Groundwater-quality data in the Monterey–Salinas shallow aquifer study unit, (ver. 1.1, January 2017): Results from the California GAMA Program
Goldrath, D.A., Kulongoski, J.T., and Davis, T.A., 2015, U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 987, 132 p.
Related Study Unit(s): Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley Basins Groundwater Resources Used for Public Supply, Monterey Bay, Salinas Valley, and Adjacent Highlands Groundwater Resources Used for Domestic Supply
Groundwater quality in the 3,016-square-mile Monterey–Salinas Shallow Aquifer study unit was investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from October 2012 to May 2013 as part of the California State Water Resources Control Board Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program’s Priority Basin Project. The GAMA Monterey–Salinas Shallow Aquifer study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of untreated-groundwater quality in the shallow-aquifer systems in parts of Monterey and San Luis Obispo Counties and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of untreated-groundwater quality throughout California. The shallow-aquifer system in the Monterey–Salinas Shallow Aquifer study unit was defined as those parts of the aquifer system shallower than the perforated depth intervals of public-supply wells, which generally corresponds to the part of the aquifer system used by domestic wells. Groundwater quality in the shallow aquifers can differ from the quality in the deeper water-bearing zones; shallow groundwater can be more vulnerable to surficial contamination.
Samples were collected from 170 sites that were selected by using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method. The study unit was divided into 4 study areas, each study area was divided into grid cells, and 1 well was sampled in each of the 100 grid cells (grid wells). The grid wells were domestic wells or wells with screen depths similar to those in nearby domestic wells. A greater spatial density of data was achieved in 2 of the study areas by dividing grid cells in those study areas into subcells, and in 70 subcells, samples were collected from exterior faucets at sites where there were domestic wells or wells with screen depths similar to those in nearby domestic wells (shallow-well tap sites).
Field water-quality indicators (dissolved oxygen, water temperature, pH, and specific conductance) were measured, and samples for analysis of inorganic constituents (trace elements, nutrients, major and minor ions, silica, total dissolved solids, and alkalinity) were collected at all 170 sites. In addition to these constituents, the samples from grid wells were analyzed for organic constituents (volatile organic compounds, pesticides and pesticide degradates), constituents of special interest (perchlorate and N-nitrosodimethylamine, or NDMA), radioactive constituents (radon-222 and gross-alpha and gross-beta radioactivity), and geochemical and age-dating tracers (stable isotopes of carbon in dissolved inorganic carbon, carbon-14 abundances, stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water, and tritium activities).
Three types of quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and matrix spikes) were collected at up to 11 percent of the wells in the Monterey–Salinas Shallow Aquifer study unit, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data from the groundwater samples. With the exception of trace elements, blanks rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, indicating that contamination from sample-collection procedures was not a significant source of bias in the data for the groundwater samples. Low concentrations of some trace elements were detected in blanks; therefore, the data were re-censored at higher reporting levels. Replicate samples generally were within the limits of acceptable analytical reproducibility. The median values of matrix-spike recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for the volatile organic compounds (VOCs) and N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), but were only approximately 64 percent for pesticides and pesticide degradates.
The sample-collection protocols used in this study were designed to obtain representative samples of groundwater. The quality of groundwater can differ from the quality of drinking water because water chemistry can change as a result of contact with plumbing systems or the atmosphere; because of treatment, disinfection, or blending with water from other sources; or some combination of these. Water quality in domestic wells is not regulated in California, however, to provide context for the water-quality data presented in this report, results were compared to benchmarks established for drinking-water quality. The primary comparison benchmarks were maximum contaminant levels established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the State of California (MCL-US and MCL-CA, respectively). Non-regulatory benchmarks were used for constituents without maximum contaminant levels (MCLs), including Health
Based Screening Levels (HBSLs) developed by the USGS and State of California secondary maximum contaminant levels (SMCL-CA) and notification levels. Most constituents detected in samples from the Monterey–Salinas Shallow Aquifer study unit had concentrations less than their respective benchmarks.
Of the 148 organic constituents analyzed in the 100 grid-well samples, 38 were detected, and all concentrations were less than the benchmarks. Volatile organic compounds were detected in 26 of the grid wells, and pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 28 grid wells. The special-interest constituent NDMA was detected above the HBSL in three samples, one of which also had a perchlorate concentration greater than the MCL-CA.
Of the inorganic constituents, 6 were detected at concentrations above their respective MCL benchmarks in grid-well samples: arsenic (5 grid wells above the MCL of 10 micrograms per liter, μg/L), selenium (3 grid wells, MCL of 50 μg/L), uranium (4 grid wells, MCL of 30 μg/L), nitrate (16 grid wells, MCL of 10 milligrams per liter, mg/L), adjusted gross alpha particle activity (10 grid wells, MCL of 15 picocuries per liter, pCi/L), and gross beta particle activity (1 grid well, MCL of 50 pCi/L). An additional 4 inorganic constituents were detected at concentrations above their respective HBSL benchmarks in grid-well samples: boron (1 grid well above the HBSL of 6,000 μg/L), manganese (8 grid wells, HBSL of 300 μg/L), molybdenum (6 grid wells, HBSL of 40 μg/L), and strontium (6 grid wells, HBSL of 4,000 μg/L). Of the inorganic constituents, 4 were detected at concentrations above their non-health based SMCL benchmarks in grid-well samples: iron (9 grid wells above the SMCL of 300 μg/L), chloride (7 grid wells, SMCL of 500 mg/L), sulfate (14 grid wells, SMCL of 500 mg/L), and total dissolved solids (27 grid wells, SMCL of 1,000 mg/L).
Of the inorganic constituents analyzed in the 70 shallow-well tap sites, 10 were detected at concentrations above the benchmarks. Of the inorganic constituents, 3 were detected at concentrations above their respective MCL benchmarks in shallow-well tap sites: arsenic (2 shallow-well tap sites above the MCL of 10 μg/L), uranium (2 shallow-well tap sites, MCL of 30 μg/L), and nitrate (24 shallow-well tap sites, MCL of 10 mg/L). An additional 3 inorganic constituents were detected above their respective HBSL benchmarks in shallow-well tap sites: manganese (4 shallow-well tap sites above the HBSL of 300 μg/L), molybdenum (4 shallow-well tap sites, HBSL of 40 μg/L), and zinc (2 shallow-well tap sites, HBSL of 2,000 μg/L). Of the inorganic constituents, 4 were detected at concentrations above their non-health based SMCL benchmarks in shallow-well tap sites: iron (6 shallow-well tap sites above the SMCL of 300 μg/L), chloride (1 shallow-well tap site, SMCL of 500 mg/L), sulfate (9 shallow-well tap sites, SMCL of 500 mg/L), and total dissolved solids (15 shallow-well tap sites, SMCL of 1,000 mg/L).