, Volume 16, Issue 6, pp 657-670

Selenium in aquatic organisms from subsurface agricultural drainage water, San Joaquin Valley, California

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Concentrations of total selenium were high in 1983 in water, sediment, organic detritus, aquatic plants and invertebrates, and mosquitofish (Gambusia affinis) from Kesterson Reservoir (San Joaquin Valley, California) and the San Luis Drain. Selenium concentrations in biota from the Reservoir and Drain (referred to here collectively as “Kesterson”) exceeded 300 (μg/g dry weight in some samples of algae, submerged rooted plants, chironomids, and mosquitofish, and were as high as 440 μg/g dry weight in decomposing detritus. Overall, selenium concentrations in samples from Kesterson averaged about 100-fold higher than those from the Volta Wildlife Area (here termed “Volta”), a nearby site that does not receive subsurface drainage water. Selenium concentrations generally increased from water to sediment to plants to animals. Spatial (geographic) patterns were observed for selenium concentrations in samples from Kesterson, but not in those from Volta. Higher concentrations were usually measured in samples from the San Luis Drain than from the evaporation ponds that comprise Kesterson Reservoir. At Kesterson, concentrations were usually higher in August than in May. The elevated levels of selenium measured in forage organisms from Kesterson are probably toxic to sensitive consumer animals, and may explain recent observations of dead and deformed embryos in eggs of aquatic birds that nest at the Reservoir. The effects of the selenium on fish living in subsurface agricultural drainage water are still poorly understood.