Water-Quality Data

Groundwater quality in the approximately 653-square-mile South Coast Interior Basins (SCI) study unit was investigated from August to December 2008, as part of the Priority Basins Project of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The GAMA Priority Basins Project was developed in response to Legislative mandates (Supplemental Report of the 1999 Budget Act 1999-00 Fiscal Year; and, the Groundwater-Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 [Sections 10780-10782.3 of the California Water Code, Assembly Bill 599]) to assess and monitor the quality of groundwater used as public supply for municipalities in California, and is being conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). SCI was the 27th study unit to be sampled as part of the GAMA Priority Basins Project.

This study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of the quality of untreated groundwater used for public water supplies within SCI, and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of groundwater quality throughout California. Samples were collected from 54 wells within the three study areas [Livermore, Gilroy, and Cuyama] of SCI in Alameda, Santa Clara, San Benito, Santa Barbara, Ventura, and Kern Counties. Thirty-five of the wells were selected using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study unit (grid wells), and 19 were selected to aid in evaluation of specific water-quality issues (understanding wells).

The groundwater samples were analyzed for organic constituents [volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides and pesticide degradates, polar pesticides and metabolites, and pharmaceutical compounds], constituents of special interest [perchlorate and N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA)], naturally occurring inorganic constituents [trace elements, nutrients, major and minor ions, silica, total dissolved solids (TDS), and alkalinity], and radioactive constituents [gross alpha and gross beta radioactivity and radon-222]. Naturally occurring isotopes [stable isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, and activities of tritium and carbon-14] and dissolved noble gases also were measured to help identify the sources and ages of the sampled groundwater. In total, 288 constituents and water-quality indicators (field parameters) were investigated.

Three types of quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and matrix spikes) each were collected at approximately 4–11 percent of the wells, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for the groundwater samples. Field blanks rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, suggesting that contamination was not a significant source of bias in the data obtained from the groundwater samples. Differences between replicate samples generally were less than 10 percent relative standard deviation, indicating acceptable analytical reproducibility. Matrix spike recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for most compounds.

This study did not attempt to evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers; after withdrawal from the ground, untreated groundwater typically is treated, disinfected, and/or blended with other waters to maintain water quality. Regulatory thresholds apply to water that is served to the consumer, not to untreated groundwater. However, to provide some context for the results, concentrations of constituents measured in the untreated groundwater were compared with regulatory and nonregulatory health-based thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and to nonregulatory thresholds established for aesthetic and technical concerns by CDPH. Comparisons between data collected for this study and thresholds for drinking water are for illustrative purposes only, and are not indicative of compliance or noncompliance with those thresholds.

Most inorganic constituents that were detected in groundwater samples from the 35 grid wells in the SCI study unit were found at concentrations below drinking-water thresholds; additionally, all detections of organic constituents in SCI grid well samples were below health-based thresholds.