UK, Other Groups Monitoring Watershed Quality Near Lexington

Mar 5, 2013

LEXINGTON, Ky. - In 2008, the Lexington Fayette Urban County Government and the U.S. EPA came to an agreement on improvements to Lexington’s sanitary sewers to reduce the accidental overflow of untreated sewage into area streams. That agreement has resulted in studies by several UK departments into the water quality of the region.  Mike Lynch reports on research work being done on one local watershed by the Kentucky Geological Survey.

Hydrogeologist Jim Currens and a UK geology student collect water samples from a well drilled into a cave which carries water in the Cane Run Watershed from Lexington to Royal Spring, the main water supply for neighboring Georgetown. Their research is being conducted at the Kentucky Horse Park, where the Geological Survey located the underground water conduit after drilling several wells looking for it. In conjunction with the UK College of Agriculture, they are monitoring water quality in the Cane Run watershed, which flows both on the surface as a creek, and underground.

Down the wells at the Horse Park are devices measuring the depth and velocity of the water in the cave, and automatic samplers drawing water into bottles at the surface for lab analysis. Currens says he and his colleagues are monitoring for pollutants such as nitrates and animal and human waste as well as other solids suspended in the water. But it’s also an opportunity to learn more about water behavior in the karst geology of the Inner Bluegrass Region.

The research gives geology undergraduate students like Brittany Shelton of Lexington a chance to learn geologic practices outside the classroom.

One of the major challenges for this project was finding the cave through which the underground portion of the Cane Run watershed flows.  Some high-tech, sensitive equipment to detect very small gravity changes or electrical current generated by the flow of water couldn’t locate the cave.  KGS drilled twenty, six-inch-wide holes averaging 79-feet in depth in a field at the Horse Park in search of it.

During the summer of 2010, Currens decided to drill closely-spaced holes between the two groups of wells already drilled.  This time, success.

KGS now has three wells into the cave at the Horse Park, six other wells to monitor water levels, and a surface water station at Cane Run Creek a couple of hundred yards away to monitor surface water flow and quality.  Currens says he hopes to gather samples and take readings on the water for several years to reveal any long term changes--improvements, he hopes--in the water quality.