Surface-water quality samples were collected from April 1996 to September 1998 from eight locations in the Lower Illinois River Basin, a study unit of the U.S. Geological Survey?s National Water-Quality Assessment program. The study area is approximately 15,600 square miles and encompasses most of central and western Illinois. The dominant land use is agricultural and most land is used for the production of corn and soybeans. About 6.9 million acres of corn and soybeans are planted annually in the lower Illinois River Basin. Conservation tillage, defined as mulch-till and no-till, is used on about 40 percent of the cropland in the study area, similar to the statewide average. Nearly 90 percent of the samples for pesticide analyses were collected at four sites: the Illinois River at Ottawa, the Illinois River at Valley City, the La Moine River at Colmar, and the Sangamon River at Monticello. Two hundred fifty-eight samples were collected and analyzed for various herbicides, insecticides, and herbicide transformation products (also referred to as degradates). Thirty-one pesticides were detected at concentrations above their respective method detection limit: 23 herbicides and 8 insecticides. An additional set of 34 samples was collected in the summer of 1998 for the analysis of herbicide transformation products. Nine herbicide transformation products were detected, all belonging to the chloroacetanilide or the triazine chemical class.
Two herbicides, atrazine and cyanazine, exceeded the associated human health drinking-water criteria and the aquatic health-criteria. Atrazine was detected in all samples. Sixty percent of the samples (48 of 80) collected in the months of May and June had atrazine concentrations that exceeded the clean drinking- water standard of 3 micrograms per liter (mg/L). The average atrazine concentration in the May to June samples was about 7.0 mg/L. The maximum atrazine concentrations were 110 mg/L in the La Moine River at Colmar and 32 mg/L in the Sangamon River at Monticello. The maximum atrazine concentration in the lower Illinois River was 20 mg/L, measured at Valley City, although most of the relatively elevated concentrations in the Illinois River sites were in the range from 5 to 8 mg/L. The concentrations of the herbicide cyanazine exceeded the health advisory guideline of 1 mg/L in about 19 percent (15 of 80) of the May to June samples. The pesticides chlorpyrifos, diazinon, metolachlor, and 2,4-D exceeded aquatic health guidelines at various times from May to August. Three dominant factors that affect the presence of pesticides in streams are identified: the pesticide usage, the time-of-year (or season), and the flow condition. The pesticides with the highest usage--atrazine, metolachlor, cyanazine, and acetochlor--generally were the pesticides detected most frequently and at the highest concentrations. Notable exceptions to this general observation are alachlor and simazine, which did not have high usage but were detected frequently. The elevated pesticide concentrations were most affected by seasonality--most of these elevated concentrations were observed across all flow conditions during May to June. Flow conditions also affect pesticide concentrations, but not as much as seasonality. The maximum pesticide loads were observed between March and July on the Illinois River. The net contribution of pesticides applied in the study area to net increases in load indicates that only about 1-2 percent of the pesticides applied exit the basin through the Illinois River at Valley City.
The chloroacetanilide-class transformation products observed in samples collected in summer 1998 persistently contained elevated concentrations relative to the associated parent pesticide compound at all locations and for all streamflow conditions. The concentration of the transformation product metolachlor ethane sulfonic acid (ESA) usually was about 10 times higher than the parent compound in the mainstem of the lower