A request by the Monroe County Commission for a study to understand our county’s underground water situation turned into a boon for the county that will have lasting value for our community, public service districts and public officials—not to mention our watersheds!
On December 14, 2023, the US Geological Survey (USGS) released the results of a multi-year collaborative study that provides Monroe County with information to make science-based decisions on water resources supply and management. The report, Hydrogeology, Karst, and Groundwater Availability of Monroe County, and summary information can be accessed with the links below:
Report summary and appendices (USGS website)
Note: Hydrogeology is the study of groundwater – It deals with how water gets into the ground (recharge), how it flows in the subsurface (through aquifers) and how groundwater interacts with the surrounding soil and rock (the geology). (International Association of Hydrogeologists)
Historically, two areas of special concern in the county have been: 1) the potential degradation of aquifers associated with conversion of agricultural, forested, or undeveloped lands for purposes of economic development, and 2) water availability for current and future anticipated economic growth.
The quality and quantity of the county’s water is a practical concern for Monroe County residents. The public water service districts (Union, Red Sulphur, Gap Mills, and Alderson PSDs) provide water to about half of the county for residential and commercial use. This water mainly comes from groundwater springs and wells, supplemented by stream withdrawals. The other half of the residents of the county do not have access to the PSDs and draw all their water from groundwater via private springs and wells.
Given the magnitude of this study, Monroe County may now have the most closely examined and mapped water resources in the state.
The report includes extensive data gathered and numerous county-wide maps developed, with information on the geology and water of both karst and non-karst aquifers. Its findings and maps will help county officials and residents make better-informed choices in situations such as where best to locate different kinds of facilities, what areas need special protection or where to look for additional sources of water for public service districts and private wells. For example:
- The groundwater basins that were mapped, dye-tracer tests that reveal underground water flows, and water-table, geologic, hydrogeologic and sinkhole maps developed for the study will provide data to state and county agencies for evaluating potential contaminant movement in the event of an accidental spill.
- The county-wide sinkhole and water-table maps will provide useful data to the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) and others for agricultural land-use management and assessment, and for assessment of suitable areas for economic development.
- The county-wide lidar-derived digital elevation model (DEM) will provide high resolution elevation data useful for a wide array of construction projects including water-line extensions and water system planning, and highway construction.
Research for the study was led by USGS scientists with expertise in the two central components of the study—Monroe County’s water and geology. Mark D. Kozar is a hydrologist with the USGS based in Charleston, and Daniel H. Doctor is a geologist for the USGS based in Reston, Virginia.
In addition to the USGS scientists involved in the study, research also benefited from the work of WVU geology professor Dorothy Vesper and graduate student Emily Bausher, who partnered with ICWA to conduct a multi-year study and monitoring of the springs along Peters Mountain.
The County Commission’s initial request made its way to the USGS, which had already targeted Monroe as a high priority for closer study because of the vulnerable karst terrain. Mark Kozar had co-authored the 2016 state-wide assessment of West Virginia’s hydrogeologic terrains and susceptibility of groundwater supplies, which was undertaken following the 2014 storage tank leak into the Elk River that contaminated the water supply for more than 300,000 people.
After a field visit and meeting in the county, a proposal by a USGS team led by Kozar was presented to the Monroe County Planning Commission. In August 2017, it was announced that funding commitments had been secured and the project began in Fall 2017. (See “Funding In Place for Monroe County Water Study”–Monroe Watchman)
The study was conducted by the US Geological Survey in cooperation with the West Virginia Department of Environmental Protection, the West Virginia Department of Health & Human Resources and the Monroe County Commission.
In the report’s acknowledgements, the USGS cited ICWA volunteers Rocky Parsons and Howdy Henritz “for assisting with field reconnaissance of study sites and sampling of the sites for the dye-tracer tests discussed in this report, while providing communication with local landowners to access property for data collection activities for this investigation.”
The USGS also extended its appreciation to “the residents of Monroe County who allowed access to their wells, for water-level measurements, and land, for dye-tracer tests, geologic mapping, and base-flow stream surveys.”
The willingness of so many Monroe County residents to help with this study reflects their very real concerns about protecting the quality and quantity of the county’s amazing but vulnerable natural water resources.