Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5005

Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5005

Pesticides in Agricultural Irrigation-Return Flow, Columbia Basin Project, Washington, 2002-04

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Water-quality samples were collected from sites in four irrigation return-flow drainage basins in the Columbia Basin Project from July 2002 through October 2004. Ten samples were collected throughout the irrigation season (generally April through October) and two samples were collected during the non-irrigation season. Samples were analyzed for temperature, pH, specific conductance, dissolved oxygen, major ions, trace elements, nutrients, and a suite of 107 pesticides and pesticide metabolites (pesticide transformation products) and to document the occurrence, distribution, and pesticides transport and pesticide metabolites.

The four drainage basins vary in size from 19 to 710 square miles. Percentage of agricultural cropland ranges from about 35 percent in Crab Creek drainage basin to a maximum of 75 percent in Lind Coulee drainage basin. More than 95 percent of cropland in Red Rock Coulee, Crab Creek, and Sand Hollow drainage basins is irrigated, whereas only 30 percent of cropland in Lind Coulee is irrigated.

Forty-two pesticides and five metabolites were detected in samples from the four irrigation return-flow drainage basins. The most compounds detected were in samples from Sand Hollow with 37, followed by Lind Coulee with 33, Red Rock Coulee with 30, and Crab Creek with 28. Herbicides were the most frequently detected pesticides, followed by insecticides, metabolites, and fungicides. Atrazine, bentazon, diuron, and 2,4-D were the most frequently detected herbicides and chlorpyrifos and azinphos-methyl were the most frequently detected insecticides.

A statistical comparison of pesticide concentrations in surface-water samples collected in the mid-1990s at Crab Creek and Sand Hollow with those collected in this study showed a statistically significant increase in concentrations for diuron and a statistically significant decrease for ethoprophos and atrazine in Crab Creek. Statistically significant increases were in concentrations of bromacil, diuron, and pendimethalin at Sand Hollow and statistically significant decreases were in concentrations of 2,6-diethylanaline, alachlor, atrazine, DCPA, and EPTC. A seasonal Kendall trend test on data from Lind Coulee indicated no statistically significant trends for any pesticide for 1994 through 2004.

A comparison of pesticide concentrations detected in this study with those detected in previous U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment studies of the Central Columbia Plateau, Yakima River basin, and national agricultural studies indicated that concentrations in this study generally were in the middle to lower end of the concentration spectrum for the most frequently detected herbicides and insecticides, but that the overall rate of detection was near the high end.

Thirty-one of the 42 herbicides, insecticides, and fungicides detected in surface-water samples were applied to the major agricultural crops in the drainage basins, and 11 of the detected pesticides are sold for residential application. Eight of the pesticides detected in surface-water samples were not reported as having any agricultural or residential use. The overall pattern of pesticide use depends on which crops are grown in each drainage basin. Drainage basins with predominantly more orchards have higher amounts of insecticides applied, whereas basins with larger percentages of field crops tend to have more herbicides applied. Pesticide usage was most similar in Crab Creek and Sand Hollow, where the largest total amounts applied were the insecticides azinphos-methyl, carbaryl, and chlorpyrifos and the herbicide EPTC. In Red Rock Coulee basin, DCPA was the most heavily applied herbicide, followed by the fungicide chlorothalonil, the herbicide EPTC, and the insecticides chlorpyrifos and azinphos-methyl. In Lind Coulee, which has a large percentage of dryland agricultural area, the herbicides 2,4-D and EPTC were applied in the largest amount, followed by the fungicide chlorothalonil. The total amount of pesticides applied by residential homeowners and irrigation districts was negligible compared to total amounts applied to agricultural crops.

The State of Washington criterion of measuring water temperature by the 7-day average of the daily maximum temperatures was beyond the scope of this study, so water temperatures are only an indication of instantaneous temperatures at the time of sampling. Water temperature in 18 samples was greater than the State criterion of 16 degrees Celsius for salmon and trout spawning, core rearing, and migration: 7 in Red Rock Coulee, 5 in Crab Creek, 4 in Lind Coulee, and 2 in Sand Hollow. In 11 of these 18 samples, water temperature also was greater than the criterion of 17.5 degrees Celsius for salmon and trout spawning, non-core rearing, and migration. The State of Washington aquatic-life dissolved-oxygen criterion of 9.5 milligrams per liter for salmon and trout spawning, core rearing, and migration was exceeded eight times from June to early October: two times at Sand Hollow, three times at Red Rock Coulee, and three times at Crab Creek. The State of Washington aquatic-life pH criterion of 8.5 for fresh water was exceeded 12 times, 6 at Red Rock Coulee, 3 at Sand Hollow, 2 at Lind Coulee and 1 at Crab Creek. Concentrations of nitrate plus nitrite in two samples collected from Sand Hollow during the non-irrigation season exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Maximum Contaminant Level for drinking water.

Concentrations of three insecticides and one herbicide exceeded U.S. Environmental Protection Agency or Canadian benchmark for the protection of freshwater aquatic life. Concentrations of the insecticide azinphos-methyl exceeded the aquatic-life benchmark at least once at each of the four sites. Concentrations in samples from Sand Hollow also exceeded the aquatic-life benchmark for chlorpyrifos, lindane, and dinoseb (0.041, 0.01, and 0.05 micrograms per liter, respectively). Water-quality benchmarks generally were exceeded in June and July, during the middle of the irrigation season, except the benchmark for dinoseb, which was exceeded in one sample during the non-irrigation season in February 2003.

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