Water-Quality Data

Groundwater-quality data in the Western San Joaquin Valley study unit, 2010—Results from the California GAMA Program

Mathany, T.M., Landon, M.K., Shelton, J.L., and Belitz, Kenneth, 2013, U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 706, 102 p.

Related Study Unit(s): Western San Joaquin Valley Groundwater Resources Used for Public Supply

Groundwater quality in the approximately 2,170-square-mile Western San Joaquin Valley (WSJV) study unit was investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from March to July 2010, as part of the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program’s Priority Basin Project (PBP). The GAMA-PBP was developed in response to the California Groundwater Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 and is being conducted in collaboration with the SWRCB and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The WSJV study unit was the twenty-ninth study unit to be sampled as part of the GAMA-PBP.

The GAMA Western San Joaquin Valley study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of untreated-groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system, and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of untreated groundwater quality throughout California. The primary aquifer system is defined as parts of aquifers corresponding to the perforation intervals of wells listed in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) database for the WSJV study unit. Groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system may differ from the quality in the shallower or deeper water-bearing zones; shallow groundwater may be more vulnerable to surficial contamination.

In the WSJV study unit, groundwater samples were collected from 58 wells in 2 study areas (Delta-Mendota subbasin and Westside subbasin) in Stanislaus, Merced, Madera, Fresno, and Kings Counties. Thirty-nine of the wells were selected by using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study unit (grid wells), and 19 wells were selected to aid in the understanding of aquifer-system flow and related groundwater-quality issues (understanding wells).

The groundwater samples were analyzed for organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs], low-level fumigants, and pesticides and pesticide degradates), constituents of special interest (perchlorate, N-nitrosodimethylamine [NDMA], and 1,2,3-trichloropropane [1,2,3-TCP]), and naturally occurring inorganic constituents (trace elements, nutrients, dissolved organic carbon [DOC], major and minor ions, silica, total dissolved solids [TDS], alkalinity, total arsenic and iron [unfiltered] and arsenic, chromium, and iron species [filtered]). Isotopic tracers (stable isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen, and boron in water, stable isotopes of nitrogen and oxygen in dissolved nitrate, stable isotopes of sulfur in dissolved sulfate, isotopic ratios of strontium in water, stable isotopes of carbon in dissolved inorganic carbon, activities of tritium, and carbon-14 abundance), dissolved standard gases (methane, carbon dioxide, nitrogen, oxygen, and argon), and dissolved noble gases (argon, helium-4, krypton, neon, and xenon) were measured to help identify sources and ages of sampled groundwater. In total, 245 constituents and 8 water-quality indicators were measured.

Quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, or matrix spikes) were collected at 16 percent of the wells in the WSJV study unit, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data from the groundwater samples. Blanks rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, suggesting that contamination from sample collection procedures was not a significant source of bias in the data for the groundwater samples. Replicate samples all were within acceptable limits of variability. Matrix-spike recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for approximately 87 percent of the compounds.

This study did not evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers. After withdrawal, groundwater typically is treated, disinfected, and (or) blended with other waters to maintain water quality. Regulatory benchmarks apply to water that is delivered 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 non-regulatory health-based benchmarks established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and CDPH, and to non-regulatory benchmarks established for aesthetic concerns by CDPH. Comparisons between data collected for this study and benchmarks for drinking water are for illustrative purposes only and are not indicative of compliance or non-compliance with those benchmarks.

Most inorganic constituents detected in groundwater samples from the 39 grid wells were detected at concentrations less than health-based benchmarks. Detections of organic and special-interest constituents from grid wells sampled in the WSJV study unit also were less than health-based benchmarks.

In total, VOCs were detected in 12 of the 39 grid wells sampled (approximately 31 percent), pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 9 grid wells (approximately 23 percent), and perchlorate was detected in 15 grid wells (approximately 38 percent).

Trace elements, major and minor ions, and nutrients were sampled for at 39 grid wells; most concentrations were less than health-based benchmarks. Exceptions include two detections of arsenic greater than the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL-US) of 10 micrograms per liter (μg/L), 20 detections of boron greater than the CDPH notification level (NL-CA) of 1,000 μg/L, 2 detections of molybdenum greater than the USEPA lifetime health advisory level (HAL-US) of 40 μg/L, 1 detection of selenium greater than the MCL-US of 50 μg/L, 2 detections of strontium greater than the HAL-US of 4,000 μg/L, and 3 detections of nitrate greater than the MCL-US of 10 μg/L.

Results for inorganic constituents with non-health-based benchmarks (iron, manganese, chloride, sulfate, and TDS) showed that iron concentrations greater than the CDPH secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL-CA) of 300 μg/L were detected in five grid wells. Manganese concentrations greater than the SMCL-CA of 50 μg/L were detected in 16 grid wells. Chloride concentrations greater than the recommended SMCL-CA benchmark of 250 milligrams per liter (mg/L) were detected in 14 grid wells, and concentrations in 5 of these wells also were greater than the upper SMCL-CA benchmark of 500 mg/L. Sulfate concentrations greater than the recommended SMCL-CA benchmark of 250 mg/L were measured in 21 grid wells, and concentrations in 13 of these wells also were greater than the SMCL-CA upper benchmark of 500 mg/L. TDS concentrations greater than the SMCL-CA recommended benchmark of 500 mg/L were measured in 36 grid wells, and concentrations in 20 of these wells also were greater than the SMCL-CA upper benchmark of 1,000 mg/L.