Repeat applications of an artificial monolayer to the interfacial boundary layer of large agricultural water storages during periods of high evaporative demand remains the most commercially feasible water conservation strategy. However, the interfacial boundary layer (or microlayer) is ecologically distinct from subsurface water, and repeat monolayer applications may adversely affect microlayer processes. In this study, the natural cleansing mechanisms operating within the microlayer were investigated to compare the biodegradability of two fatty alcohol (C16OH and C18OH) and one glycol ether (C18E1) monolayer compound. The C16OH and C18OH compounds were more susceptible to microbial degradation, but the C18E1 compound was most susceptible to indirect photodegradation. On clean water the surface pressure and evaporation reduction achieved with a compressed C18E1 monolayer was superior to the C18OH monolayer, but on brown water the surface pressure dropped rapidly. These results suggest artificial monolayers are readily degraded by the synergy between photo and microbial degradation. The residence time of C18OH and C18E1 monolayers on clear water is sufficient for cost-effective water conservation. However, the susceptibility of C18E1 to photodegradation indicates the application of this monolayer to brown water may not be cost-effective.