Subsurface agricultural drainwater used for marsh management has resulted in trace element contamination of aquatic bird food chains in central California. Consequently, we collected breeding and wintering aquatic birds from the Grassland Water District (GWD) of California during 1985-88 to measure selenium (Se) and boron (B) contamination resulting from use of such drainage water for wetland management. During the breeding and wintering periods, livers of birds from the North and South areas of the Grasslands contained concentrations of Se and B that have been associated with reproductive impairment. Birds from the South Grasslands, which had received more undiluted drainage water, were more contaminated than those from the North Grasslands. Birds had higher (P < 0.001) levels of Se and B at the end of the 1985-86 wintering period than at the beginning, indicating that the Grasslands was the major source of contamination. Concentrations of Se decreased from 1985 through 1988, after freshwater was substituted for irrigation drainage water during autumn 1985. B concentrations in wintering birds, except for American coots (Fulica americana), declined to background levels, while concentrations in breeding birds remained slightly elevated. However, after 3 years of freshwater management of the Grasslands, liver Se levels in some breeding and wintering birds still were above concentrations associated with impaired reproduction in laboratory and field studies. In areas with high potential for leaching of Se and B from agricultural land, irrigation drainage water should not be used for wetland management.