Ohio State University Extension Fact Sheet

Ohio State University Extension

Food, Agricultural and Biological Engineering

590 Woody Hayes Dr., Columbus, Ohio 43210

Water Resources of Ross County


Ray A. Wells
Karen T. Ricker
Larry C. Brown

Water is a resource often taken for granted. In recent years, water availability and quality have become important public concerns in Ross County. The county's population of 71,492 (1992 Ohio Department of Development estimate) is predominantly rural (66 percent), and almost all households rely on ground water for their water supply. This fact sheet provides a brief overview of Ross County's water resources, and is intended to help increase public awareness and understanding about this vital resource. By understanding where water is obtained and how it is used in the county, residents can gain a better appreciation for their water supply. Water resources terminology used in this publication is included in Surface and Ground Water Terminology, Fact Sheet AEX 460, which provides a listing of generally accepted water resource definitions. Ohio State University Extension publications are available through all Ohio county Extension offices.


An average of approximately 40 inches of precipitation falls on Ross County annually. Figure 1 illustrates the average monthly precipitation for the county for the period 1961 to 1990. Based on this 30-year record, the average precipitation is 3.3 inches per month, with January and February (2.5 inches each) typically being the driest months, and May (4.4 inches) the wettest. However, there can be extreme variations in some years and in certain months within a year. Such seasonal and yearly extremes may have serious consequences and are not always apparent from the long-term precipitation information.

Figure 1. Average monthly precipitation (inches) in Ross County, Ohio (1951-1980); data collected at Bourneville.

Surface-Water Resources

Ross County lies entirely in the Scioto River drainage basin. The Scioto River flows southward and empties into the Ohio River 50 miles south of Chillicothe. Major streams within the county that drain into the Scioto include Deer Creek, Paint Creek, North Fork Paint Creek, Walnut Creek, Kinnikinnick Creek, and Salt Creek.

In the glaciated, northern lowlands region of the county, the water-storing capacity of the soils is high and surface runoff is typically slow. In the unglaciated, hilly region in the southern one-third of the county, the soils have a low water-storing capacity and surface runoff is typically rapid. A generalized surface-water map of Ross County is given in Figure 2.

Surface waters are affected by soil type, geology, the topography of adjacent land, and the way people use the land. Land use, such as residential development and agricultural production, may increase the amount of sediment and other pollutants entering a body of water. The soils and terrain also influence the amount of runoff because of infiltration, percolation, and water holding characteristics. With some soils, rainfall is more likely to run off, while other soils allow water to infiltrate more readily.

The county contains approximately 439,680 land acres, of which 46 percent is farmland. Seventy soil types have been identified in the county and vary in drainage quality from very well drained silt loams to poorly drained silty clay loam soils. The well drained soils predominate in the river bottoms and the unglaciated southern region of the county, while the poorly drained soils are more common in the glaciated, northern portion of the county.

The county water acreage consists of about 822 acres of lakes, including Paint Creek Lake (approximately 476 acres in Ross County), Ross Lake (140 acres), 21 other lakes ranging in size from 5 to 55 acres, and numerous smaller ponds. Over 1,000 farm ponds dot the county; some are treated and used by homeowners as a water supply source. The county also contains approximately 767 linear miles of major streams and rivers [estimated from river basin maps, Ohio Department of Natural Resources (ODNR) Division of Water].

Figure 2. Surface-water resources in Ross County, Ohio (adapted from ODNR Division of Water river basin maps; illustration by K.A. Weber).

Ground-Water Resources

Ground-water resources vary greatly in different regions of Ross County. The primary ground-water source is from sand and gravel deposits located in the major stream bed areas of the county. Of particular importance is a buried valley aquifer, composed of sand and gravel deposited in a pre-glacial river valley, which underlies the Scioto River in Ross County. This aquifer is the water source for the City of Chillicothe, Ross County Water Company, Inc., Chillicothe Correctional Institute, VA Medical Center, Mead Paper Company, and other industrial water users. Developed wells in the buried valley aquifer can yield as much as 1,000 gallons per minute (gpm) or more at depths of 85 to 125 feet. Well yields of 100 to 500 gpm at depths of 55 to 85 feet are common in other sand and gravel deposits outside the recharge influence of the Scioto River.

Other ground-water resources in the county include glacial deposits of silt and clay occasionally interbedded with sand and gravel, limestone bedrock aquifers, and low-yielding clay deposits that overlay shale and sandstone bedrock. Wells developed in glacial silt and clay deposits or limestone bedrock generally yield from 3 to 25 gpm at depths of 100 to 250 feet. The clay deposits overlying shale and sandstone bedrock, that cover nearly half the county, generally will yield less than 1 gpm. An overview of the ground-water resources in the county is given in Ross County Ground Water Resources, AEX-490.71.

