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Seasonal and spatial variability of nutrients and pesticides in streams of the Willamette Basin, Oregon, 1993-95

By Frank A. Rinella and Mary L. Janet

USGS Water-Resources Investigations Report 97-4082-C, 59 pages, 26 figures, 8 tables, 3 appendices

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From April 1993 to September 1995, the U.S. Geological Survey conducted a study of the occurrence and distribution of nutrients and pesticides in surface water of the Willamette and Sandy River Basins, Oregon, as part of the U.S. Geological Survey National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. About 260 samples were collected at 51 sites during the study; of these, more than 60 percent of the pesticide samples and more than 70 percent of the nutrient samples were collected at 7 sites in a fixed-station network (primary sites) to characterize seasonal water-quality variability related to a variety of land-use activities. Samples collected at the remain ing 44 sites were used primarily to characterize spatial water- quality variability in agricultural river subbasins located throughout the study area.

This report describes concentrations of 4 nutrient species (total nitrogen, filtered nitrite plus nitrate, total phosphorus, and soluble reactive phosphorus) and 86 pesticides and pesticide degradation products in streams, during high- and low-flow conditions, receiving runoff from urban, agricultural, forested, and mixed-use lands. Although most nutrient and pesticide concentrations were relatively low, some concentrations exceeded maximum contaminant levels for drinking water and water-quality criteria for chronic toxicity established for the protection of freshwater aquatic life. The largest number of exceedances generally occurred at sites receiving predominantly agricultural inputs.

Total nitrogen, filtered nitrite plus nitrate, total phosphorus, and soluble reactive phosphorus concentrations were detected in 89 to 98 percent of the samples; atrazine, simazine, metolachlor, and desethylatrazine were detected in 72 to 94 percent of the samples. Fifty different pesticides and degradation products was detected during the 2-1/2 year study.

Seasonally, peak nutrient and pesticide concentrations at the seven primary sites were observed during winter and spring rains. With the exception of soluble reactive phosphorus, peak nutrient concentrations were recorded at agricultural sites during winter rains, whereas peak pesticide concentrations occurred at agricultural sites during spring rains.

Spatially, although nutrients were detected slightly more often in samples from the northern Willamette Basin relative to the southern Willamette Basin, concentration distributions in the two areas were similar. About 75 percent more pesticides were detected in the northern basin; however, two-thirds of the pesticide detections in the southern basin were larger in concentration than for the same pesticides detected in the northern basin.

Nutrient and pesticide concentrations were associated with percent of upstream drainage area in forest, urbanization, and agriculture. Nutrient concentrations at forested sites were among the smallest observed at any of the sites sampled. In addition, only one pesticide and one pesticide degradation product were detected at forested sites, at concentrations near the method detection limits. The highest nutrient concentrations were observed at agricultural sites. Further, the largest numbers of different pesticides detected were at agricultural sites, at concentrations generally larger than at most other land-use sites. Three pesticides--dichlobenil, prometon, and tebuthiuron--were detected more frequently at a site receiving predominantly urban inputs.

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A printed version of the full report is available free (while supplies last) from:

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

Note: When ordering the report, please supply the report title and number, your name, and your mailing address. Thank you.

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Last modified: 7/1/99