The distribution of man-made organic compounds, specifically gasoline-derived compounds, was investigated from 2004 to 2006 in Lakes Mead and Mohave and one of its tributary streams, Las Vegas Wash. Compounds contained in raw gasoline (benzene, toluene, ethylbenzene, xylenes; also known as BTEX compounds) and those produced during combustion of gasoline (polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon compounds; also known as PAH compounds) were detected at every site sampled in Lakes Mead and Mohave.
Water-quality analyses of samples collected during 2004-06 indicate that motorized watercraft are the major source of these organic compounds to the lakes. Concentrations of BTEX increase as the boating season progresses and decrease to less than detectable levels during the winter when few boats are on the water. Volatilization and microbial degradation most likely are the primary removal mechanisms for BTEX compounds in the lakes. Concentrations of BTEX compounds were highest at sampling points near marinas or popular launching areas. Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) was detected during 2004 but concentrations decreased to less than the detection level during the latter part of the study; most likely due to the removal of MTBE from gasoline purchased in California.
Distribution of PAH compounds was similar to that of BTEX compounds, in that, concentrations were highest at popular boating areas and lowest in areas where fewer boats traveled. PAH concentrations were highest at Katherine Landing and North Telephone Cove in Lake Mohave where many personal watercraft with carbureted two-stroke engines ply the waters. Lake-bottom sediment is not a sink for PAH as indicated by the low concentrations detected in sediment samples from both lakes. PAH compounds most likely are removed from the lakes by photochemical degradation.
PAH compounds in Las Vegas Wash, which drains the greater Las Vegas metropolitan area, were present in relatively high concentrations in sediment from the upstream reaches. Concentrations of PAH compounds were low in water and sediment samples collected farther downstream, thus the bottom sediment in the upstream part of the wash may be an effective trap for these compounds.
Bioavailable PAH compounds were present in all samples as determined using the Fluoroscan method. Microtox acute toxicity profiles indicated that Callville Bay in Lake Mead and the two Lake Mohave sites had only minor evidence that toxic compounds are present.