Document Title:

Reconnaissance Investigation of Water Quality, Bottom Sediment, and Biota Associated with Irrigation Drainage in the Tulare Lake Bed Area, Southern San Joaquin Valley, California, 1986-87

Dr Joseph P. Skorupa R. A. Schroeder D. U. Palawski

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Concentrations of numerous toxic trace elements and pesticides were measured during 1986 in water, sediment, and biota from three areas near the Tulare Lake Bed, southern San Joaquin Valley, California: Kern National Wildlife Refuge, Pixley National Wildlife Refuge, and Westfarmers evaporation ponds about 5 mi west of Kern National Wildlife Refuge, to determine whether toxic constituents in agricultural-irrigation drainage pose a threat to beneficial uses of water, especially to uses by wildlife. Pesticide residues were found to be low at all three areas. Trace element concentrations were found to be comparatively low at the Kern and Pixley National Wildlife Refuge areas and high at the Westfarmers evaporation ponds. Dissolved selenium concentrations were < 1 micrograms/L (ug/L) in areas on and adjacent to the refuges, but ranged from 110 to 360 ug/L in the saline drainwater impounded in the evaporation ponds. The ratio of mean selenium concentrations in biota from Westfarmers ponds compared to biota from Kesterson National Wildlife Refuge (where adverse effects have been documented) is 5 for waterboatman, 2 for avocet liver, 1 for avocet eggs, and < 1 for widgeongrass. The low concentrations measured at Kern and Pixley National Wildlife Refuges suggest that trace elements and pesticides pose little threat to wildlife there; however, impounded subsurface drainage from agricultural irrigation does pose a threat to wildlife at the nearby Westfarmers ponds. Preliminary results of surveys conducted in 1987 indicated that there are adverse biological effects on shorebirds nesting at the ponds, although interpretation of the magnitude of the effects is premature, pending completion of ongoing studies by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

U.S. Geological Survey


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Last updated: June 12, 2015