Living On Karst


Reducing Runoff Pollution in Karst Areas


Prevention is the best cure. The pollution potential in karst areas is very high. Streams and surface runoff entering sinkholes and storm drains contribute to the recharge of groundwater aquifers, providing direct conduits for contaminants.

Common Runoff Pollutants

  • Heavy metals (lead, copper, zinc, chromium) from gasoline, tires, corroded metal, paint, wood preservatives, and motor oil.
  • Pesticides and fertilizers from yards, foundations and gardens.
  • Bacteria from sewage and animal wastes.
  • Soil sediments from construction sites, bare stream banks, home landscaping, and steep exposed slopes.

Changes in Water Flow

Urban development and growth may cause water quality problems. Storm water Management, erosion control strategies, and riparian zone management need to be carefully considered. The traditional methods of large-and small-scale development paid little attention to the number of impervious surfaces that were created, such as roofs, sidewalks, streets, and parking lots. Rain runs rapidly off of the these surfaces, turning city streams into raging torrents that cause erosion and damage property.


Bare construction sites allow large amounts of fine soil, or sediment, to erode away. Other pollutants often attach to sediment particles, and can be transported far downstream in floods, spreading their toxic effects.

The silt clogs drainage ways, caves, and sinkholes, and increases community flooding problems. It prevents native aquatic plants from getting the sunlight they need, and smothers fish eggs and other oxygen-loving creatures that live on stream bottoms.

Increased Pollution

Rains wash toxic chemicals, bacteria, and silt from urban surfaces. Uncontrolled runoff causes sewage treatment plants to overflow directly into waterways. Fertilizers encourage the growth of slimy algae, and oil forms visible scum. Even heat is a pollutant. Runoff from hot pavement can make streams unbearably warm for creatures in the stream.

Basic Runoff Controls

Well-designed runoff controls can be smart, cost-effective, aesthetically pleasing, and for businesses, satisfy local requirements for green spaces. There are many easy and affordable ways to reduce harmful storm water runoff, make your living or working environment more pleasant, and enhance property values, all at the same time.

  • Maintain as large a vegetated zone as possible on drainage ways and slopes to slow runoff and filter out pollutants.
  • Slow runoff by building check dams across ditches and using vegetated sinkholes to naturally detain water and allow soil and pollutants to settle out.
  • Keep soil on site during construction by using silt fences, hay bales, and sedimentation basins.
  • Reseed and mulch areas of exposed soil as soon as possible to reduce erosion.
  • Use gravel or permeable paving materials which allow rain to penetrate the surface rather than running off directly into a stream or sinkhole.




©  Copyright 1997, Cave Conservancy of the Virginias

Special Thanks To The West Virginia Cave Conservancy

Rockcastle Karst Conservancy