State Water Resources Research Institute Program

Project ID: 2008NY106B
Title: Prediction of areas sensitive to fertilizer application in thinly soiled Karst
Project Type: Research
Start Date: 3/01/2008
End Date: 2/28/2009
Congressional District: 26
Focus Categories: Groundwater, Water Quality
Keywords: Karst aquifer systems, groundwater contamination, groundwater flow circulation, pollution
Principal Investigator: Richards, Paul L.
Federal Funds: $ 0
Non-Federal Matching Funds: $ 11,319
Abstract: Karst areas are known for their agricultural productivity. However, karst watersheds are vulnerable to surface and groundwater contamination because of complex surface-water/groundwater interactions, including dissolution fast pathways to the subsurface. This is important because approximately 20% of the U.S. (40% of the eastern U.S.) is karst and agricultural runoff is one of the major causes of surface-water contamination in the United States. The Onondaga FM is a known karst lithology in NYS that is heavily farmed and is an important aquifer for domestic water supplies. Recent events in the township of Stafford, NY have underscored the sensitivity of this unit to groundwater contamination. This Formation has suffered several incidents of well contamination as a result of the application of fertilizer. In the most recent incident, 35 wells were contaminated by one farmer. Although the origin of contamination is still in dispute, karst related flow processes have been suspected and the NYDEC has charged the farmer for contaminating the wells. Several of these events in the recent past have led to the adoption of stricter guidelines of fertilizer application in thinly-soiled limestone areas. Applying these guidelines are difficult because the geology of the area is poorly mapped, soil thicknesses are uncertain and bedrock dissolution features and fractured zones are abundant and complexly distributed. Subsurface groundwater flow paths are also dynamic and do not follow surface gradients. There is an urgent need to develop protocols for identifying hydrologically connected fracture zones and dissolution features from surface expression and to better understand groundwater flow circulation in the region. In this and other karst regions, a reliable methodology is needed to identify areas that are most vulnerable to groundwater pollution. Mapping these sensitive areas is essential for successfully applying best management practices for protecting the region's water supplies.

Progress/Completion Report, PDF

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