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USGS Washington Water Science Center

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Whatcom County

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The northern part of Whatcom County and part of British Columbia is farming area developed on highly permeable glacial outwash sediments. Much of the water supply for the area comes from shallow aquifers in the glacial outwash. Because of the intensive agricultural activity in the area, concern is growing about the vulnerability of the shallow aquifers to contamination. Pesticides associated with agricultural practices have been found in ground water in some areas, and historical data from some wells show an increase in nitrate concentrations over time. A recent USGS study under the National Water Quality Assessment (NAWQA) program detected generally small concentrations of a soil fumigant associated with a single crop in ground water at some wells in the area.

County officials and water managers would like to know more about the extent and quality of the ground-water system in the shallow aquifers in order to make informed decisions about the resource. The NAWQA study provides some new water-quality information, but a delineation of the general extent of ground-water quality problems in the area could aid greatly in managing the water resource.

To provide scientific information needed to better understand the ground-water system in northern Whatcom County, the USGS is defining the hydrogeologic framework and the ground-water flow system in the area. The study includes defining the general ground-water chemistry and assessing the extent and significance of current water-quality problems. The USGS, in a coordinated effort with State and local agencies, is also evaluating the effects of fumigant applications to all crops in the area and correlating the past use soil fumigants with the presence of soil fumigants or their breakdown products in ground water. The information from these studies will also augment the ongoing NAWQA study of land use and water quality.

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