Page Banner

United States Department of Agriculture

Agricultural Research Service

Research Project: DEVELOPMENT OF ALTERNATIVE PRACTICES FOR IMPROVED WATERSHED MANAGEMENT

Location: Cropping Systems and Water Quality Research

Title: Delineating recharge areas for Onondaga and Cathedral Caves using groundwater tracing techniques

Authors
item Miller, Benjamin -
item Lerch, Robert

Submitted to: Missouri Speleology
Publication Type: Peer Reviewed Journal
Publication Acceptance Date: March 28, 2011
Publication Date: May 14, 2011
Citation: Miller, B.V., Lerch, R.N. 2011. Delineating recharge areas for Onondaga and Cathedral Caves using groundwater tracing techniques. Missouri Speleology. 51(2):1-36.

Interpretive Summary: Karst topography is a landscape developed by the dissolving of limestone or dolomite bedrock layers, resulting in the formation of sinkholes, caves, springs, and losing streams. Karst topography accounts for about 20% of the land surface in the United States. Cave systems serve as habitat for unique and endangered species, but the groundwater quality in caves is especially vulnerable to contamination from surface land use activities. Onondaga Cave and Cathedral Cave are two large cave systems with active streams located along the Meramec River in the Ozarks ecoregion of Missouri. They are the centerpieces of Onondaga Cave State Park (Missouri Department of Natural Resources, Division of State Parks) where educational tours of the caves are given to the public. However, the sources of water to these caves, and the land use activities that may impact their water quality, were previously unknown. In this research, we used non-toxic dyes to trace the flow of water from the surface to the cave streams in order to determine the size of the drainage or recharge areas to the caves. The results showed that Onondaga Cave has a recharge area of approximately 9.3 square miles, and Cathedral Cave has a recharge area of approximately 3.5 square miles. Each of the cave systems receives the majority of their recharge from losing streams, where water infiltrates through the stream bed and flows into the subsurface. Currently, two-thirds or more of both recharge areas are covered by forest; grazed pasture was the second most common land use. Land uses that may present a threat to water quality in the cave streams, such as intensive agricultural production, impervious surfaces, or urbanization, currently account for a minor proportion of the land uses. The knowledge gained from this research was incorporated into the cave management plans developed by Park personnel. The management plans will guide future land acquisitions and allow for educational programs and materials to be targeted to landowners within the recharge areas. This research benefits the managers of these two caves by providing specific knowledge needed for development of cave management plans, and it has also served as an example to other public land management agencies of how dye tracing can be used to improve cave and karst management. The general public benefits because these popular tourist attractions will remain preserved for future generations to enjoy their pristine beauty.

Technical Abstract: Onondaga Cave and Cathedral Cave are two large, significant cave systems with active streams located along the Meramec River in the Ozarks ecoregion of Missouri. Groundwater dye tracing has delineated recharge areas for both caves in order to aid in the management of the cave systems by Onondaga Cave State Park (OCSP). Dye injection techniques ranged from direct pouring of the dye into streamways to the use of dry sets, and the assistance of fire department tanker trucks. Monitoring of discharge features utilized charcoal receptors placed directly in the discharge feature or stream. Onondaga Cave has a recharge area of approximately 24 km2, while Cathedral Cave has a recharge area of approximately nine km2. Each of the cave systems receives the majority of their recharge from losing streams. Onondaga Cave receives recharge largely from Possum Hollow, to the north of the cave. Cathedral Cave receives recharge from tributaries along the eastern side of Avery Hollow. Land uses that may present a threat to water quality in the cave streams, such as intensive row crop production, impervious surfaces, or urbanization, currently account for a minor proportion of the land uses. The knowledge gained from this research was incorporated into the cave management plans developed by OCSP personnel. The management plans will guide future land acquisitions and allow for educational programs and materials to be targeted to landowners within the recharge areas. In addition, future changes in land use that may threaten the water quality of the cave streams can be minimized (via negotiation or education of landowners) or actively opposed by OCSP. Thus, the impact of this work was to improve the overall management and preservation of Onondaga Cave and Cathedral Cave as Outstanding Water Resources in the State of Missouri.

Last Modified: 4/17/2014
Footer Content Back to Top of Page