The alluvial deposits of Pleistocene age in the Ohio Valley form a ground-water reservoir of large storage capacity and yield. In this region it is the only source of large supplies of water that are both cool and of good quality the year round. The reservoir is heavily drawn upon, yet has very large potentialities for future development because of the favorable conditions for both natural and artificially induced infiltration of water from the river into the alluvial deposits.
The principal features of the Ohio Valley were formed during the Pleistocene, or glacial, epoch. The drainage area upriver from Cincinnati was added when ice first advanced south, blocked rivers draining northwestward off the Appalachians, and diverted their waters southwest into the headwaters of the early Ohio River. A deep channel, the bottom of which is at a lower altitude than the present river bed, was excavated before the third (Illinoian) glacial stage. The thick body of sand and gravel that now lies in the deep channel was deposited by floods of melt water as the ice sheet of the Wisconsin stage melted away from the Ohio basin.
The vertical distance between river pool level and the base of the old channel increases from 25 feet at Ashland, Ky., to 110 feet at the mouth of the river, for the old channel has a steeper gradient than the present river. The width of the bedrock valley ranges from half a mile at one point near Cincinnati to almost 10 miles near Uniontown, Ky. Where the valley is narrow, the flat-floored deep channel extends from one side of the valley to. the other. Where the valley is wide, the deep channel occupies only part of the width of the valley, the rest being underlain by rock benches mantled with alluvium. The alluvium consists of a sheet of sand and gravel overlain by a thinner layer of silt and clay. The sheet of sand and gravel is continuous across and up and down the valley, and at most places along the valley it is exposed in part of the river channel. The gravel is coarse and cobbly near Cincinnati but finer downstream, and near Paducah most of it is no larger than pea size. The thickness of water-saturated sand and gravel increases downvalley in the same way as does the distance between river level and the base of the old channel, roughly from 2b to 110 feet. The storage coefficient is likely to about 0.2, or 1.5 gallons of water per cubic foot of sand and gravel.