Using Legacy Data to Relate Biological Condition to Cumulative Aquatic Toxicity in the Willamette River Basin (Oregon, USA)

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Abstract

In the Willamette River Basin (Oregon, USA), various residential, municipal, industrial, and agricultural activities produce physical, biological, and chemical stressors that may impinge on the basin’s aquatic ecosystems. For >30 years, numerous water-quality and biological-condition data have been accumulated by often disparate monitoring programs. This diagnostic analysis explored whether these legacy data could be used to correlate the presence of chemical stressors with biological condition impacts with the understanding that association is not necessarily causation. Other natural or anthropogenic stressors that may also impact biological conditions were not considered in this study. Acute-toxicity indices were calculated separately for trace metals and organic chemicals detected in surface waters between 1994 and 2010 and then compared with land-use metrics and vertebrate- and invertebrate-assemblage indices from surveys conducted basin-wide during this same period. Half of the possible relations between land use, biological condition, and toxicity were statistically significant at p ≤ 0.10. These results suggest that conditions for aquatic receptors improve either as agricultural or urban land decreases or as forested land increases and that chemical mixtures (primarily involving pesticides) may have impacted components of the basin’s aquatic ecosystems. There may be a need for strengthened chemical-management practices on agricultural and urban lands and for maintaining undisturbed forested land to limit chemical migration into adjacent waters. Although these results indicate some utility for legacy data, they also suggest that a more defensible assessment of chemical stressors requires a program specifically designed for that purpose.