Hills, Hollows, and Honeycomb Rock

On a rolling countryside with grassy ridges and wooded hollow, farmers till neatly around bowl-shaped depressions. Layers of limestone crop out where pasture sinks into a hole.

Streams spring out of the ground, meander along awhile, then dip underground again. The water runs clear in dry weather but swirls with much when it rains.

Sinkholes appear where soil has been slipping down cracks in the bedrock below. The hollowed-out crevices often turn into caves and subsurface channels, growing larger every time rainwater or melting snow surges through them.

No wonder there are few surface streams. Rainfall and snowmelt disappear down sinkholes and flow through underground passages. So pollution from surface or near-surface sources, such as septic systems, may drain into the groundwater that supplies private wells.

In rural areas, there are no sanitary sewers. Each household has a septic system to handle human waste, and most have a private well to supply drinking water.

But is the water good to drink?

Living With Karst - What You Can Do To Protect Soil and Groundwater!


  • Check your county's regulations before installing a septic system or animal waste lagoon. Be sure to divert any contaminated runoff away from sinkholes.
  • Don't dump trash in a sinkhole! Check with your local health department for information on proper disposal of all types of waste.
  • Before building on your land, call or visit your local county office for a permit.
  • Use pesticides, herbicides, and fertilizers with care. Read the instructions and don't overapply. For more information, contact your local Soil and Water Conservation District.


  • Get to know your karst environment. Talk about the problems of living around sinkholes. Help your community clean up and keep the trash out of sinkholes.
  • If you water comes from a well, have it tested regularly for bacteria and nitrate. You need to know whether your water is clean and safe to drink.
  • Kids - ask your teacher about sinkholes: how do they form? What can you and your family do to keep the groundwater clean and the land beautiful?


    Overnight, a hole may open up, swallowing someone's backyard.