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Development and testing of method for assessing and mapping agricultural areas susceptible to atrazine leaching in the state of Washington

January 1, 2004

In a joint effort by the Washington State Department of Agriculture, the Washington Department of Ecology, and the U.S. Geological Survey, the Environmental Protection Agency's Pesticide Root Zone Model and a Geographic Information System were used to develop and test a method for screening and mapping the susceptibility of ground water in agricultural areas to pesticide contamination. The objective was to produce a map that would be used by the Washington State Department of Agriculture to allocate resources for monitoring pesticide levels in ground water. The method was tested by producing a map showing susceptibility to leaching of the pesticide atrazine for the Columbia Basin Irrigation Project, which encompasses an area of intensive agriculture in eastern Washington. The reliability of the atrazine map was assessed by using statistical procedures to determine whether the median of the percentage of atrazine simulated to leach below the root zone in wells where atrazine was detected was statistically greater than the median percentage at wells where atrazine was not detected (at or above 0.001 microgram per liter) in 134 wells sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey. A statistical difference in medians was not found when all 134 wells were compared. However, a statistical difference was found in medians for two subsets of the 134 wells that were used in land-use studies (studies examining the quality of ground water beneath specific crops). The statistical results from wells from the land-use studies indicate that the model potentially can be used to map the relative susceptibility of agricultural areas to atrazine leaching. However, the distinction between areas of high and low susceptibility may not yet be sufficient to use the method for allocating resources to monitor water quality. Several options are offered for improving the reliability of future simulations.