Commercial pesticide applicators, farmers, and homeowners apply about 1 billion pounds of pesticides annually to agricultural land, non-crop land, and urban areas throughout the United States (Gilliom and others, 2006, p. 1). The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) defines a pesticide as any substance used to kill or control insects, weeds, plant diseases, and other pest organisms. Although there are important benefits from the proper use of pesticides, like crop protection and prevention of human disease outbreaks, there are also risks. One risk is the contamination of groundwater and surface-water resources. Data collected during 1992-2001 from 51 major hydrologic systems across the United States indicate that one or more pesticide or pesticide breakdown product was detected in more than 50 percent of 5,057 shallow (less than 20 feet below land surface) wells and in all of the 186 stream sites that were sampled in agricultural and urban areas (Gilliom and others, 2006, p. 2-4).
Pesticides can contaminate surface water and groundwater from both point sources and non-point sources. Point sources are from specific locations such as spill sites, disposal sites, pesticide drift during application, and application of pesticides to control aquatic pests. Non-point sources represent the dominant source of surface water and groundwater contamination and may include agricultural and urban runoff, erosion, leaching from application sites, and precipitation that has become contaminated by upwind applications. Pesticides typically enter surface water when rainfall or irrigation exceeds the infiltration capacity of soil and resulting runoff then transports pesticides to streams, rivers, and other surface-water bodies. Contamination of groundwater may result directly from spills near poorly sealed well heads and from pesticide applications through improperly designed or malfunctioning irrigation systems that also are used to apply pesticides (chemigation; Carpenter and Johnson, 1997). Groundwater contamination also may come indirectly by the percolation of agricultural and urban irrigation water through soil layers and into groundwater and from pesticide residue in surface water, such as drainage ditches, streams, and municipal wastewater.
To protect surface water and groundwater from pesticide contamination, the USEPA requires that all states establish a pesticide management plan. The Nevada Department of Agriculture (NDOA), with assistance from the USEPA, developed a management program of education (Hefner and Donaldson, 2006), regulation (Johnson and others, 2006), and monitoring (Pennington and others, 2001) to protect Nevada's water resources from pesticide contaminants. Sampling sites are located in areas where urban or agricultural pesticide use may affect groundwater, water bodies, endangered species, and other aquatic life. Information gathered from these sites is used by NDOA to help make regulatory decisions that will protect human and environmental health by reducing and eliminating the occurrence of pesticide contamination. This fact sheet describes current (2008) pesticide monitoring of groundwater and streams by the NDOA in Nevada and supersedes Pennington and others (2001).
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Monitoring for Pesticides in Groundwater and Surface Water in Nevada, 2008