Dye-tracer studies were done in the lower San Joaquin River Basin in February 1994, June 1994, and February 1995. Dye releases were made in the Merced River (February 1994), Salt Slough (June 1994), Tuolumne River (February 1995), and Dry Creek (February 1995). The traveltimes determined in the studies aided the interpretation of pesticide data collected during storm sampling and guided sample collection during a Lagrangian pesticide study. All three studies used rhodamine WT 20-percent dye solution, which was released as a slug in midstream. The mean traveltime determined in the dye studies were compared to estimates based on regression equations of mean stream velocity as a function of streamflow. Dye recovery, the ratio of the calculated dye load at downstream sites to the initial amount of dye released, was determined for the 1994 studies and a dye-dosage formula was evaluated for all studies.
In the February 1994 study, mean traveltime from the Merced River at River Road to the San Joaquin River near Vernalis (46.8 river miles) was 38.5 hours, and to the Delta-Mendota Canal at Tracy pumps (84.3 river miles) was 90.4 hours. In the June 1994 study, mean traveltime from Salt Slough at Highway 165 to Vernalis (64.0 river miles) was 80.1 hours. In the February 1995 study, the mean traveltime from the Tuolumne River at Roberts Ferry to Vernalis (51.5 river miles) was 35.8 hours. For the 1994 studies, the regression equations provided suitable estimates of travel-time, with ratios of estimated traveltime to mean dye traveltime of 0.94 to 1.08. However, for the 1995 dye studies, the equations considerably underestimated traveltime, with ratios of 0.49 to 0.73.In the February 1994 study, 70 percent of the dye released was recovered at Vernalis and 35percent was recovered at the Delta-Mendota Canal at Tracy pumps. In the June 1994 study, recovery was 61 percent at Patterson, 43 percent just upstream of the Tuolumne River confluence, and 37 percent at Vernalis. The dye-dosage formula overestimated the dye required for a given downstream concentration for the 1994 studies by ratios of 1.07 to 2.12. The ratios for the February 1995 studies were 0.67 to 0.95 for the Tuolumne River and 1.21 for Dry Creek. In all studies, the estimates improved with length of dye study.