Kentucky Geological Survey Report of Investigations


The Kentucky Geological Survey, University of Kentucky, and the Kentucky Division of Water (of the Kentucky Environmental and Public Protection Cabinet) are evaluating groundwater quality throughout the commonwealth to determine regional conditions, assess impacts of nonpoint-source pollutants, establish a basis for detecting changes, and provide essential information for environmental-protection and resource-management decisions.

These evaluations are being conducted in stages. Under the Kentucky Watershed management Framework, Kentucky’s 12 major river basins and tributaries of the Ohio River were grouped into five basin management units (BMU’s). A previous report summarized and evaluated groundwater quality in BMU 3 (watersheds of the Upper Cumberland River, Lower Cumberland River, Tennessee River, the Jackson Purchase Region, and adjacent Ohio River tributaries). That report is available on the KGS Web site ( This report summarizes results of analyses of groundwater samples from wells and springs in BMU 1 (Kentucky River watershed and adjacent Ohio River tributaries), BMU 2 (Salt River and Licking River watersheds and adjacent Ohio River tributaries), and BMU 5 (Big Sandy River, Little Sandy River, and Tygarts Creek watersheds, and adjacent Ohio River tributaries).

Analytical results for selected water properties, major and minor inorganic ions, metals, nutrients, pesticides, and volatile organic chemicals were retrieved from the Kentucky Groundwater Data Repository. The repository is maintained by the Kentucky Geological Survey and contains reports received from the Division of Water’s Ambient Groundwater Monitoring Program as well as data from investigations by the U.S. Geological Survey, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, U.S. Department of Energy, Kentucky Geological Survey, Kentucky Division of Pesticide Regulation, and other agencies. The Kentucky Division of Water provided water-quality standards. Statistics such as the number of measurements reported, the number of sites sampled, quartile concentration values, and the number of sites at which water-quality standards were met or exceeded are used to summarize the data. Maps show sampled locations and sites where water-quality standards were met or exceeded. Cumulative data plots are used to show concentration distributions in each basin management unit. Box-and-whisker diagrams compare values between physiographic regions, major watersheds, wells and springs, and total versus dissolved metal concentrations. Plots of analyte concentrations versus well depth compare groundwater quality in shallow, intermediate, and deep groundwater flow systems.

Table A1 summarizes the findings. General water-quality properties, inorganic anions, and metals are primarily controlled by natural factors such as bedrock lithology. Some exceptionally high values of conductance, hardness, chloride, and sulfate may be affected by nearby oil and gas production or improperly sealed oil and gas wells, leaking waste-disposal systems, or other man-made factors, and some exceptionally low pH values probably result from acid mine drainage. Nitrate concentrations show a strong contribution from agricultural and waste-disposal practices, whereas orthophosphate and total phosphorus concentrations are largely determined by the chemical composition of limestone bedrock and coal strata. Synthetic organic chemicals such as pesticides and refined volatile organic compounds do not occur naturally in groundwater. Although these chemicals rarely exceed water-quality criteria in the project area, the detection of these man-made chemicals in springs and shallow wells indicates there has been some degradation of groundwater quality. Monitoring of these synthetic, potentially health-threatening chemicals should continue, and efforts to protect the groundwater resources from them should be a priority for the commonwealth of Kentucky.

Publication Date



Series XII

Report Number

Report of Investigations 16

Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

Funding for this project was provided in part by a grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as authorized by the Clean Water Act Amendments of 1987, Section 319(h) Nonpoint Source Implementation Grant C9994861-99.