KWRRI Research Reports


Study of springs and cave streams has shown that heavy metal-rich effluent from a wastewater treatment plant can be traced to Hidden River Cave (beneath the city of Horse Cave) and thence 4 to 5 miles north to a group of 39 springs at 14 locations along a 5-mile reach of Green River. Nickel, chromium, copper and zinc in these effluent-bearing springs are in concentrations of as much as 30 times greater than other springs upstream and downstream from this reach, 20 times greater than the Green River, and 60 times greater than in shallow domestic wells between Horse Cave and the river. Mean concentration ratios, based on samples taken during moderate to flood flow, are considerably lower. Although the heavy metal content of the effluent-bearing stream in Hidden River Cave greatly exceeds various maximum concentrations set by current standards, the concentrations in the effluent-bearing springs do not exceed current maximums allowed for public water supplies. None of the domestic shallow wells between the cave and the river intercept this effluent-rich water.

The distributary system that was postulated to feed the 39 springs was entered by digging in June 1975; 14.6 miles of this floodwater maze has been mapped.

Water tracing over distances of as much as 15 miles has made it possible to delineate thirteen groundwater basins, eleven of them characterized by distributary flow. Study of the water quality· of five adjacent groundwater basins showed that they could be geochemically differentiated. One of these, the Three-Springs Groundwater Basin, has a distributary complex that is 2.4 miles wide and its discharge is believed to be affected by brines released by drilling.

Dendritic flow paths, identified by dye-traces to and from caves (and mapping of these caves), have been recognized in the Turnhole Spring Groundwater Basin (Quinlan, 1976) and the Graham Springs Groundwater Basin. Flow converges to trunk streams as much as 40 ft wide that may rise and fall as much as 100 ft in response to heavy rains. Groundwater velocities in the upper part of the principal aquifer range from 30 ft per hour to 1300 ft per hour, depending upon the duration and intensity of rains.

Recommendations are made for: 1) the use of drainage basin maps for regional planning and protection of water supplies, 2) protection of other water supplies, and 3) development of specific springs as potential public water supplies.

Publication Date


Report Number


Digital Object Identifier (DOI)

Funding Information

The work on which this report is based was supported in part by funds provided by the Office of Water Research and Technology, United States Department of the Interior, as authorized under the Water Resources Research Act of 1964.