Water-Quality Data

Ground-water quality in the approximately 950 square kilometer (370 square mile) Central Sierra study unit (CENSIE) was investigated in May 2006 as part of the Priority Basin Assessment project of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The GAMA Priority Basin Assessment project was developed in response to the Ground-Water Quality Monitoring Act of 2001, and is being conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

This study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of the quality of raw ground water used for drinking-water supplies within CENSIE, and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of ground-water quality throughout California. Samples were collected from thirty wells in Madera County. Twenty-seven of the wells were selected using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study area (grid wells), and three were selected to aid in evaluation of specific water-quality issues (understanding wells).

Ground-water samples were analyzed for a large number of synthetic organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs], gasoline oxygenates and degradates, pesticides and pesticide degradates), constituents of special interest (N-nitrosodimethylamine, perchlorate, and 1,2,3-trichloropropane), naturally occurring inorganic constituents [nutrients, major and minor ions, and trace elements], radioactive constituents, and microbial indicators. Naturally occurring isotopes [tritium, and carbon-14, and stable isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon], and dissolved noble gases also were measured to help identify the sources and ages of the sampled ground water. In total, over 250 constituents and water-quality indicators were investigated.

Quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and samples for matrix spikes) were collected at approximately one-sixth of the wells, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for the ground-water samples. Results from field blanks indicated contamination was not a noticeable source of bias in the data for ground-water samples. Differences between replicate samples were within acceptable ranges, indicating acceptably low variability. Matrix spike recoveries were within acceptable ranges for most constituents.

This study did not attempt to evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers; after withdrawal from the ground, water typically is treated, disinfected, or blended with other waters to maintain water quality. Regulatory thresholds apply to water that is served to the consumer, not to raw ground water. However, to provide some context for the results, concentrations of constituents measured in the raw ground water were compared with health-based thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and thresholds established for aesthetic concerns (Secondary Maximum Contaminant Levels, SMCL-CA) by CDPH. Therefore, any comparisons of the results of this study to drinking-water standards only is for illustrative purposes and is not indicative of compliance or non-compliance to those standards.

Most constituents that were detected in ground-water samples were found at concentrations below drinking-water standards or thresholds. Six constituents— fluoride, arsenic, molybdenum, uranium, gross-alpha radioactivity, and radon-222—were detected at concentrations higher than thresholds set for health-based regulatory purposes. Three additional constituents—pH, iron and manganese—were detected at concentrations above thresholds set for aesthetic concerns. Volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and pesticides, were detected in less than one-third of the samples and generally at less than one one-hundredth of a health-based threshold.