The yield of a well will vary considerably depending on the age and depth of the well, well construction, the diameter of the casing, pump capacity and age, and more importantly, properties of the geologic formation. Specific information on ground-water availability and wells can be obtained by contacting the ODNR Division of Water.

Where Does the Water Go?

Based on long-term statewide weather records, Ohio receives an average of 38 inches of precipitation per year. These 38 inches move through a complex path called the hydrologic cycle. Of these 38 inches, about 10 inches (26 percent) become runoff, which moves immediately to surface-water bodies such as streams and lakes. Two inches are retained at the ground surface and evaporate back into the atmosphere in a relatively short period of time. Twenty-six of the 38 total inches enter the soil surface through infiltration. Twenty of these 26 inches go into soil storage and later are returned to the atmosphere by the combination of evaporation and transpiration (evapotranspiration). The remaining 6 inches of precipitation (16 percent of the total) have the potential to recharge the ground-water supply. Two of these 6 inches eventually move to springs, lakes, or streams as ground-water discharge. The remaining 4 inches either return to the atmosphere by evapotranspiration or are withdrawn to supply water needs. For more information, please refer to Ohio's Hydrologic Cycle, AEX 461.

Statewide averages applied to the county's average annual precipitation provide a rough estimate of how many inches will result in runoff and how many inches have the potential to reach aquifers. Based on statewide averages of runoff and ground-water recharge, Ross County's 40 inches of average annual precipitation result in about 10.4 inches of runoff to streams and lakes, and about 6.4 inches have the potential to recharge aquifers annually. Values for particular locations will differ according to local conditions.

Water Use

Water use for each of Ross County's public water supply systems is given in Table 1. For each water system, this table presents an estimate of the population served, water source, estimated daily usage and treatment plant capacity. The county's largest public water system is the City of Chillicothe, that uses 6 wells for its supply. The other 14 public water systems in the county all use ground water as their supply source.

Ground water is a major water source for rural households in Ross County. Approximately 20 percent of all households obtain their water from private wells. Based on an estimated usage of 75 gallons per person per day, 1,016,000 gallons per day (gpd) from private wells are used. Additional private water uses include industry (2,350,000 gpd) and livestock use (280,000 gpd) mostly from ground-water supplies. The remaining 80 percent of households use public-water supplies with ground water as the source, as identified in Table 1.

Some water users in Ohio must register their withdrawals with the ODNR Division of Water. Through the Water Withdrawal Facility Registration Program, owners of facilities capable of withdrawing 100,000 gpd (70 gpm) or more must register those facilities. Information collected through this program includes withdrawal capacity, ground- or surface-water sources, location and type of water use, and location of discharge points. The program is for registration only, and not for allocation or permission. Registered withdrawers file annual reports of their water use. This information helps planners at ODNR to determine the availability of water for projected needs and to better manage and protect Ohio's water resources. Documenting water use also provides official records for individual uses. For more information, contact the ODNR Division of Water.

Table 1. Water Use in Ross County, Ohio.1
Public Water SystemPopulation ServedPrimary Water Source Water Usage (GPD)2Treatment Plant Capacity (GPD)
Ross County Water Co.29,494 *Ground Water 2,050,0004,570,000
Chillicothe22,176Ground Water 3,160,0007,000,000
Chillicothe Correc. Inst.8,500Ground Water1,850,000 3,900,000
V.A. Medical1,900Ground Water115,000865,000
Kingston1,198Ground Water171,900230,000
Bainbridge1,050Ground Water130,000180,000
Frankfort1,040Ground Water135,000241,900
Clarksburg545Ground Water 48,60086,400
Other3 592Ground Water 45,200N/A
* Number of people served by Ross County Water Company who reside in Ross County (the company serves five different counties).
1 Estimates from Ohio EPA using adjusted 1994 data; information is based on data available at time of publication.
2 GPD = gallons per day.
3 Includes mobile home parks, Paint Creek Youth Center, and Pike Water, Inc.; treatment plant capacity figure not available.

Water Quality

Human activities and natural processes affect the quality of our water supplies. Throughout Ohio, human activities contribute to both point and nonpoint source pollution. Point source pollution is the introduction of impurities into water (ground water or surface water) from an identifiable, known location. Examples of point sources can include industrial factories, power plants, commercial businesses, and wastewater treatment facilities.

Nonpoint source pollution also involves the introduction of impurities into a surface-water body or an aquifer, except the route is usually non-direct and the sources are diffuse in nature. A major portion of the sediment, nutrients, acids and salts, heavy metals, toxic chemicals, and pathogens enter the state's water resources through nonpoint source pollution, affecting both ground and surface water. Examples include automobile emissions, runoff from parking lots, and runoff and drainage from agricultural fields, feedlots, home lawns and gardens, residential development, construction, mining, and logging activities.

