The U.S. Geological Survey collected data from 29 wells and 24 surface-water sites in the Mermentau River Basin, 1998-2001, to better understand ground-water and surface-water quality; aquatic invertebrate communities; and habitat conditions, in relation to land use. This study was apart of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program, which was designed to assess water quality as it relates to various land uses. Water-quality data were evaluated with criteria established for the protection of drinking water and aquatic life, and bed-sediment data were compared to aquatic life criteria. Water-quality and ecological data were analyzed statistically in relation to drainage area and agricultural land-use integrity.
Concentrations of nutrients and major inorganic ions in ground water and surface water generally were highest in the southeastern part of the study area where soils contain thick loess deposits. Peak concentrations of nutrients in surface water occurred March-may at two sites with high agricultural intensity; the lowest concentrations occurred August-January. The greatest potential for eutrophic conditions in surface water, based on nutrient concentrations, existed March-May, at about the same time or shortly after ricefields were drained. Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) were exceeded for sulfate, chloride, iron, or manganese in samples from 20 wells, and for iron or manganese in samples from all surface-water sites.
Fewer pesticides were detected in ground water than in surface water. In 11 of of the 29 wells sampled, at least one pesticide or pesticide degradation product was detected. The most frequently detected pesticides or pesticide degradation products in ground water were the herbicides benzaton and atrazine. Concentrations of 47 pesticides and degradation products were detected in surface water. At least 3 pesticides were detected in all surface-water samples. In 72 percent of the samples at least 5 hydrophilic pesticides were detected, and in more than 70 percent of the samples at least 3 hydrophobic pesticides were detected. Although atrazine concentrations in three samples collected in the spring exceeded 3 micrograms per liter, the USEPA Maximum Contaminant Level of 3 micrograms per liter was not exceeded because it is based on an annual average of quarterly samples. Concentrations larger than 3.0 micrograms per liter were not detected in samples collected during other times of the year. Tebuthiuron was detected at all surface-water sites; the largest concentration (6.33 micrograms per liter) was detected at a site on Bayou des Cannes, and was the only detection that exceeded the criterion (1.6 micrograms per liter) for the protection of aquatic life. Malathion was detected at 16 surface-water sites; the largest concentration (0.113 micrograms per liter) was detected at a site on Bayou Lacassine and was the only detection that exceeded the criterion (0.1 micrograms per liter) for the protection of aquatic life. Concentrations of fipronil exceeded numeric targets for acute total maximum daily loads (2.3 micrograms per liter) at 3 sites and chronic total maximum daily loads (4.6 micrograms per liter) at 14 sites. Maximum pesticide concentrations in surface water usually occurred in the spring at about the same time or shortly after ricefields were drained.
Concentrations of DDE in bed sediment at two sites exceeded interim freshwater sediment quality guidelines for the protection of aquatic life. Fipronil sulfide and desulfinylpronil were detected at all 17 sites from which bed-sediment samples were collected, but there are no current (2002) guidelines with which to evaluate the environmental effects of fipronil and degradation products.
Two methods were used to group the ecological data-collection sites: (1) Sites were grouped before data collection (according to the study design) using drainage area