The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) protocols for conducting freshwater toxicity tests have been used in California, USA, to evaluate ambient water quality since 1986. Testing evolved from conducting broad watershed surveys for assessing the distribution of toxicity to conducting detailed studies for identifying chemical causes and sources. Using Cerio-daphnia dubia tests, pulses of diazinon toxicity have been detected over a 10-year period throughout California's Central Valley in waters receiving drainage from dormant orchards. In the 1980s, toxicity to C. dubia, caused by methyl parathion and carbofuran in drainage from rice fields, was detected in the Sacramento River. Rice drainage also was toxic to two important local species, larval striped bass and Neomysis. Throughout the state, diazinon and chlorpyrifos toxicity to C. dubia occurs year-round in waters receiving drainage from urban areas. Several years of monitoring the Alamo River in Imperial County with C. dubia demonstrated a recurring seasonal toxicity pattern. Toxicity during a 3-month autumn period was caused by chlorpyrifos and diazinon and during a 2-month spring period by diazinon and carbofuran. Although most toxicity has been detected with C. dubia and linked to insecticides, other examples of toxicity have been identified. Toxicity to Selenastrum has been linked to copper and zinc from mines and to the herbicide diuron in waters receiving agricultural or urban runoff. Ammonia-caused toxicity, originating from dairies and wastewater treatment plants, to fathead minnows has also been identified. Taken together, the results reveal that the three whole effluent toxicity (WET) testing procedures, in association with toxicity identification evaluations (TIEs) and chemical analyses, can be effective for the identification of an array of toxicants originating from several land use practices. In several cases, alternative land use practices or management strategies have resulted in improved water quality as demonstrated by continued toxicity testing.