1. 7.4.2 Infiltration vs. non-infiltration
      2. 7.4.3 Basic Principles

Pennsylvania Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual
Chapter 7
carbonate units. Neither do models typically account for the stormwater that joins surface runoff
as “interflow” when the collective capacity of interconnected conduits and cavities in the
subsurface is exceeded. (Source:
Technical Bulletin No. 2
Virginia Department of Conservation
and Recreation - Hydrologic Modeling and Design in Karst)
Karst loss is a term given to surface runoff loss into bedrock strata in areas underlain by
limestone formations. Unlike other calculation factors, such as curve numbers (which deal with
characteristics of the land surface), a karst loss factor is intended to depict projected losses into
bedrock. The determination of karst potential in any given area may be simplified by the
observation of noticeable indicators such as caves, crevices, limestone outcrops, sink holes,
ponds that appear to lack sufficient contributing area, and disappearing streams. In other cases,
karst infiltration areas may be difficult to identify since definitive karst features are not always
obvious. Generally, a lack of natural drainage way erosion or inadequately sized drainage ways
(for the size of the contributing area) may be clues to karst loss. Other observations may include
undersized drainage conduits that never run full.
Thick sequences of carbonate bedrock (limestone and dolomite) underlie a sizeable area in -
central and southeastern Pennsylvania. Folding and faulting have extensively fractured this
bedrock. Over millions of years, chemical weathering of the deformed carbonate units by weakly
acidic water along points of weakness has produced a subdued, but deeply developed karst
(Wilshusen and Kochanov, 1999). The process of carbonate bedrock dissolution results in a
distinct landscape called karst topography. Karst topography includes features such as
sinkholes, surface depressions, and caves. Other notable characteristics are significant changes
in the depth to bedrock or groundwater table within a short distance and “losing” streams that
disappear into the subsurface.
Karst development is a water-driven system; whereby the enlargement of fractures creates a
natural system of “pipes and drains” that serves to transport groundwater, surface water and
surficial material. Karst drains are typically covered with a mantle of soil. Surface and/or
groundwater can mobilize these sediments into subsurface voids, resulting in sinkholes or closed
depressions. Variations in the volume of water entering the karst system can increase the rate at
which sinkholes develop.
Karst aquifers are vulnerable to contamination when the natural filtration capability of soil is
bypassed due to thin soils, sinkholes or subsurface open fractures and voids. Contaminants can
enter the karst system and travel long distances over a relatively short period of time.
When addressing stormwater management issues,
the complexities of a karst system demand
a more rigorous scrutiny than other geologic settings
. In areas that undergo land-use
changes, stormwater, which once had established infiltration routes into the ground, may then be
captured and redirected into a variety of artificial drainage ways and catchment areas. This
change creates an imbalance that can result in increased subsidence and sinkhole activity,
potential groundwater contamination, and could affect the quantity and quality of the karst aquifer
system (Knight, 1971; Newton, 1987; White and others, 1986).
7.4.2 Infiltration vs. non-infiltration
A decision must be made to either promote infiltration at a karst site (recommended, but may not
be feasible in all areas) or eliminate infiltration altogether as an attempt to curb sinkholes or
contamination liability. This decision must be based on a sound site assessment and
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Pennsylvania Stormwater Best Management Practices Manual
Chapter 7
consideration of potential contaminants that can be introduced by the proposed project. The
worst scenario is to ignore karst features entirely and thus significantly increase the potential for
costly delays, repairs, catastrophes and legal proceedings.
Stormwater control plans that utilize infiltration in karst are more common in areas such as
Kentucky (Crawford, 1989) and Tennessee (McCann & Smoot, 1999) but have generally been
avoided by hesitant or inexperienced developers in Pennsylvania. Non-infiltration plans may
seem safer and more economical even with the increased cost, but, an additional, long-term
“cost” is associated – lowering of the groundwater table, reducing the potential groundwater
resources of an area, and increasing the risk of a sudden, catastrophic ground collapse (via a
failed impoundment, swale, retention structure, etc.). Use of infiltration BMPs, especially
watershed-wide, is the best method for stormwater control in most karst areas. (Crawford,
1989)(McCann & Smoot, 1999) Future research in this area should identify additional innovative
solutions to these stormwater management challenges.
Basic Principles
Successful stormwater management in karst areas can be achieved by developing a strategy for
the site that will be best suited to function within the tolerance limits of the natural system. Every
effort should be made to maintain the pre-development hydrologic regime and utilize existing
karst drainage features in a safe way. The risk of sinkholes, subsidence problems and potential
groundwater contamination issues should be of utmost consideration. As previously noted in
Chapter 3, watershed-wide stormwater planning that considers and incorporates the existing
karst drainage will achieve the best overall results.
The following basic principles must be considered in karst areas:
Identification, understanding and consideration of geologic information are crucial.
An initial site assessment is critical to identify karst and existing drainage features. It is
recommended that a broader area be reviewed to spot regional trends in geology and
drainage. A thorough site assessment should include, but not be limited to, the following:
o Review of aerial photographs, geologic literature, sinkhole maps, borings (if
available), existing well data, and municipal wellhead or aquifer protection plans.
o Site reconnaissance, including a thorough field examination for features such as
limestone pinnacles, sinkholes, closed depressions, fracture traces, faults, springs
and seeps. Special attention should be paid to confirmation of features located
during literature review.
o Drilling of boreholes.
o Determination of groundwater elevations, especially with respect to the bedrock
surface, and flow direction. To assess seasonal changes, it is necessary to obtain
groundwater measurements over several months to a year.
o Geophysical surveys to locate subsurface anomalies. Consult a professional
experienced in geophysical methods and karst areas before conducting these
Observe the site under different weather conditions especially during heavy rain events and
through different seasons. Identify and map the natural drainageways.
A site design in karst areas should be supported by a geotechnical or hydrogeologic report
conducted by a qualified and/or licensed professional (i.e., soil scientist, geologist,
hydrogeologist, geotechnical engineer, etc.). The report should include:
o Site reconnaissance discussion.
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