NASHVILLE, Tenn. (WKRN) — A statewide research project is underway to help smaller communities that rely on groundwater identify where their water comes from.

It’s a helpful tool for many communities that can’t afford to conduct extensive and sophisticated research on their own.

News 2’s Alex Denis went with a team of researchers who have devised a plan to map out vulnerable groundwater systems across the state to determine how they connect.

“If you don’t know where your water’s coming from, if suddenly the water quality goes down, or suddenly you have boil water orders, or things like this, and something’s wrong in the watershed where the water is coming from, you don’t have any idea of where to start to look for that problem,” said Ben Miller, Karst Hydrologist, US Geological Survey Nashville.

Walking through the woods, the group looked for the perfect spot to start the research, which is funded by the state revolving fund earmarked for source water protection.

“In Tennessee, we have a lot of caves and sinkholes and springs, and a lot of these communities are relying on those springs for their drinking water source,” said Brian Ham, Environmental Consultant, TDEC Division of Water Resources.

Donning suits to keep them from contaminating the site, the researchers poured nontoxic dye into the water.

“In fact, frequently you’ll see green beer on St. Patty’s Day or even the Chicago River is turned green every St. Patty’s Day, they use the same dyes that we used in the dye injection today,” Miller explained.

While the color disappeared within a few hours, trace amounts traveled downstream.

“This technology requires us to use these receptors. So, these are charcoal receptors,” said Ham.

The colorful dye deposited at the resurfaced area.

“We can use anywhere from three to four different dyes. They can be detected individually in the lab analysis that we send our little charcoal packets to,” said Miller.

The data is compiled and mapped outlining the flow of each source, which allows communities to better protect and react to issues in the water system.

“This is really taking a proactive approach to really understanding how these systems interact with each other,” said Ham.