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Groundwater quality data in the Mojave study unit, 2008: Results from the California GAMA Program

October 10, 2009

Groundwater quality in the approximately 1,500 square-mile Mojave (MOJO) study unit was investigated from February to April 2008, as part of the Priority Basin Project of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The GAMA Priority Basin Project was developed in response to the Groundwater Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 and is being conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). MOJO was the 23rd of 37 study units to be sampled as part of the GAMA Priority Basin Project.

The MOJO study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of the quality of untreated ground water used for public water supplies within MOJO, and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of groundwater quality throughout California. Samples were collected from 59 wells in San Bernardino and Los Angeles Counties. Fifty-two of the wells were selected using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study area (grid wells), and seven were selected to aid in evaluation of specific water-quality issues (understanding wells).

The groundwater samples were analyzed for a large number of organic constituents [volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides and pesticide degradates, and pharmaceutical compounds], constituents of special interest (perchlorate and N-nitrosodimethylamine [NDMA]) naturally occurring inorganic constituents (nutrients, dissolved organic carbon [DOC], major and minor ions, silica, total dissolved solids [TDS], and trace elements), and radioactive constituents (gross alpha and gross beta radioactivity, radium isotopes, and radon-222). Naturally occurring isotopes (stable isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, stable isotopes of nitrogen and oxygen in nitrate, and activities of tritium and carbon-14), and dissolved noble gases also were measured to help identify the sources and ages of the sampled ground water. In total, over 230 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 5–8 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 for the groundwater samples. Differences between replicate samples generally were within acceptable ranges, indicating acceptable analytical reproducibility. Matrix spike recoveries were within acceptable ranges 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, or blended with other waters to maintain water quality. Regulatory thresholds apply to water that is served to the consumer, not to untreated ground water. However, to provide some context for the results, concentrations of constituents measured in the untreated ground water were compared with regulatory and non-regulatory health-based thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and 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 non-compliance with those thresholds.

Most constituents that were detected in groundwater samples in the 59 wells in MOJO were found at concentrations below drinking-water thresholds. In MOJO’s 52 grid wells, volatile organic compounds (VOCs) were detected in 40 percent of the wells, and pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 23 percent of the grid wells. Results for health-based thresholds in MOJO grid wells showed that all of the detections of organic compounds in samples from MOJO grid wells were below health-based thresholds, with the exception of a single detection of NDMA above the California Department of Public Health notification level (NL-CA).

Trace elements and radioactive constituents were sampled for at 19 MOJO grid wells and most detections were below health-based thresholds. Exceptions include: six detections of arsenic above the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL-US), two detections of boron and one detection of vanadium above the NL-CA, one detection each of molybdenum and strontium that were above the USEPA lifetime health advisory level (HAL-US), and one detection of fluoride just above the MCL-CA of 2 µg/L. Most detections of radioactive constituents in the MOJO grid wells were below health-based thresholds, with the exception of one detection of gross alpha radioactivity (72-hour count and 30-day count) above the MCL-CA, and 17 grid wells (of 19 sampled) that had activities of radon-222 above the proposed MCL-US of 300 pCi/L, but all were below the proposed alternative MCL-US of 4,000 pCi/L.

All of the samples collected from the 19 MOJO grid wells for trace elements, and most of the samples for major ions and total dissolved solids (TDS), had measured concentrations below the non-enforceable thresholds set for aesthetic concerns. Four grid wells had TDS concentrations above the California Department of Public Health secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL-CA) recommended threshold of 500 mg/L, and three of these wells were also above the SMCL-CA upper threshold of 1,000 mg/L. Four grid wells (of 19 sampled) had sulfate measured at concentrations above the recommended SMCL-CA threshold of 250 mg/L, and one of these detections was also above the upper SMCL-CA threshold of 500 mg/L. One grid well had chloride levels at a concentration above the upper SMCL-CA threshold of 500 mg/L. Eleven grid wells (of 52 sampled) had pH values outside of the SMCL-US range for pH.

Publication Year 2009
Title Groundwater quality data in the Mojave study unit, 2008: Results from the California GAMA Program
DOI 10.3133/ds440
Authors Timothy M. Mathany, Kenneth Belitz
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Data Series
Series Number 440
Index ID ds440
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center