U.S. Water News
CAVE CITY, Ky. -- Whenever a heavy rain falls on
Cave National Park in west-central Kentucky, park service
officials dispatch a special "swat team" of water quality
monitors to sample the labyrinth of underground streams that
form the most extensive cave system in the world. The flood
surges that quickly enter the caverns are tested for surface
pollutants in a multiagency effort called the Mammoth
Cave/Karst Area Water Quality Project.
Nonpoint source pollution testing in an underground setting
lends a unique character to the Mammoth Cave project. The
unusual geology that annually attracts over two million
visitors to the park also makes the area particularly
vulnerable to poor water quality. Instead of flowing into
surface streams, rain falling within the limestone karst
basin of the Green River flows into some 15,000 active
sinkholes. The water travels through underground streams and
caves, including Mammoth Cave, before emerging as spring
water in the Green River. A host of potential pollution
sources, including point source discharges from industrial
wastewater treatment facilties and nonpoint pollution from
agriculture, greatly affect the quality of water flowing
through the cave system.
Concerned that surface pollution sources might lead to
long-term deterioration of the cave resource and its value
to the local tourism economy, Kentucky officials are using
section 319 federal grants to support water quality
monitoring and a host of demonstration projects. Besides the
National Park Service, other agencies involved in the
Mammoth Cave/Karst Area Water Quality Project include the
Kentucky Division of Conservation, the Tennessee Valley
Authority, and the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
Congress added section 319 -- the nonpoint source management
section -- to the Clean Water Act in the 1987 Amendments.
Section 319, administered Nonpoint Source Control Branch of
the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), is intended
to promote cooperation with local and state agencies in a
national nonpoint source control strategy.
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