April 2023

More than 100 years ago, locals and tourists were flocking to resorts, hotels, and sanitariums across Indiana to “take the waters” from springs or artesian wells which were rumored or advertised to be medicinal.

But what was actually in those waters? In 1901, geologist William S. Blatchley sought to find out. In the 26th Annual Report of the Indiana Department of Geology and Natural Resources (a predecessor to the IGWS), Blatchley published a 165-page report on the chemical composition of 53 Indiana springs.

The Indiana Springs data portal displays a variety of data points collected over several years about more than 100 known springs in Indiana. | IGWS photo

A new feature posted on the IGWS website makes the most comprehensive data on Indiana springs available to the public since that 1901 report. The Indiana Springs portal contains chemical analyses, photos, and other information about 110 springs around the state – and invites participation from Hoosiers who might have data to add.

If you know of – or suspect – a spring near you, the IGWS is interested in learning about it. Visit the Indiana Springs landing page at https://igws.indiana.edu/springs, click the link to the dashboard and scan the QR code with your phone, and follow the “report a spring” prompts.

Tracy Branam, an IGWS geochemist, has been sampling and analyzing the water of 100 of the springs tracked on the dashboard since 2019 for a joint project with the IU Center for Rural Engagement. Branam and several IU students focused on the 11-county Indiana Uplands region, home to a vast network of underground karst features where springs form. Creating a website for the data was an expectation of that project.

But the IGWS had more data on springs that could be shared, too. So, Casey Jones and Ben Romlein, GIS analysts for the IGWS, converted older, internal IGWS databases and the Indiana Uplands project data into an interactive web map.

The result is the Indiana Springs portal. Viewers can zoom in on an area (specific location details have been masked on private property), click on a spring to see photos, and scan various years’ readings of nitrates, lithium, strontium, silicon, manganese, and E. coli bacteria. Data on other variables can be downloaded from the site as well.

IGWS Research Scientist Tracy Branam measures the flow of a stream in southern Indiana. | Sara Clifford, IGWS

Why are these particular details tracked? “Lithium … is considered a controlled substance by the federal government and is the primary reason water from the Pluto spring at French Lick was no longer allowed to be bottled or sold (around 1970),” Branam explained. Even now, “the concentration of lithium found in the Pluto Spring is the highest in the 100-plus springs we sampled, up to 500 micrograms per liter, five times that of the next highest concentration found in a spring.

“Nitrate and dissolved organic carbon can be used as monitors for nutrient contamination from agricultural activities in the vicinity of the spring recharge area. E. coli bacteria is a red flag for indicating the presence of mammal waste at the spring sampling site. Other components like strontium, silicon, and manganese are more indicative of the water-mineral reactions taking place within the bedrock aquifer—helps us understand what kinds of minerals are present in the aquifers.”

Branam and his team plan to sample 21 springs on the map annually and continually update the portal. In addition, water quantity data from those locations will be fed back to the U.S. Geological Survey’s National Ground-Water Monitoring Network, which is keeping tabs on the multi-state Mississippian Aquifer.

Other data points may be added to the map based on public participation through the “report a spring” survey.