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News Release

U.S. Department of the Interior
U.S. Geological Survey

Release: March 20, 2000
Stephen Cox
(253) 428-3600, ext. 2623

Joint U.S.-Canada study finds nitrate exceeds drinking-water standards in Abbotsford-Sumas aquifer; but organic compounds concentrations are within guidelines

Nitrate concentrations exceeding both U.S. and Canadian drinking-water health guidelines have been found in the ground water of the Abbotsford-Sumas aquifer that flows under the international border between the two countries. Concentrations of twenty-three other organic compounds, though, are within drinking-water guidelines. These findings are part of a joint water-quality study just released by the U.S. Geological Survey and Environment Canada.

Previous studies had found nitrate and selected pesticides in the ground water, but until now little was known about the broad spectrum of other chemicals, including other organic compounds, that might be present. The new report is an international effort to present in detail the chemical compounds in ground water moving from British Columbia, Canada, across the international border into northwestern Washington State. It presents the results of ground water sampled for common ions, nutrients, trace elements, pesticides, and volatile organic compounds. In all, the report covers 210 water-quality measurements in water samples from nine wells along the border.

In seven of nine wells, nitrate concentrations exceeded the 10 milligrams per liter drinking-water maximum contaminant level of both countries. In one well, the nitrate concentration was 67 milligrams per liter. Organic compound concentrations, ranging from 0.01 to 23 micrograms per liter, were within guidelines.

"This project has allowed hydrologists from both sides of the border to work closely together to get a detailed look at the quality of the ground water in this shared resource," said Stephen Cox, USGS hydrologist and co-author of the report. "Both countries are concerned, and working together gives us all the best chance to improve water quality conditions."

The report, "Ground-Water Quality Data from the Abbotsford-Sumas Aquifer of Southwestern British Columbia and Northwestern Washington State, February 1997," by Stephen E. Cox of the USGS and Hugh Liebscher of Environment Canada, is published as U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 99-244. It is available for reading at the U.S. Geological Survey office at 1201 Pacific Avenue, Suite 600, Tacoma, Washington 98402 and at Environment Canada offices at 700-1200 West 73rd Avenue, Vancouver, British Columbia V6P-6H9. It can be purchased from the U.S. Geological Survey, Information Services, Box 25286, Federal Center, Denver, CO 80225-0286, telephone (303) 202-4610.

As the nation's largest water, earth, and biological science and civilian mapping agency, the USGS works in cooperation with more than 2,000 organizations across the country to provide reliable, impartial, scientific information to resource managers, planners, and other customers. This information is gathered in every state by USGS scientists to minimize the loss of life and property from natural disasters, contribute to sound economic and physical development of the nation's natural resources, and enhance the quality of life by monitoring water, biological, energy, and mineral resources.

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