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Areal distribution of selected trace elements, salinity, and major ions in shallow ground water, Tulare Basin, Southern San Joaquin Valley, California

December 1, 1995

The distribution of salinity and selected trace elements in shallow ground water in the Tulare Basin, California, was assessed to evaluate potential problems related to disposal in evaporation ponds of irrigation drain water containing elevated concentrations of selenium and other trace elements. The constituents of primary concern were selenium, arsenic, and salinity; uranium, boron, and molybdenum also were evaluated. Samples from 117 shallow wells were analyzed, and the results for samples from 110 of the wells were interpreted in relation to surficial geology, sediment depositional environment, soil characteristics, and hydrologic processes to determine the geochemical and hydrologic factors affecting the distribution of these constituents in ground water.

In general, shallow ground water in areas where concentrations of salinity and most trace elements are elevated is influenced primarily by sediments derived from marine sedimentary rocks originating in the Coast Range, San Emigdio Mountains, and Tehachapi Mountains, and probably by unusual exposures of similar marine formations in the Sierra Nevada. Ground water in areas where concentrations of salinity and trace elements are significantly lower generally is influenced by igneous and metamorphic rocks exposed in the Sierra Nevada.

In addition to sources of sediments, evaporation of shallow ground water, as indicated by isotopic enrichment of oxygen-18 and deuterium, increases salinity and concentrations of conservative trace elements such as selenium (under oxidizing conditions) and boron. Redox conditions affect the oxidation state of all trace elements of concern, except boron, and were found to be a major influence on trace-element solubility. Under oxidized conditions, selenate predominates and behaves conservatively, and arsenate predominates and is affected by sorption reactions that can limit arsenic solubility. Under reduced conditions, selenium is reduced to insoluble elemental selenium and arsenite predominates and generally is more soluble than arsenate. 

Elevated concentrations of uranium in shallow ground water probably are associated with uranium deposits in Kern County and other parts of the basin where oxidized conditions cause the more soluble uranyl species to predominate. Boron was correlated with salinity and behaved conservatively, whereas adsorption and precipitation of molybdenum minerals probably limited molybdenum solubility.

Interrelations among constituents were examined with principal component analysis. The first two principal components explained 50.7 percent of the variance in the data. The first principal component was related to salinity, and the second principal component was related to redox conditions, reflecting two of the major influences on shallow groundwater quality found in this study.

Publication Year 1995
Title Areal distribution of selected trace elements, salinity, and major ions in shallow ground water, Tulare Basin, Southern San Joaquin Valley, California
DOI 10.3133/wri954048
Authors Roger Fujii, Walter C. Swain
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Water-Resources Investigations Report
Series Number 95-4048
Index ID wri954048
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse