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U.S. Geological Survey

Open-File Report 2006-1091


Concentrations of Nutrients, Pesticides, and Suspended Sediment in the Karst Terrane of the Sinking Creek Basin, Kentucky, 2004

By Angela S. Crain


Water samples were collected in streams and springs in the karst terrane of the Sinking Creek Basin in 2004 as part of study in cooperation with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. A total of 48 water samples were collected at 7 sites (4 springs, 2 streams, and 1 karst window) from April through November 2004. The karst terrane of the Sinking Creek Basin (also known as Boiling Spring Basin) encompasses about 125 square miles in Breckinridge County and portions of Meade and Hardin Counties in Kentucky.

Fourteen pesticides were detected of the 52 pesticides analyzed in the stream and spring samples. Of the 14 detected pesticides, 12 were herbicides and 2 were insecticides. The most commonly detected pesticides—atrazine, simazine, metolachlor, and acetochlor—were those most heavily used on crops during the study. Atrazine was detected in 100 percent of all samples; simazine, metolachlor, and acetochlor were detected in more than 35 percent of all samples. The pesticide-transformation compound, deethylatrazine, was detected in 98 percent of the samples. Only one nonagricultural herbicide, prometon, was detected in more than 30 percent of the samples. Malathion, the most commonly detected insecticide, was found in 4 percent of the samples, which was followed by carbofuran (2 percent).

Most of the pesticides were present in low concentrations; however, atrazine was found in springs exceeding the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (USEPA) standards for drinking water. Atrazine exceeded the USEPA’s maximum contaminant level 2 times in 48 detections.

Concentrations of nitrate greater than 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L) were not found in water samples from any of the sites. Concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate ranged from 0.21 to 3.9 mg/L at the seven sites. The median concentration of nitrite plus nitrate for all sites sampled was 1.5 mg/L. Concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate generally were higher in the springs than in the main stem of Sinking Creek.

Forty-two percent of the concentrations of total phosphorus at all seven sites exceeded the USEPA’s recommended maximum concentration of 0.1 mg/L. The median concentration of total phosphorus for all sites sampled was 0.09 mg/L. The highest median concentrations of total phosphorus were found in the springs. Median concentrations of orthophosphate followed the same pattern as concentrations of total phosphorus in the springs. Concentrations of orthophosphate ranged from <0.006 to 0.192 mg/L.

Concentrations of suspended sediment generally were low throughout the basin; the median concentration of suspended sediment for all sites sampled was 23 mg/L. The highest concentration of suspended sediment (1,486 mg/L) was measured following a storm event at Sinking Creek near Lodiburg, Ky.

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Description of the Karst Terrane of the Sinking Creek Basin, Kentucky


Land Use

Study Design and Methods

Sampling Methods

Analytical Methods

Pesticide Results

Nutrient Results

Suspended Sediment Results


References Cited

Crain, A.S., 2006,Concentrations of Nutrients, Pesticides, and Suspended Sediment in the Karst Terrane of the Sinking Creek Basin, Kentucky, 2004: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2006-1091, 15 p.

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