Natural processes such as precipitation also have an impact on surface water and, to a lesser extent, ground water. For example, rainfall that is acidic ("acid rain") may alter the quality of a stream, lake, or other water resource that receives the rainfall.

Ground Water

As water moves through the various deposits underlying Ross County, it dissolves the minerals contained in these formations and carries them in solution. Publication AEX-490.46 summarizes some of the county's natural ground-water quality aspects.

Human activities, such as agricultural production, domestic waste disposal, and lawn and turf care, may have some influence on the county's ground-water quality. In a 1987 study by Heidelberg College, 175 wells in the county were sampled for nitrate-nitrogen content, an indicator of water quality. Results showed that 94 wells (54 percent of total) contained nitrate-nitrogen concentrations in the range of 0 to 0.3 parts-per-million (ppm). This range is assumed to represent natural background levels. Thirty-one wells (18 percent) tested in the range of 0.3 to 3.0 ppm, values that may or may not indicate human influence. The 10 wells (5 percent) that tested in the range of 3.0 to 10 ppm may indicate elevated concentrations resulting from human activities. Only one well tested at over 10 ppm nitrate-nitrogen, which exceeds the safe drinking-water standard. The average nitrate-nitrogen concentration for the 175 wells tested was 2.67 ppm. The design, location, and condition of a well, combined with the characteristics of the soils and geologic formations in which the well is constructed, influence the potential for pollutants to enter the well. The Ross County Department of Health provides bacteriological water sampling for local citizens, and results of these tests generally indicate acceptable drinking water in the county.

Surface Water

Runoff and sediment from residential development, construction sites and agricultural lands may enter the county's streams and lakes. Also, runoff may carry other pollutants, such as lawn and agricultural chemicals (pesticides and fertilizers), effluent from septic systems, oil and gas from spills, and industrial wastes.

Through the State of Ohio Nonpoint Source Assessment and the Water Resources Inventory, the Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (Ohio EPA) has identified 13,000 stream miles in Ohio that have been affected by nonpoint source (NPS) pollution. Based on the findings of the Assessment and Inventory, the Ohio Nonpoint Source Management Program has been implemented to help improve the quality of the state's waters.

Water quality monitoring indicates that all or parts of the following Ross County streams are affected by NPS pollution: Scioto River (Scippo Creek to Paint Creek), Blackwater Creek, Paint Creek (Lower Twin Creek to North Fork Paint Creek), Middle Fork Salt Creek, and Peepee Creek. These streams are affected by one or more of the following NPS pollution categories: agriculture, crop production, livestock, pasture, construction sites, surface runoff, dredging, steambank modification, sludge, channelization, and on-site wastewater treatment systems. Other county streams are affected by point source pollution (municipal and/or industrial wastewater). Point source affected streams include Hay Run, Little Salt Creek, and the Scioto River (Paint Creek to Pee Pee Creek). Ross County also contains streams that have good water quality and are attaining chemical and biological water quality standards. Monitoring has shown that all or parts of the following streams have good water quality: Deer Creek, Waugh Creek, Stall Run, Paint Creek (Holliday Run to Rocky Fork), North Fork Paint Creek, Compton Creek, and Paint Creek (Rocky Fork to Lower Twin Creek). For specific information about the streams listed in the Assessment and Inventory documents, and details about the Nonpoint Source Management Program, contact the Ohio EPA Southeast District Office (2195 Front St., Logan, OH 43138). Information about nonpoint source pollution is also discussed in Nonpoint Source Pollution: Water Primer, AEX 465, available from your county Extension office.

It is important to note that as of June 1995 less than half of Ohio's streams have been evaluated by the Assessment. As water quality monitoring continues statewide, the list of Ross County affected streams and streams with good water quality will change. Residents have a major responsibility to protect Ross County's water resources from pollutants that could affect the quality of the water supply.


Water availability and quality are important public concerns. Water problems can be both costly and inconvenient. While the present availability of water is good for Ross County, water is a precious resource that must be conserved and protected. We must all work together to maintain an adequate supply of good quality water.

This fact sheet provided information about the water resources in Ross County. For more information concerning water resources and drinking-water quality in the county, contact the Ross County office of Ohio State University Extension (78 West Main St., Chillicothe, OH 45601; 614-775-3200). In addition, the following agencies may be able to provide information on other water resources topics in the county: Ross Soil and Water Conservation District; Ross County Health Department; ODNR Division of Water (Fountain Square, Columbus, OH 43224); U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), Ohio District (975 W. Third Ave., Columbus, OH 43212); Ohio EPA (P.O. Box 1049, Columbus, OH 43216-1049); and Ohio Department of Health (ODH; PO Box 118, Columbus, OH 43226).


1990 Census and 1992 Estimates of Ohio's Population: State, Counties, Cities, and Villages. 1994. Ohio Department of Development.

Doane's Agricultural Report. 1992. Farm Water Systems.

