The New York Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) and others have expressed an interest in a survey of representative areas in upstate New York to determine the occurrence and extent of pesticide contamination of groundwater by sampling rural water systems (domestic and farm), small municipalities, and suburban areas. Of particular interest at present are "worst case" areas where significant pesticide use (agricultural and otherwise) coincides with shallow aquifers, presenting elevated risk of contamination in contrast to areas with low pesticide use and/or less vulnerable water resources.
The first year of work was a pilot-scale program focused on Cortland County, chosen in view of the range of land uses, shallow aquifers, a well-established groundwater program, and its proximity to Cornell University. The Cortland County Soil & Water Conservation District (CCSWCD) cooperated in this undertaking. Forty wells were sampled, on a voluntary basis, in defined target locations to test for pesticide residues. Analysis for atrazine (a common and relatively mobile herbicide) found traces in half of the tested wells, but at levels too low to quantitate and well below the drinking water standard. A GIS-based groundwater risk-assessment model was also completed in order to guide selection of greatest risk areas for future sampling, based on the greatest relative potential exposure to pesticides in groundwater. Year two sampling is underway in Schenectady County, which was selected based on its ranking in the GIS-based risk model, and the selection process is underway for the county to be sampled in year three.
The results of this survey will contribute to an assessment (by the DEC and others) of the human exposure risk from pesticides in groundwater in the upstate area, which has historically been given little attention.