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Journal of Environmental Quality Abstract -

Agricultural Impacts on Bacterial Water Quality in Karst Groundwater


This article in JEQ

  1. Vol. 24 No. 5, p. 959-969
    Received: Oct 5, 1994

    * Corresponding author(s): dboyer@access.mountain.net
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  1. G. C. Pasquarell and
  2. D. G. Boyer *
  1. USDA-ARS, P.O. Box 867, Beckley, WV 25802-0867.



A 2-yr study (1991–1992) was conducted in a karst region in southeast West Virginia to determine the impact of agriculture on groundwater quality. The primary agriculture is characterized by seasonal cattle grazing. Fecal coliform densities were measured weekly in the resurgences of three karst basins possessing different degrees of agricultural intensity (79, 51, and 16% land use in agriculture). Fecal coliforms were also measured in a creek at sites upstream and downstream of the known resurgences from the most agriculturally intensive (79%) basin. The fecal coliform densities in the resurgences peaked in the summer and declined in the fall, with a recovery in late winter before the introduction of new cattle. The timing of the recovery indicated that significant storage of fecal material had taken place, which was transported to the groundwater when soil water conditions permitted. For most of each year, soil water effects appeared to have a greater bearing on the fecal coliform densities than did the presence or absence of cattle. The data did not generally support a strong relationship with percent land use in agriculture. This was attributed to the high variability in the data and to low soil moisture during periods of recession that inhibited the transport of fecal material to the groundwater. The karst resurgence springs of the most intensively agricultural basin were contaminated with fecal bacteria. Fecal bacteria concentrations were observed to significantly increase, in the receiving surface stream, from a point upstream of the resurgence springs to a point downstream of the resurgence springs.

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