Karst Hydrogeology and Hydrochemistry of the Cave Springs Basin Near Chattanooga, Tennessee

U.S. Geological Survey, Water Resources Investigations Report 96-4248

by D.J. Pavlicek

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The Cave Springs ground-water basin, located near Chattanooga, Tennessee, was chosen as one of the Valley and Ridge physiographic province type area studies for the Appalachian Valley-Piedmont Regional Aquifer-System Analysis study in 1990. Karstic Paleozoic carbonate rocks, residual clay-rich regolith, and coarse alluvium form the aquifer framework. Recharge from rainfall dispersed over the basin enters the karst aquifer through the thick regolith. The area supplying recharge to the Cave Springs Basin is approximately 7 square miles. Recharge frorn North Chickamauga Creek may contribute recharge to the Cave Springs Basin along losing reaches.

The flow medium consists of mixed dolomite and limestone with cavernous and fracture porosity. Flow type as determined by the coefficient of variation of long-term continuous specific conductance (18 and 15 percent) from two wells completed in cavernous intervals about 150 feet northeast of Cave Springs, indicates an aquifer with conduit flow. Flow type, based on the ratio (6: 1) of spring flood-flow discharge to spring base-flow discharge, indicates an aquifer with diffuse flow. Conduit flow probably dominates the aquifer system west of Cave Springs Ridge from the highly transmissive, unconfined, alluvium capped aquifer and along losing reaches of North Chickamauga Creek. Diffuse flow probably predominates in the areas along and east of Cave Springs Ridge covered with the thick, clay-rich regolith that forms a leaky confining layer. Based on average annual long-term precipitation and runoff records, the amount of water available for recharge to Cave Springs is 11.8 cubic feet per second. The mean annual long-term discharge of Cave Springs is 16.4 cubic feet per second which leaves 4.6 cubic feet per second of recharge unaccounted for. As determined by low-flow stream discharge measurements, recharge along losing reaches of North Chickamauga Creek may be an important source of unaccounted for recharge to the Cave Springs Basin.

Selected ground-water samples in the study area are characterized by calcium bicarbonate type water and calcium magnesium bicarbonate type water. Calcium bicarbonate type water characterizes Lick Branch and Poe Branch. North Chickamauga Creek water is calcium magnesium sulfate type water and reflects interaction with the pyrite-containing siliciclastic rocks of the Cumberland Plateau or acid mine drainage. Seasonalhigh spring discharge is associated with lower specific conductance and lower temperatures, which lag in response to increasing spring discharge by approximately 2 months. Seasonal decrease in spring discharge is accompanied by an incident increase in specific conductance and temperature increase, which leads by about 4 months.

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