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In karst landscapes, the distinction between groundwater and surface water is blurry. Groundwater may emerge as a spring, flow a short distance above ground, only to vanish in a disappearing stream, and perhaps re-emerge farther downstream again as surface water. This connection between groundwater and streams makes southeastern Minnesota home to many cold-water streams, where trout and other important species thrive. In addition, pollution affecting groundwater can quickly threaten a stream, and the animals and plants living there. And contaminated surface water can easily become groundwater pollution, and pose a health risk to those using it for drinking.

Another concern is the potential for carbonate bedrock beneath liquid storage basins to collapse, which has been reported in many states, including North Carolina, Missouri, Iowa, and Minnesota. Municipal sewage lagoons have collapsed in three southeastern Minnesota communities (Altura, Bellechester, and Lewiston) since 1976. All three were built in similar hydrogeologic settings: shallow carbonate bedrock beneath a thin layer of sand or sandstone. Geologists theorize that the lagoons’ high leakage rates saturated the sandy material beneath with carbonate-poor water, which readily dissolved the underlying carbonate bedrock, or washed soil into preexisting solution cavities. The collapsed lagoons sent millions of gallons of wastewater into the aquifer.

More information

Karst data and publications

Technical resources

Pollution prevention is the best strategy for protecting water quality in the karst region. Learn more through these technical resources: