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Dye tracing techniques used to determine ground-water flow in a carbonate aquifer system near Elizabethtown, Kentucky

January 1, 1988

Because of the vulnerability of karst aquifers to contamination and the need for water managers to know recharge areas and groundwater flow characteristics for springs and wells used for public water supply, qualitative and quantitative dye tracing techniques were used during a groundwater investigation in the Elizabethtown area, Hardin County, in north-central Kentucky. The principal aquifer in the Elizabethtown area is thick, nearly horizontal beds of limestone, and thin beds of shale of Mississippi age. As much as 65% of all water pumped for the city water supply is obtained from two springs and two wells that obtain water from these rocks. Sinkholes were classified according to their ability to funnel runoff directly into the groundwater flow system, based primarily on the nature of the swallet draining the sinkhole. The presence of bedrock in the sinkhole nearly always ensured a well defined swallet leading to the subsurface. Qualitative and quantitative dye tracing techniques and equipment are discussed in detail. Qualitative dye tracing with fluorescein dye and passive dye detectors, consisting of activated coconut charcoal identified point to point connection between representative sinkholes, sinking streams, and karst windows and the city springs and wells. Qualitative tracing confirmed the presence of infiltrated surface water from a perennial stream, Valley Creek, in water from city wells and generally confirmed the direction of groundwater flow as shown by a water level contour map. Quantitative dye tracing with rhodamin WT, automatic samplers, discharge measurements, and fluorometric analyses were used to determine flow characteristics such as traveltime for arrival of the leading edge, peak concentration, trailing edge, and persistence of the dye cloud at the spring resurgence. Analyses of the dye recovery curves for quantitative dye traces completed between the same sinkholes and a city spring, and during different flow conditions showed that the arrival time of the leading edge of the dye cloud ranged from 5 to 24 hours and that the traveltime of the centroid of the dye cloud ranged from 6 to 31 hours when discharge was 4.6 and 0.53 cu ft/second, respectively. (Lantz-PTT)

Publication Year 1988
Title Dye tracing techniques used to determine ground-water flow in a carbonate aquifer system near Elizabethtown, Kentucky
DOI 10.3133/wri874174
Authors D. S. Mull, J. L. Smoot, T.D. Liebermann
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 87-4174
Index ID wri874174
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse