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Quality of Shallow Ground Water in Alluvial Aquifers of the Willamette Basin, Oregon, 1993-95

By Stephen R. Hinkle

USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4082-B, 48 pages, 22 figures, 9 tables


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The current ( 1993-95) quality of shallow ground water (generally, <25 meters below land surface) in Willamette Basin alluvium is described using results from two studies. A Study-Unit Sur vey, or regional assessment of shallow ground- water quality in alluvium, was done from June through August 1993. During the Study-Unit Survey, data were collected from 70 domestic wells chosen using a random-selection process and located mostly in areas of agricultural land use. An urban Land-Use Study, which was a reconnaissance of shallow urban ground-water quality from 10 monitoring wells installed in areas of residential land use, was done in July 1995.

Concentrations of nitrite plus nitrate (henceforth, nitrate, because nitrite concentrations were low) ranged from <0.05 to 26 mg N/L (milligrams nitrogen per liter) in ground water from 70 Study-Unit-Survey wells; concentrations exceeded the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 mg N/L in 9 percent of Study-Unit-Survey samples. Relationships were observed between nitrate con centrations and dissolved-oxygen concentrations, the amount of clay present within and overlying aquifers, overlying geology, and upgradient land use.

Tritium (3H) data indicate that 21 percent of Study-Unit-Survey samples represented water recharged prior to 1953. Nitrogen-fertilizer application rates in the basin have increased greatly over the past several decades. Thus, some observed nitrate concentrations may reflect nitrogen loading rates that were smaller than those presently applied in the basin. Concentrations of phosphorus ranged from <0.01 to 2.2 mg/L in 70 Study-Unit-Survey wells and exceeded 0.10 mg/L in 60 percent of the sam ples. Phosphorus and nitrate concentrations were inversely correlated.

From 1 to 5 pesticides and pesticide degra dation products (henceforth, pesticides) were detected in ground water from each of 23 Study-Unit-Survey wells (33 percent of 69 wells sampled for pesticides) for a total of 51 pesticide detections. Thirteen different pesticides were detected; atrazine was the most frequently encountered pesticide. Although detections were widespread, concentrations were low (generally <1,000 ng/L [nanograms per liter]). (One ng/L is equal to 0.001 mg/L [micrograms per liter].) One detection (dinoseb, at 7,900 ng/L) exceeded a USEPA MCL. Relationships were observed between the occur rence of pesticides and the amount of clay present within and overlying aquifers, overlying geology, and land use.

Between 1 and 5 volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected at each of 7 Study-Unit-Survey sites (11 percent of 65 sites evaluated), for a total of 14 VOC detections. One detection (tetrachloroethylene, at 29 mg/L) exceeded a USEPA MCL. Other detections were at low concentrations (0.2 to 2.0 mg/L). VOC detections generally were from sites associated with urban land use.

Concentrations of arsenic ranged from <1 to 13 mg/L in 70 Study-Unit-Survey wells. Concentrations in 16 percent of samples exceeded the USEPA Risk-Specific-Dose Health Advisory of 2 mg/L.

Radon concentrations ranged from 200 to 1,200 pCi/L (picocuries per liter) in 51 Study-Unit-Survey wells. All samples exceeded the USEPA Risk-Specific-Dose Health Advisory of 150 pCi/L.

All urban Land-Use-Study samples were well oxygenated; thus, nitrate reduction probably did not affect these samples. Urban Land-Use-Study nitrate concentrations were similar to those of the well oxygenated, agricultural subset of Study-Unit-Survey samples. Pesticides were detected in samples from three urban Land-Use-Study sites, but concentrations were low (1 to 5 ng/L). In contrast, VOCs were detected in ground water from 80 percent of urban Land-Use-Study wells; concentrations ranged up to 7.6 mg/L. Trace-element concentrations in the urban Land-Use Study samples were low. Median concentrations consistently were <10 mg/L and frequently were <1 mg/L.

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U.S. Geological Survey, 10615 S.E. Cherry Blossom Drive, Portland, OR 97216 (ph: 503-251-3201, e-mail

and (at a nominal charge) from:

U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services, Box 25286, Denver, CO 80225 (ph: 1-888-ASK-USGS, e-mail

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