The Jenkins-Whitesburg area includes approximately 250 square miles in Letcher and Pike Counties in the southeastern part of the Eastern Coal Field. In this area ground water is the principal source of water for nearly all rural families, most public supplies, several coal mines and coal processing plants, and one bottling plant.
The major aquifers in the Jenkins-Whitesburg area are the Breathitt and Lee Formations of Pennsylvanian age. Other aquifers range in age from Devonian to Quaternary but are not important in this area because they occur at great depth or yield little or no water. The Breathitt Formation occurs throughout the area except along the crest and slopes of Pine Mountain and where it is covered by unconsolidated material of Quaternary age. The Breathitt Formation consists of shale, sandstone, and lesser amounts of coal and associated underclay. The yield of wells penetrating the Breathitt Formation ranges from less than 1 to 330 gallons per minute. Well yield is controlled by the type and depth of well, character of the aquifer, and topography of the well site. Generally, deep wells drilled in valleys of perennial streams offer the best potential for high yields. Although enough water for a minimum domestic supply (more than 100 gallons per day) may be obtained from shale, all high-yielding wells probably obtain water from vertical joints and from bedding planes which are best developed in sandstone. About 13 percent of the wells inventoried in the Breathitt Formation failed to supply enough water for a minimum domestic supply. Most of these are shallow dug wells or drilled wells on hillsides or hilltops. Abandoned coal mines are utilized as large infiltration galleries and furnish part of the water for several public supplies.
The chemical quality of water from the Breathitt Formation varies considerably from place to place, but the water generally is acceptable for most domestic and industrial uses. Most water is a calcium magnesium bicarbonate or sodium bicarbonate type, and nearly all sampled water contained enough iron to stain cooking and laundry utensils. The water ranged from soft to very hard, and only one well in the Breathitt Formation produced salty water. The absence of salty water may be due to abundant fractures which are associated with the Pine Mountain fault and which have allowed fresh water to enter the formation. The Lee Formation underlies the Cumberland Mountain section and is exposed along the crest and southeast slope of Pine Mountain. The Lee Formation consists of massive sandstone and conglomerate with thin beds of shale and a few thin coal seams.
Although the Lee Formation is tapped by only a few wells in this area, it is potentially an important aquifer. Wells penetrating the Lee Formation in the Cumberland Mountain section would probably yield water under artesian pressure.
Unlike most water from the Lee Formation in other parts of eastern Kentucky, all water from the Lee Formation in the Jenkins-Whitesburg area is fresh. All water from the Lee Formation contained more than 0.3 parts per million of iron and ranged from soft to moderately hard.