Water-Quality Data

Ground-water quality in the approximately 3,800 square-mile Southeast San Joaquin Valley study unit (SESJ) was investigated from October 2005 through February 2006 as part of the Priority Basin Assessment Project of Ground-Water Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The GAMA Statewide Basin Assessment project was developed in response to the Ground-Water Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 and is being conducted by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL).

The SESJ study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of raw ground-water quality within SESJ, as well as a statistically consistent basis for comparing water quality throughout California. Samples were collected from 99 wells in Fresno, Tulare, and Kings Counties, 83 of which were selected using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study area (grid wells), and 16 of which were sampled to evaluate changes in water chemistry along ground-water flow paths or across alluvial fans (understanding wells).

The ground-water samples were analyzed for a large number of synthetic organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs], pesticides and pesticide degradates, and pharmaceutical compounds), constituents of special interest (perchlorate, N-nitrosodimethylamine, 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 source and age of the sampled ground water.

Quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, samples for matrix spikes) were collected at approximately 10 percent of the wells, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for the ground-water samples. Assessment of the quality-control data resulted in censoring of less than 1 percent of the detections of constituents measured in ground-water samples.

This study did not attempt to evaluate the quality of drinking water delivered to consumers; after withdrawal from the ground, water typically is treated, disinfected, and (or) blended with other waters to maintain acceptable drinking-water quality. Regulatory thresholds apply to the treated 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 regulatory and other health-based thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and thresholds established for aesthetic concerns by CDPH.

Two VOCs were detected above health-based thresholds: 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP), and benzene. DBCP was detected above the U.S. Environmental Protections Agency’s maximum contaminant level (MCL-US) in three grid wells and five understanding wells. Benzene was detected above the CDPH’s maximum contaminant level (MCL-CA) in one grid well. All pesticide detections were below health-based thresholds. Perchlorate was detected above its maximum contaminate level for California in one grid well. Nitrate was detected above the MCL-US in six samples from understanding wells, of which one was a public supply well. Two trace elements were detected above MCLs-US: arsenic and uranium. Arsenic was detected above the MCL-US in four grid wells and two understanding wells; uranium was detected above the MCL-US in one grid well and one understanding well. Gross alpha radiation was detected above MCLs-US in five samples; four of them understanding wells, and uranium isotope activity was greater than the MCL-US for one understanding well. Radon-222 was detected above the proposed MCL-US in all wells sampled. Total coliforms were detected in two wells and somatic coliphage was detected in one well.