Here in Central Texas, the Edwards Aquifer provides much of the region's drinking water. But while the Barton Springs section of the underground waterway is well-studied, the northern part is not nearly as well understood.
Protected by the Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District, knowledge of the section of the aquifer beneath Bell County remains murky.
"There are a lot of anomalies that are different from other aquifers, so what's going on?” George Ozuna with the U.S.G.S. Texas Water Science Center said.
Ozuna’s team has partnered with the U.S. Geological Service and a Baylor geology professor to better understand how it works.
"It was important to get this snapshot in time. Then we build from there," Ozuna said.
Some of their first studies have raised more questions than answers.
Why is some water in the aquifer chemically different than the rest?
"We don't know, is it just this one well?” MaryLynn Musgrove with the U.S.G.S. Texas Water Servis said. “Or are there other wells around there that also show this somewhat atypical chemistry?"
One result of their research has found nitrate pollutant levels in the water of Salado Springs were very low, but still higher than other springs.
"The concentrations of nitrate that we've measured in the springs in the northern segment of the aquifer are relatively high,” Musgrove said. “They're also higher than we would expect."
Sources of nitrates include sewage and wastewater, but in this case, scientists can't determine the source.
"That's probably due to drought conditions but could be due to increased pumping over the years as well,” Baylor University geologist Dr. Joe Yelderman said. “But the water levels are lower in the Edwards aquifer than they were twenty years ago."
Officials with Clearwater Underground Water Conservation District plan to present their findings at a conference in Bell County next month.