OCCURRENCE AND DISTRIBUTION OF NITRATE AND HERBICIDES IN THE IOWA RIVER ALLUVIAL AQUIFER, IOWA--MAY 1984 TO NOVEMBER 1985

M.G. Detroy and R.L. Kuzniar


U.S. Geological Survey
Water-Resources Investigations Report 88-4117, 1988, 93 p.

Prepared in cooperation with the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory and the
Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey Bureau

ABSTRACT


From May 1984 to November 1985, the U.S. Geological Survey, in cooperation with the University of Iowa Hygienic Laboratory and the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, Geological Survey Bureau, investigated nitrate and herbicides in the Iowa River alluvial aquifer. The occurrence and distribution of nitrate and selected herbicides were determined in the Iowa River alluvial aquifer, a sand and gravel aquifer beneath agricultural land along the Iowa River in Iowa County, Iowa. Test drilling and water-quality sampling of the aquifer indicated that the areal distribution of nitrate in the aquifer is variable. Nitrate (as nitrogen) concentrations range from less than 0.10 to 19 milligrams per liter. Although nitrate distribution is variable, extensive aquifer contamination by nitrate is not apparent. Median nitrate concentrations were 5.9 milligrams per liter for municipal wells and 7.2 milligrams per liter for area streams, but were less than 2.0 milligrams per liter for test wells and domestic wells. Atrazine, cyanazine, metribuzin, alachlor, metolachlor, and trifluralin were detected in ground-water samples. Maximum concentration of atrazine in ground-water samples was 2.4 micrograms per liter; maximum concentration of metribuzin was 8.1 micrograms per liter. Area streams also contained herbicides in concentrations generally larger than concentrations in ground water. At a municipal well adjacent to a stream, similar seasonal concentrations of atrazine were detected for both ground and surface-water samples. Surface water sometimes may be a source of nitrate and herbicides to adjacent ground water.

Detailed sampling of vertical profiles using well nests indicated that the distribution of nitrate and selected herbicides is not vertically homogeneous. Generally, larger nitrate concentrations were detected at shallow depths in the aquifer; at greater depths, the nitrate concentrations were near the detection limit. Herbicides were detected in a pattern similar to that determined for nitrate. The true areal distribution of nitrate may be masked by inconsistent depths of sampling or incomplete vertical sampling. Variations in nitrate concentrations with depth possibly are because local aquifer flow is predominantly horizontal and may limit significant vertical dispersion of nitrate and herbicides, and because nitrate may not act conservatively in ground water and may be removed from the system by denitrification.

For nested wells, the seasonal variations of nitrate and herbicides were greater at the shallower sampling depths for domestic and test wells. Seasonal variations of nitrate and herbicides illustrate that these constituents move quickly from surface application to shallow underlying aquifers. These constituents can be detected in ground water soon after chemical applications, usually within 6 weeks.