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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Understanding the Occurrence and Transport of Current-use Pesticides in the San Francisco Estuary Watershed

  • Author(s): Kuivila, Kathryn;
  • Hladik, Michelle
  • et al.

The occurrence and potential effects of current-use pesticides are of concern in the San Francisco Estuary watershed but our understanding of the spatial and temporal distribution of contamination is limited. This paper summarizes almost two decades of historical data and uses it to describe our current knowledge of the processes controlling the occurrence of current-use pesticides in the watershed. Monitoring studies analyze fewer than half of the pesticides applied in the watershed and most of our knowledge is about inputs of dissolved pesticides in the upper watershed. The four major seasonal patterns of riverine inputs of pesticides to the estuary can be identified by usage and transport mechanism. Dormant spray insecticides applied to orchards and herbicides applied to a variety of crops are transported by rainfall during the winter. Alfalfa pesticides are detected following rainfall and irrigation return flow in the spring, and rice pesticides are detected following release of rice field water in the summer. Irrigation return flows transport a variety of herbicides during the summer. In addition, pesticides applied on Delta islands can cause elevated pesticide concentrations in localized areas. Although not as well characterized, urban creeks appear to have their own patterns of insecticide concentrations causing toxicity throughout most of the year. Current-use pesticides have also been detected on suspended and bed sediments throughout the watershed but limited data make it difficult to determine occurrence patterns. Data gaps include the lack of analysis of many pesticides (or degradates), changing pesticide use, limited information on pesticide transport within the Delta, and an incomplete understanding of the transport and persistence of sediment-associated pesticides. Future monitoring programs should be designed to address these data gaps.

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