Water Quality Restoration of the Mammoth Cave Karst Aquifer: A Work in Progress

by Joe Meiman,

Document Type: Proceeding Paper

Part of: Watershed Management and Operations Management 2000


Over tens of thousands of years the aquatic ecosystem of the Mammoth Cave Karst Aquifer evolved in concordance with natural recharge supplied through 24,000 hectares of tall-grass prairie and hardwood forests, These lands draining into Mammoth Cave experienced severe. alteration beginning with European settlement in the late 1700s as grasslands were plowed and the forest cleared. Today only remnants of the original surface ecosystem survive as the recharge area -- sixty-five percent of which is beyond the park boundary -- is home to communities, farms, transportation corridors, oil and gas exploration, and commercial. In the early 1990s, spurred by local citizen groups and the National Park Service, steps were taken to begin to mitigate anthropologic pollution sources and threats and begin to restore the regional water quality of this karst aquifer. A community of 500 and six NPDES, which once drained into the aquifer, are now linked to a $16 million regional sewer system. Well over $1 million of animal waste, agri-chemical, and erosion control best management practices have been constructed on area farms. The elimination of these sources of groundwater contaminants is being detected through the parks Water Quality Monitoring Program (based upon USGS NWQA). Although there is an improvement in base-flow (chronic) water quality, high flow (acute) conditions following sudden recharge events remain signified by periods of low quality. Current water quality monitoring and karst flow dynamics research will allow the park and local stakehoiders to design new methods for further reducing contaminant levels.

Subject Headings: Water quality | Karst | Parks | Ecosystems | Caves | Water pollution | Pollutants | Kentucky | United States

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