox at (606) 677-4017 or by mail to the Department of Highways, District 8, P.O. Box 780-1660 South US 27, Somerset, KY 42502.


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