The Yakima River Basin is a major center of agricultural production. With a cultivated area of about 450,000 ha (hectares), the region is an important producer of tree fruit, grapes, hops, and dairy products as well as a variety of smaller production crops. To control pest insects, weeds, and fungal infections, about 146 pesticide active ingredients were applied in various formulations during the 2000 growing season. Forty-six streams or drains in the Yakima River Basin were sampled for pesticides in July and October of 2000. Water samples also were collected from 11 irrigation canals in July. The samples were analyzed for 75 of the pesticide active ingredients applied during the 2000 growing season - 63 percent of the pesticides were detected. An additional 14 pesticide degradates were detected, including widespread occurrence of 2 degradates of DDT.
The most frequently detected herbicide was 2,4-D, which was used on a variety of crops and along rights-of-way. It was detected in 82 percent of the samples collected in July. The most frequently detected insecticide was azinphos-methyl, which was used primarily on tree fruit. It was detected in 37 percent of the samples collected in July. All occurrences of azinphos-methyl exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency recommended chronic concentration for the protection of aquatic organisms.
More than 90 percent of the July samples and 79 percent of the October samples contained two or more pesticides, with a median of nine in July and five in October. The most frequently occurring herbicides in mixtures were atrazine, 2,4-D, and the degradate deethylatrazine. The most frequently occurring insecticides in mixtures were azinphos-methyl, carbaryl, and p,p'-DDE (a degradate of DDT).
A greater number of pesticides and higher concentrations were found in July than in October, reflecting greater usage and water availability for transport during the summer growing and irrigation season. Most of the samples collected in October (baseflow conditions) contained at least one pesticide.
The mass ratio of instream pesticide load and application (pesticide loss) was used to explore spatial and temporal patterns of pesticide occurrence. Losses of pesticides with large organic carbon-water partitioning coefficients (Koc) values, which adhere strongly to sediment and plant surfaces, were smallest in catchments where sprinkler and drip irrigation systems were widely used. In contrast, losses of pesticides with low Koc values did not relate well with irrigation method.