Water resources in the Little River Basin are potentially vulnerable to applications of pesticides associated with both agricultural and nonagricultural activities, because much of the basin is characterized by karst topography. Concerns about water quality resulting from pesticide use in karst areas and lack of data on concentrations of pesticides in surface water led to further investigation of water quality in the Little River Basin, which includes about 600 square miles in Christian and Trigg Counties and a portion of Caldwell County in western Kentucky. Water samples were collected in streams in the Little River Basin, Kentucky during 2003-04 as part of a study conducted in cooperation with the Kentucky Department of Agriculture. The objectives of the study were to assess the occurrence and distribution of pesticides, to evaluate the spatial and seasonal variability of pesticides, and to evaluate loads and yields of selected pesticides in the basin. A total of 91 water samples was collected at 4 fixed-network sites from March through November 2003 and from February through November 2004. An additional 20 samples were collected at 5 synoptic-network sites within the same period.
Twenty-four pesticides were detected of the 127 pesticides analyzed in the stream samples. Of the 24 detected pesticides, 15 were herbicides, 7 were insecticides, and 2 were fungicides. The most commonly detected pesticides-atrazine, simazine, metolachlor, and acetochlor-were those most heavily used on crops during the study. Atrazine and simazine were detected in 100 percent of all surface-water samples, and metolachlor and acetochlor were detected in more than 45 percent. The pesticide degradate, deethylatrazine, was detected in 100 percent of the samples. Only one nonagricultural herbicide, prometon, was detected in more than 50 percent of the samples. Diazinon, the most commonly detected insecticide, was found in 25 percent of all samples and was found at all sites except Casey Creek. Metalaxyl was the most commonly detected fungicide (14 percent); most detections were in samples from the Sinking Fork subbasin.
Concentrations of herbicides were highest following application in the spring (March-May). In contrast, insecticides typically were present during the summer (June-August). The most commonly detected pesticides in the Little River Basin were found at low concentrations in streams year-round. Atrazine and simazine (row-crop herbicides) had the highest measured concentrations (22 and 6.1 micrograms per liter (?g/L), respectively) and were the most heavily applied herbicides in the basin. Metolachlor also was heavily applied in the basin, but measured concentrations did not exceed 0.32 ?g/L. The insecticide, Malathion, was only detected in 4 percent of the samples, although it was heavily applied in the basin during 2003-04. Most detections of pesticides were at low concentrations in relation to drinking-water standards and guidelines established for the protection of aquatic life. Only two pesticide compounds--atrazine and simazine--exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) standards for drinking water. Atrazine exceeded the USEPA's maximum contaminant level (MCL) 19 times in 111 detections; simazine exceeded the established MCL 2 times in 111 detections. These exceedences occurred in the spring. Concentrations of atrazine also exceeded the established aquatic-life criterion (1.8 ?g/L) in 32 samples collected from all sites.
Concentrations of deethylatrazine, an herbicide-transformation compound, tended to follow the same monthly concentration pattern as its parent compound (atrazine), but concentrations of deethylatrazine were lower than those of atrazine. Atrazine may have been present in the soil much longer at these sites, which might have allowed microbial populations to transform atrazine into deethylatrazine.
A statistical comparison of concentrations of selected pesticides among four fixed-network sites
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Occurrence, distribution, loads, and yields of selected pesticides in the Little River basin, Kentucky, 2003-04