Estimated Water Use in Ohio, 1990, Public Supply Data. 1993. USGS. Open-File Report 93-72.

Gazetteer of Ohio Streams. 1960. Ohio Water Inventory Report No. 12. ODNR Div. of Water.

Ground-Water Resources of Ross County. 1980. J.J. Schmidt. ODNR Div. of Water. (map).

Hydrologic Atlas for Ohio: Average Annual Precipitation, Temperature, Streamflow, and Water Loss for the 50-Year Period 1931-1980. 1991. L.J. Hartstine. Water Inventory Report No. 28. ODNR Div. of Water.

Inventory of Municipal Water-Supply Systems by County, Ohio. 1977. Ohio Water Inventory Report No. 24. ODNR Div. of Water.

Inventory of Ohio's Lakes. 1980. Ohio Water Inventory Report No. 26. ODNR Div. of Water.

Monthly Station Normals of Temperature, Precipitation, and Heating and Cooling Degree Days, 1961-90, Ohio. 1992. Climatology of the United States, No. 81 (by state). NOAA.

Nitrate and Pesticides in Private Wells of Ohio: A State Atlas. 1989. Water Quality Laboratory, Heidelberg College.

Nitrate In Drinking Water. 1987. K.M. Mancl. Bulletin No. 744. Ohio State University Extension.

Nonpoint Source Pollution: Water Primer. 1993. R. Leeds and L.C. Brown. AEX 465. Ohio State University Extension.

Ohio Ground-Water Quality. USGS National Water Summary-Ohio. 1986. USGS. Water-Supply Paper 2325.

Ohio Ground-Water Resources. USGS National Water Summary-Ohio. 1984. USGS. Water-Supply Paper 2275.

Ohio Nonpoint Source Management Program. 1993. ODNR.

Ohio Surface-Water Resources. USGS National Water Summary-Ohio. 1985. USGS. Water-Supply Paper 2300.

Ohio Water Firsts. 1985. S.L. Frost and W.S. Nichols. Water Resources Foundation of Ohio, Incorporated.

Ohio Water Resource Inventory: Executive Summary and Volumes 1-4. 1992. Ohio EPA.

Ohio's Hydrologic Cycle. 1990. L.C. Brown and K.M. Coltman. AEX 461. Ohio State University Extension.

Private Water Systems Handbook. 1987. MWPS-14. Midwest Plan Service, Ames, IA.

Ross County, Ohio Soil Survey. 1979. USDA-NRCS.

Ross County Ground-Water Resources. 1995. R.A. Wells, J.M. Raab, L.C. Brown and K. T. Ricker. AEX-490.71. Ohio State University Extension.

Ross Soil and Water Conservation District Resources Inventory. 1986. USDA-NRCS.

State of Ohio Nonpoint Source Assessment: Volumes 1-6. 1990. Ohio EPA.

Surface and Ground Water Terminology. 1990. L.C. Brown and L.P. Black. AEX 460. Ohio State University Extension.

Water-Ohio's Remarkable Resource. 1982. ODNR Div. of Water.

Withdrawal and Distribution of Water By Public Water Supplies in Ohio, 1985. 1989. USGS. Open-File Report 89-423.


This publication was produced through the Ohio Water Resources Education Project, in cooperation with: ODNR Division of Water; Ohio EPA; USGS, Ohio District; and ODH. Project leaders are Larry C. Brown and Karen T. Ricker. Partial financial support for this publication was provided by these cooperating agencies and programs: Ross County office of OSU Extension; Ross Soil and Water Conservation District; Overholt Drainage Education and Research Program; and the Ohio Management Systems Evaluation Area Project (USDA Extension Service Grant No. 90-EWQI-1-9018).

The project leaders express appreciation to the following reviewers: Douglas E. Pauley (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, Ross County); Maynard Muntzing (Ross County Regional Planning Commission and retired OSU Extension Agent, Ross County); James M. Raab, David Cashell and Leonard Black (ODNR Division of Water); Scott Golden (Environmental Health, ODH); Steve Hindall (USGS, Ohio District); Anthony J. Kramer (USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service, State Office, Columbus); Jay Fleming (Ohio EPA Division of Drinking and Ground Waters); and Larry Antosch, Rich McClay, and Mark Wilson (Ohio EPA Division of Surface Water).

A special thanks to Kim Wintringham, Associate Editor (Section of Communications and Technology, Ohio State University Extension), for editorial and graphic production.

All educational programs conducted by Ohio State University Extension are available to clientele on a nondiscriminatory basis without regard to race, color, creed, religion, sexual orientation, national origin, gender, age, disability or Vietnam-era veteran status.

Keith L. Smith, Associate Vice President for Ag. Adm. and Director, OSU Extension.

TDD No. 800-589-8292 (Ohio only) or 614-292-6181

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