Approaches to herbicide (MCPA) pollution mitigation in drinking water source catchments using enhanced space and time monitoring

Phoebe A. Morton, Rachel Cassidy, Stewart Floyd, Donnacha G. Doody, W. Colin McRoberts, Philip Jordan

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23 Citations (Scopus)
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Freshwater occurrences of the selective acid herbicide 2-methyl-4-chloro-phenoxyacetic acid (MCPA) are an ongoing regulatory and financial issue for water utility industries as the number and magnitude of detections increase, particularly in surface water catchments. Assessments for mitigating pesticide pollution in catchments used as drinking water sources require a combination of catchment-based and water treatment solutions, but approaches are limited by a lack of empirical data. In this study, an enhanced spatial (11 locations) and temporal (7-hourly to daily sampling) monitoring approach was employed to address these issues in an exemplar surface water source catchment (384 km2). The spatial sampling revealed that MCPA was widespread, with occurrences above the 0.1 μg L−1 threshold for a single pesticide being highly positively correlated to sub-catchments with higher proportions of ‘Improved Grassland’ land use (r = 0.84). These data provide a strong foundation for targeting catchment-based mitigation solutions and also add to the debate on the ecosystems services provided by such catchments. Additionally, of the 999 temporal samples taken over 12 months from the catchment outlet, 25% were above the drinking water threshold of 0.1 μg L−1. This prevalence of high concentrations presents costly problems for source water treatment. Using these data, abstraction shutdowns were simulated for five scenarios using hydrometeorological data to explore the potential to avoid intake of high MCPA concentrations. The scenarios stopped abstraction for 4.2–9.3% of the April–October period and reduced intake of water containing over 0.1 μg L−1 of MCPA by 16–31%. This represents an important development for real-time proxy assessments for water abstraction in the absence of more direct pesticide monitoring data.
Original languageEnglish
Article number142827
Pages (from-to)1-10
Number of pages10
JournalScience of the Total Environment
Issue numberPart 1
Early online date8 Oct 2020
Publication statusPublished (in print/issue) - 10 Feb 2021

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This work was funded by the Source to Tap project (project reference IVA5018 – ). The Source to Tap project is supported by the European Union 's INTERREG VA Programme, managed by the Special EU Programmes Body (SEUPB). The views and opinions expressed in this document do not necessarily reflect those of the European Commission or the SEUPB.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2020 The Authors


  • Water quality
  • 2-methyl-4-chlorophenoxyacetic acid
  • MCPA
  • Enhanced monitoring
  • Drinking water
  • Irish cross-border catchment


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