A method using liquid chromatography-tandem mass spectrometry has been developed for determination of trace levels of tetracycline antibiotics in ground water and confined animal feeding operation waste water. Oxytetracycline (OTC), tetracycline (TC), and chlortetracycline (CTC) were extracted from water samples using both polymeric and C18 extraction cartridges. The addition of a buffer containing potassium phosphate and citric acid improved tetracycline recoveries in lagoon water. Method detection limits determined in reagent water fortified with 1 microg l(-1) OTC, TC, and CTC were 0.21, 0.20, and 0.28 microg l(-1). Method detection limits in lagoon water samples fortified at 20 microg l(-1) for OTC, TC, and CTC were 3.6, 3.1, and 3.8 microg l(-1). Variability in recovery from laboratory fortified blanks ranged from 86 to 110% during routine analysis.