Pesticide Fate Research Group

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Map of Field Study Area

The Imperial Valley/Salton Sea Basin in southeastern California is one of the state’s most productive agricultural areas, the result of a year-round growing season and rich supply of water that is carried from the Colorado River to the region by way of an extensive and complex irrigation network. A wide variety of crops are grown throughout the year in the region which results in the use of large amounts of multiple pesticides. Previous studies by federal, state, and local agencies have documented elevated levels of both current-use and organochlorine pesticides in water and associated with suspended and bed sediments in the Alamo and New Rivers, which drain the majority of the Imperial Valley and additional studies have found increased levels of aquatic toxicity in these rivers. Since 1996, a series of studies have been conducted to determine concentrations of current-use and organochlorine pesticides in water and suspended sediments in the Alamo and New Rivers.


Map of Field Study Area year 2006

Water and suspended-sediment samples were collected at eight sites on the Alamo and New Rivers in the Imperial Valley/Salton Sea Basin of California and analyzed for both current-use and organochlorine pesticides. Samples were collected in the fall of 2006 and spring of 2007, corresponding to the seasons of greatest pesticide use in the basin. A total of 25 pesticides were detected in the water samples with seven pesticides detected in more than half of the samples. Dissolved concentrations of pesticides observed in this study ranged from below their respective method detection limits to 8,940 nanograms per liter (EPTC). The most frequently detected compounds in the water samples were chlorpyrifos, DCPA, EPTC, and trifluralin, which were observed in more than 75 percent of the samples. The maximum concentrations of most pesticides were detected in samples from the Alamo River. Maximum dissolved concentrations of carbofuran, chlorpyrifos, diazinon, and malathion exceeded aquatic life benchmarks established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency for these pesticides. Twenty current-use pesticides were detected in the suspended-sediment samples, including pyrethroid insecticides and fungicides. Fourteen legacy organochlorine pesticides also were detected in the suspended-sediment samples. Greater numbers of current-use and organochlorine pesticides were observed in the Alamo versus the New River.The most frequently detected current-use pesticides in the suspended-sediment samples were chlorpyrifos, permethrin, tetraconazole, and trifluralin, which were observed in more than 83 percent of the samples. The organochlorine degradates p,p’-DDD and p,p’-DDE were detected in all suspended-sediment samples.


Map of Field Study Area year 2001 - 2003

Three sampling stations—upriver, river mouth, and offshore—were established along each of the three major rivers that discharge into the Salton Sea. Large-volume water samples were collected for analysis of pesticides in water and suspended sediments at the nine sampling stations. Samples of the bottom sediment were also collected at each site for pesticide analysis. Sampling occurred in October 2001, March–April 2002, and October 2002, coinciding with the regional fall and spring peaks in pesticide use in the watershed. Fourteen current-use pesticides were detected in water and the majority of dissolved concentrations ranged from the limits of detection to 151 ng/l. Diazinon, EPTC and malathion were detected at much higher concentrations (940–3,830 ng/l) at the New and Alamo River upriver and near-shore stations. Concentrations of carbaryl, dacthal, diazinon, and EPTC were higher in the two fall sampling periods, whereas concentrations of atrazine, carbofuran, and trifluralin were higher during the spring, which matched seasonal use patterns of these pesticides. Current-use pesticides were also detected on suspended and bed sediments in concentrations ranging from the detection limits to 106 ng/g. Chlorpyrifos, dacthal, EPTC, trifluralin, and DDE were the most frequently detected pesticides on sediments from all three rivers. The number of detections and concentrations of suspended sediment-associated pesticides were often similar for the river upriver and near-shore sites, consistent with downstream transport of pesticides via suspended sediment. While detectable suspended sediment pesticide concentrations were more sporadic than detected aqueous concentrations, seasonal trends were similar to those for dissolved concentrations. Generally, the pesticides detected on suspended sediments were the same as those on the bed sediments, and concentrations were similar, especially at the Alamo River upriver site. With a few exceptions, pesticides were not detected in suspended or bed sediments from the off-shore sites. The partitioning of pesticides between water and sediment was not predictable from solely the physical–chemical properties of individual pesticide compounds, but appear to be a complicated function of the quantity of pesticide applied in the watershed, residence time of sediments in the water, and compound solubility and hydrophobicity. Sediment concentrations of most pesticides were found to be 100–1,000 times lower than the low-effects levels determined in human health risk assessment studies. However, maximum concentrations of chlorpyrifos on suspended sediments were approximately half the low-effects level, suggesting the need for further sediment characterization of lake sediments proximate to riverine inputs.

Orlando, J.L., Smalling, K.L., and Kuivila, K.M., 2008, Pesticides in water and suspended sediment of the Alamo and New Rivers, Imperial Valley/Salton Sea Basin, California, 2006–2007: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 365, 32 p.

LeBlanc, L.A. and Kuivila, K.M., 2008, Occurrence, distribution and transport of pesticides into the Salton Sea basin, California, 2001-2002, Hydrobiologia, v. 604:151–172.

LeBlanc, L.A., Orlando, J.L., and Kuivila, K.M., 2004, Pesticide concentrations in water and in suspended and bottom sediments in the New and Alamo Rivers, Salton Sea watershed, California, April 2003: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 104, 15 p

LeBlanc, L.A., Schroeder, R.A., Orlando, J.L., and Kuivila, K.M., 2004, Occurrence, Distribution and Transport of Pesticides, Trace Elements and Selected Inorganic Constituents into the Salton Sea Basin, California, 2001-2002: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2004-5117, 40 p.

Crepeau, Kathryn L., Kuivila, Kathryn M., and Bergamaschi, Brian, 2002, Dissolved pesticides in the Alamo River and the Salton Sea, California, 1996-97, Open-File Report 02-0232, 7 p.

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