Date Available


Year of Publication


Degree Name

Master of Science in Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering (MSBiosyAgE)

Document Type

Master's Thesis


Agriculture, Food and Environment


Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering

First Advisor

Dr. Tiffany Messer


The Kentucky River Basin, which is in the Eastern Kentucky Coal Field region, is a rural region with sparse population distribution and a history of water quality impairments. The long history of mining activity in the Commonwealth has not only left a mark on the area’s economy, but it has also shaped the environment. Changes in land use from forested areas to surface mining have been shown to significantly change water chemistry and hydrology. To date, there is limited information regarding the potential exposure and introduction of heavy metals and sulfate entering rural water treatment plants, resulting in a notable and concerning knowledge gap in these regions. This study conducted a citizen science tap water campaign, tested water outlets (indoor faucet vs. outdoor spigot), source water (well, spring, water treatment plant), and counties coupled with a six month in-stream monitoring campaign at nine field sites. Heavy metals were found to be significantly greater in outdoor spigot samples compared to water samples collected at indoor faucets, with many outdoor spigot samples exceeding human health limits. However, after allowing water to flush from outdoor spigots for five minutes, no differences were observed between indoor faucets and outdoor spigot heavy metal concentrations. Significant differences in sulfate, aluminum, and iron concentrations were also observed in residential tap water samples depending on source water. Surface water monitoring sites had significantly different heavy metal concentrations depending on county, where Breathitt County had greater mean concentrations for most analytes. Findings from this work provide guidance on metal accumulation in tap water pipes along with guidance on heavy metal and sulfate concentration environmental exceedances depending on watershed land use.

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

This material is based upon work supported by the University of Kentucky Center of Appalachian Research in Environmental Science (UK-CARES) granted in 2021 and the United States Hatch multistate capacity funding grant (W-4045) granted in 2020.