Potential Interaction of Groundwater and Surface Water Including Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Reconnaissance at Nolin River Lake, Kentucky, 2016

Scientific Investigations Report 2019-5075
Prepared in cooperation with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District
By: , and 


  • Document: Report (16.1 MB pdf)
  • Data Release: USGS data release – Water-Quality Datasets from Synoptic Surveys in Nolin River Lake, Kentucky, using an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle, Discrete Sampling, and Depth Profiles, August 2016
  • Download citation as: RIS | Dublin Core


The U.S. Geological Survey collaborated with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Louisville District, on a synoptic study of water quality at Nolin River Lake during August 2016. The purpose of the study was to develop a better understanding of the potential for interaction between groundwater and surface water at Nolin River Lake, Kentucky. Groundwater can have properties that are measurably different from those in adjacent surface water, and inflows and outflows can be an important component of water quality and quantity. An improved understanding of potential interaction of groundwater and surface water at Nolin River Lake may be used to refine lake-management strategies. This study (1) compiled and interpreted existing information to characterize the hydrogeological setting and implications for potential interaction of groundwater and surface water in the Nolin River Lake watershed; (2) collected transects of onsite water-quality parameters using an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) in areas with potential for interaction of groundwater and surface water, including five sites on Nolin River Lake and one site on the Nolin River; and (3) collected discrete water-quality and phytoplankton community data at the same six sites.

A review of existing hydrogeologic information did not indicate the presence of karst features adjacent to or beneath Nolin River Lake that would facilitate groundwater interaction with the reservoir. Observations leading to this conclusion include (1) limestone that is adjacent to the shoreline and perhaps beneath the lake, is overlain with siliciclastic rocks and fine-grained sediment that inhibits infiltration and development of karst features that encourage rapid groundwater flow; (2) the geologic deposits surrounding the reservoir are described as having limited or no potential for development of karst features, some exceptions may exist in tributary valleys; (3) very few karst features were mapped within 1 mile of the reservoir or in the area currently occupied by the reservoir; and (4) faults that intersect the reservoir but may not possess hydraulic properties that cause the faults to be conduits for groundwater flow. Groundwater interaction with reservoir tributaries is likely more common in areas of the watershed upstream from Nolin River Lake where karst hydrogeology is prevalent.

Results of water-quality surveys using an AUV from August 15 to 19, 2016, did not identify areas of anomalous values that might indicate groundwater inflows through preferential flow zones. Spatial distributions of water-quality parameters were generally uniform within each constant-depth layer. The constant-depth layers were selected to be above, within, and below the thermocline and ranged from the water surface to 25 feet. Surveys near the bottom of the reservoir that might have been more sensitive to groundwater inflows were not done because presurvey data were not available to indicate locations of obstacles that could ensnare the AUV. Water-quality data collected with the AUV did identify water-quality anomalies where stream tributaries were discharging to the reservoir.

The discrete water-quality samples indicated uniformity among the five reservoir sites. The riverine site that is immediately upstream from Nolin River Lake, however, had some unique water-quality characteristics relative to sites on the reservoir. The highest concentrations of nitrate plus nitrite as nitrogen (0.145 milligrams per liter [mg/L]), total phosphorous (0.07 mg/L), chlorophyll a (36.1 micrograms per liter), and pheophytin a (10.2 micrograms per liter) were measured at the Nolin River Lake riverine site (site 2NRR20034). The concentrations of nutrients and chlorophyll a at the riverine site did exceed the 25th percentile of median concentrations measured by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) at other lakes and reservoirs in EPA level IV ecoregion 71a. Concentrations of most nutrients and chlorophyll a at the five reservoir sites also exceeded the 25th percentile of median concentrations in EPA level IV ecoregion 72h. The exception was the concentrations of total phosphorus as phosphorus at the reservoir sites that were at or below the 25th percentile of median concentrations measured by EPA (0.03 mg/L). Concentrations of orthophosphate as phosphorus were less than the method detection limit of 0.004 mg/L at all sites. The phytoplankton community in Nolin River Lake was almost exclusively (greater than 90 percent of total phytoplankton abundance) cyanobacteria, also known as blue-green algae. A species of Cylindrospermopsis dominated the cyanobacterial community at the five reservoir sites, while Chroococcus microscopicus was most abundant at the riverine site. Cyanobacterial cell densities ranged from 10,000 to 198,067,460 cells per liter in five areas in the reservoir and from 4,800 to 73,751,253 cells per liter at the riverine site.

Multiple potential sources of water to Nolin River Lake include direct precipitation, overland flow, interflow, groundwater, and surface water. Understanding the exact contribution of each of these components to the water budget at Nolin River Lake may help the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manage the water quality, water quantity, and biological communities in the reservoir. Additional hydrogeologic and water-quality data that builds on the results of this study may refine the inferences of this study; for example, deeper AUV surveys that target the largest fault zones might further the understanding of the potential for groundwater flow through those features. A complete understanding of the reservoir hydrology, however, may require the use of scientific methods intended for water bodies as large as Nolin River Lake, such as aerial infrared photography and imagery; water mass, chemical, and isotopic balance studies; geophysical measurements; and numerical simulations.

Suggested Citation

Crain, A.S., Boldt, J.A., Bayless, E.R., Bunch, A.R., Young, J.L., Thomason, J.C., and Wolf, Z.L., 2019, Potential interaction of groundwater and surface water including autonomous underwater vehicle reconnaissance at Nolin River Lake, Kentucky, 2016: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2019–5075, 36 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20195075.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Description of Study Area
  • Methods
  • Autonomous Underwater Vehicle Data Processing
  • Potential Interaction of Groundwater and Surface Water at Nolin River Lake
  • Reservoir Water-Quality Data during August 15–19, 2016
  • Limitations
  • Summary
  • References Cited
Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Potential interaction of groundwater and surface water including autonomous underwater vehicle reconnaissance at Nolin River Lake, Kentucky, 2016
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2019-5075
DOI 10.3133/sir20195075
Year Published 2019
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) Indiana Water Science Center, Kentucky Water Science Center, Ohio-Kentucky-Indiana Water Science Center
Description Report: vi, 36 p.; Data Release
Country United States
State Kentucky
Other Geospatial Nolin River Lake
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Google Analytic Metrics Metrics page
Additional publication details