Analysis of available nutrient and pesticide data from more than a thousand wells shows that shallow ground water (less than 300 feet) in the Central Columbia Plateau has been contaminated with nitrate, particularly in the southwest. Water samples collected from one-fifth of public-supply wells in the southwest, and one-tenth elsewhere, have nitrate concentrations that exceed the maximum contaminant levels for nitrate in drinking water. Eleven pesticides also have been detected, and one of them (EDB) was detected in 10 wells at concentrations above the maximum contaminant level for drinking water. Nitrate concentrations in ground water are influenced most by agricultural use of fertilizers and by recharge rates and sources. Concentrations are higher where fertilizers are most heavily applied and are higher in shallow ground water than in deeper aquifers. Trends observed in wells with long periods of record show increases in nitrate concentration beginning in the early 1950's, after the use of nitrogen compounds as fertilizers became widespread. Ground-water recharge affects nitrate concentrations in two ways: it transports nitrate into the ground-water system, raising nitrate concentrations in ground water; and it lowers concentrations by dilution when fresh water recharges in sufficient quantities. Dilution is especially evident near canals where fresh irrigation water enters the ground-water system. More data would be needed to investigate possible relations between phosphate or pesticide concentrations and land use or depth. Phosphate concentrations in ground water are low--the median in the study unit is 0.02 milligram per liter as phosphorous. Detection of pesticides in ground water correlates with the solubility of the compounds in water and other related physico-chemical properties. Compounds that were detected have higher solubilities than compounds that were not detected.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Water-quality assessment of the central Columbia Plateau in Washington and Idaho; analysis of available nutrient and pesticide data for ground water, 1942-92
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey ;
Earth Science Information Center, Open-File Reports Section [distributor],