Geologist injecting dye into stream Water traces have been performed throughout Missouri for a number of years and for many different reasons. Tracers such as feathers and wheat chaff once were used in an effort to determine the source of springs and cave streams. However, early water tracing techniques offered questionable results because of the ambiguity of detection methods, and they caused water supplies to be unusable for periods of time.

Groundwater investigations, cave exploration, well installation methods, engineering aspects related to leaking dams, and the determination of properly working septic tanks are a few instances when water traces are performed today. Technological advances incorporate the use of non-toxic fluorescent tracer dye and scanning spectrofluorometers into the science of water tracing. Fluorescent dye and scanning equipment provide a safe and effective alternative for previous methods.

The Missouri Water Tracing Laboratory typically performs a number of traces each year, conducts research, and offers technical assistance to people conducting water traces throughout the state.

Each person conducting a water trace in Missouri must be registered and they must register each specific trace as required by Missouri State Statute 256.621 RSMo. This is an effort to collect and store data, prevent interference or overlapping of traces, and increase public awareness and knowledge about the importance of water tracing. A database of water traces performed in the state includes summaries of each trace, and it is used to coordinate traces in Missouri and surrounding states.

Additional Information

If you intend to complete a water trace or have questions, please contact the Geological Survey Program at 573-368-2161 or