Water Resources Research Act Program

Details for Project ID 2020KY049B

Analysis of Contaminated Karst Groundwater Supplying "Off the Grid" Religious Communities in Southcentral Kentucky

Institute: Kentucky
Year Established: 2020 Start Date: 2020-02-28 End Date: 2021-02-26
Total Federal Funds: $9,999 Total Non-Federal Funds: $20,003

Principal Investigators: Dr. Chris Groves

Abstract: Kentucky’s karst landscapes are formed in soluble limestone bedrock, where features such as caves, sinkholes and underground rivers are common, and groundwater within them is highly vulnerable to contamination. Karst groundwater impacted by agricultural land use is typically not safe for water supplies without treatment, and the use of untreated karst groundwater has been largely eliminated in Kentucky.However, we have shown that some residents of Amish, Mennonite, and Quaker communities in southcentral Kentucky who for religious reasons are living “off the grid†and choose to forgo certain modern technologies are relying on contaminated karst groundwater, with limited or even no treatment infrastructure. In a recently completed seed project funded by KWRRI (Baughn et al., 2019; Groves et al., 2019), every sample of untreated water collected over a one-year study from four family water supply karst springs in Barren and Monroe Counties was positive for both total coliforms and E. coli, indicating that according to World Health Organization guidelines every sample of non-treated water was classified as polluted with respect to water quality and had high gastrointestinal health risk. In other work by the US Centers for Disease Control, a family of nine in nearby Allen County drinking from a contaminated spring all became ill with Hepatitis A in 2018. The work proposed here aims to foster urgently needed improvements in water supply reliability by beginning to quantify the extent of this poorly understood problem and to better understand potential solutions. With cooperation from local and regional partners, and with a team drawing on extensive expertise in karst hydrogeology, cultural geography, and Geographic Information Systems (GIS) we will develop a network of stakeholders and conduct an analysis of the extent of “off the grid†families and communities relying on contaminated karst groundwater by conducting a GIS analysis over the ten-county Barren River Area Development District of southcentral Kentucky, an area rich both in agriculturally-contaminated karst aquifers and “off the grid†religious communities. We are especially excited to partner with Dr. Anna Hoover to not only map out the extent of the problem but to conduct an analysis that combines our team’s physical and social science background with the ideas and tools of Environmental Health Literacy.