Occurrence and Transport of Diazinon in the Sacramento River, California, and Selected Tributaries During Three Winter Storms, January-February 2000

By Peter D. Dileanis, Kevin P. Bennett, and Joseph L. Domagalski



Water Resources Investigation Report 02-4101

Sacramento, California 2002

Prepared in cooperation with the

California Department of Pesticide Regulation

Sacramento River Watershed Program


Report with cover (1.9 MB PDF) Download Acrobat reader)


The organophosphate pesticide diazinon is applied as a dormant orchard spray in the Sacramento Valley, California, during the winter when the area receives a majority of its annual rainfall. Dormant spray pesticides, thus, have the potential to wash off the areas of application and migrate with storm runoff to streams in the Sacramento River Basin. Previous monitoring studies have shown that rain and associated runoff from winter storms plays an important role in the transport of diazinon from point of application to the Sacramento River and tributaries.

Between January 30 and February 25, 2000, diazinon concentrations in the Sacramento River and selected tributaries were monitored on 5 consecutive days during each of three winter storms that moved through the Sacramento Valley after diazinon had been applied to orchards in the basin. Water samples were collected at 17 sites chosen to represent the effect of upstream land use at local and regional scales. Most samples were analyzed using an enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay (ELISA). Analysis by gas chromatography with electron capture detector and thermionic specific detector (GC/ECD/TSD) and gas chromatography with mass spectrometry (GC/MS) was done on split replicates from over 30 percent of the samples to confirm ELISA results and to provide lower analytical reporting limits at selected sites [30 ng/L (nanogram per liter) for ELISA, 20 ng/L for GC/ECD/TSD, and 2 ng/L for GC/MS]. Concentrations determined from ELISA analyses were consistently higher than concentrations for split samples analyzed by gas chromatography methods. Because of bias between diazinon concentrations using ELISA and gas chromatography methods, results from ELISA analyses were not compared to water-quality criteria. Load calculations using the ELISA analyses are similarly biased. Because the bias was consistent, however, the ELISA data is useful in site-to-site comparisons used to rank the relative levels and contributions of diazinon from individual subbasins in the watershed.

Concentrations of diazinon in 138 samples analyzed by gas chromatography methods ranged from below detection (2 ng/L) to 2,890 ng/L with a median of 44 ng/L. Thirty percent of the samples had concentrations greater than 80 ng/L, which is considered by California as the criterion maximum concentration for the protection of aquatic habitat. Concentrations were highest in small tributaries and canals draining subbasins with predominantly agricultural land use and in a channel draining the Yuba City urban area.

Load estimates using concentrations derived from GC/MS analyses indicate that about 30 percent of the diazinon in the lower Sacramento River is from the Feather River Basin. Loads estimated using ELISA analyses show a similar, but slightly higher fraction of the total load coming from that basin. The source of over half the total load measured at Sacramento River at Alamar appears to have originated in the part of the drainage basin upstream of the city of Colusa.

Of the diazinon reported applied to agricultural land in Sacramento Valley (about 42,500 pounds active ingredient) just before and during the monitoring period, about 0.4 percent appeared to be transported to the lower Sacramento River during the period of monitoring. A similar percent of applied diazinon was estimated to have entered the Feather River from upstream sources.

Diazinon use in the study area during the 1999-2000 dormant spray season was unusually low, about 60 percent of the average of the previous 4 years. Therefore, diazinon loadings may be higher in subsequent years, should use increase and pesticide management practices remain the same. Although diazinon was the most frequently detected pesticide and the pesticide detected at the highest concentrations, 10 other pesticides were detected in the samples collected. These included the insecticides methidathion and chlorpyrifos, and the herbicides simazine, molinate and thiobencarb.




Purpose and Scope

Sacramento River Watershed and Environmental Setting

Previous Studies


Study Design and Methodology

Selection of Sampling Sites

Sample Collection Methods

Laboratory Analytical Methods

Stage and Stream Discharge Measurement

Load Calculation Methods

Quality Assurance and Quality Control

Hydrologic Conditions During the Study

Occurrence and Transport of Diazinon

Diazinon Use During the Winter of 1999-2000

Concentrations of Diazinon Observed During Storms

Measured and Estimated Loads at Monitoring Sites

Relation of Loads to Diazinon Use

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Appendix 1.

Table 1. Concentrations of diazinon and methidathion in water samples,
Sacramento River Basin, California

Table 2. Pesticide concentrations in samples analyized by the U.S. Geological Survey's National
Water-Quality Laboratory using gas chromatography with mass spectrometry,
Sacramento River Basin, California

Table 3. Field measurements, Sacramento River Basin, California

Appendix 2. Blank sample data analyzed by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay,
Sacramento River Basin, California

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