Shallow Ground-Water Quality Adjacent to Burley Tobacco Fields in Northeastern Tennessee and Southwestern Virginia, Spring 1997

Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4009

By Gregory C. Johnson and Joseph F. Connell

This report is available as a pdf below.


In 1994, the U.S. Geological Survey began an assessment of the upper Tennessee River Basin as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. A ground-water land-use study conducted in 1996 focused on areas with burley tobacco production in northeastern Tennessee and southwestern Virginia. Land-use studies are designed to focus on specific land uses and to examine natural and human factors that affect the quality of shallow ground water underlying specific types of land use.

Thirty wells were drilled in shallow regolith adjacent to and downgradient of tobacco fields in the Valley and Ridge Physiographic Province of the upper Tennessee River Basin. Ground-water samples were collected between June 4 and July 9, 1997, to coincide with the application of the majority of pesticides and fertilizers used in tobacco production. Ground-water samples were analyzed for nutrients, major ions, 79 pesticides, 7 pesticide degradation products, 86 volatile organic compounds, and dissolved organic carbon.

Nutrient concentrations were lower than the levels found in similar NAWQA studies across the United States during 1993-95. Five of 30 upper Tennessee River Basin wells (16.7 percent) had nitrate levels exceeding 10 mg/L while 19 percent of agricultural land-use wells nationally and 7.9 percent in the Southeast had nitrate concentrations exceeding 10 mg/L. Median nutrient concentrations were equal to or less than national median concentrations. All pesticide concentrations in the basin were less than established drinking water standards, and pesticides were detected less frequently than average for other NAWQA study units. Atrazine was detected at 8 of 30 (27 percent) of the wells, and deethylatrazine (an atrazine degradation product) was found in 9 (30 percent) of the wells. Metalaxyl was found in 17 percent of the wells, and prometon, flumetralin, dimethomorph, 2,4,5-T, 2,4-D, dichlorprop, and silvex were detected once each (3 percent). Volatile organic compounds were detected in 27 of 30 wells. Although none of the volatile organic compound concentrations exceeded drinking water standards, the detection frequency was higher than the average for the other NAWQA study units.

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