Results of a detailed study by the National Irrigation Water-Quality Program (NIWQP), U.S. Department of the Interior, indicate that factors controlling contaminant concentrations in subsurface irrigation drainwater in the Imperial Valley are soil characteristics, hydrology, and agricultural practices. Higher contaminant concentrations commonly were associated with clayey soils, which retard the movement of irrigation water and thus increase the degree of evaporative concentration. Regression of hydrogen- and oxygen-isotope ratios in samples collected from sumps yields a linear drainwater evaporation line that extrapolates through the isotopic composition of Colorado River water, thus demonstrating that Colorado River water is the sole source of subsurface drainwater in the Imperial Valley. Ratios of selenium to chloride indicate that selenium present in subsurface drainwater throughout the Imperial Valley originates from the Colorado River. The selenium load discharged to the Salton Sea from the Alamo River, the largest contributor, is about 6.5 tons/yr. Biological sampling and analysis showed that drainwater contaminants, including selenium, boron, and DDE, are accumulating in tissues of migratory and resident birds that use food sources in the Imperial Valley and the Salton Sea. Selenium concentration in fish-eating birds, shorebirds, and the endangered Yuma clapper rail were at levels that could affect reproduction. Boron concentrations in migratory waterfowl and resident shorebirds were at levels that potentially could cause reduced growth in young. As a result of DDE contamination of food sources, waterfowl and fish-eating birds in the Imperial Valley may be experiencing reproductive impairment.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Detailed study of water quality, bottom sediment, and biota associated with irrigation drainage in the Salton Sea area, California, 1988-90
Water-Resources Investigations Report
U.S. Geological Survey ;
U.S.G.S. Earth Science Information Center, Open-File Reports Section [distributor],