Herbicides reduce the diversity of flora and fauna in freshwater ecosystems and also contaminate groundwater due to leaching. Herbicide contamination can be a serious threat for all groundwater‐dependent ecosystems (GDE), altering their chemical and biological quality. Successful management to protect GDE is dependent on detailed knowledge of the hydrogeological and hydrochemical features of the surrounding environment. We consider the possible diffuse contamination by herbicides of groundwater and of GDE as lowland springs, semi-artificial ecosystems with elevated biodiversity. The main objectives of the present work were thus: (1) to map herbicide contamination in lowland springs, (2) to evaluate the potential risk for biota and (3) to quantify the extent of the area from which the herbicide use can affect the water quality of lowland springs. In June and August 2009, nearly 23 springs within the Po River Plain (Northern Italy) were sampled and analyzed for five herbicides used to control weeds in maize. Hydrogeological properties, half-lives of the herbicides and their concentrations in both groundwater and springs were used to quantify the area from which the contamination could originate. Such evaluation was performed by means of GIS techniques. Terbuthylazine were the only herbicide found, together with its metabolite desethylterbuthylazine. In 16 out of 84 measurements, their concentrations were above the threshold for drinking water; however, they were always below the ecotoxicological end-points of aquatic flora and fauna. Spatial analyses reveal that the theoretical area from which herbicides can contaminate spring water is within a distance varying between a few and 1800 m. Our findings indicate that conservation plans should focus on the fields adjacent to or surrounding the springs and should address the optimization of irrigation practices, restoration of buffer strips, crop rotation and in general more sustainable agricultural practices in the proximity of these fragile GDE.
|Number of pages||7|
|Journal||Science of the Total Environment|
|Publication status||Published - 2012|