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Groundwater-quality data in the Santa Cruz, San Gabriel, and Peninsular Ranges Hard Rock Aquifers study unit, 2011-2012: results from the California GAMA program

December 16, 2014

Groundwater quality in the 2,400-square-mile Santa Cruz, San Gabriel, and Peninsular Ranges Hard Rock Aquifers (Hard Rock) study unit was investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from March 2011 through March 2012, 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 Hard Rock study unit was the 35th study unit to be sampled as part of the GAMA-PBP.


The GAMA Hard Rock 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 those parts of the aquifers corresponding to the perforation intervals of wells listed in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) water-quality-monitoring database for the Hard Rock 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 Hard Rock study unit, groundwater samples were collected from 112 wells and springs in 3 study areas (the Santa Cruz, the San Gabriel, and the Peninsular Ranges) in San Mateo, Santa Clara, Santa Cruz, San Benito, Los Angeles, Orange, Riverside, San Bernardino, and San Diego Counties. Eighty-three wells and 11 springs were selected by using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study unit (grid wells), and 15 wells and 3 springs were selected to aid in evaluation of water-quality issues (understanding wells).


The groundwater samples were analyzed for field water-quality indicators; organic constituents; one constituent of special interest (perchlorate); naturally occurring inorganic constituents; and radioactive constituents. Naturally occurring isotopes and dissolved noble gases were also measured to help identify the sources and ages of the sampled groundwater. In total, 209 constituents and water-quality indicators were measured.


Three types of quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and matrix spikes) were collected at approximately 10 percent of the wells in the Hard Rock study unit, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for 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 generally were within the limits of acceptable analytical reproducibility. Median matrix-spike recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for approximately 92 percent of the 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 benchmarks 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 benchmarks established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and CDPH, and to nonregulatory benchmarks established for aesthetic concerns by the 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.


All organic constituents and most inorganic constituents that were detected in groundwater samples from the 112 wells in the Hard Rock study unit were detected at concentrations less than drinking-water benchmarks.


Of the 149 organic and special-interest constituents, 34 were detected in groundwater samples; concentrations of all detected constituents were less than regulatory and nonregulatory health-based benchmarks. In total, VOCs were detected in 44 percent of the 94 grid wells sampled, pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 18 percent, and perchlorate was detected in 48 percent.


Trace elements, nutrients, major and minor ions, and radioactive constituents were sampled for at 94 grid wells; most detected concentrations were less than health-based benchmarks. Exceptions in the Hard Rock study unit grid wells include 3 detections of arsenic greater than the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL-US) of 10 micrograms per liter (μg/L), 3 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, 2 detections of nitrite plus nitrate (as nitrogen) greater than the MCL-US of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L), 3 detections of fluoride greater than the CDPH maximum contaminant level (MCL-CA) of 2 mg/L, 5 detections of radon-222 greater than the proposed MCL-US of 4,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), and 11 detections of unadjusted gross alpha radioactivity greater than the MCL-US of 15 pCi/L. Seven of the 11 samples having unadjusted gross alpha activity greater than the MCL-US also had total uranium concentrations greater than the MCL-US of 30 μg/L and (or) uranium activities greater than the MCL-CA of 20 pCi/L.


Results for constituents with nonregulatory benchmarks set for aesthetic concerns showed that iron concentrations greater than the CDPH secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL-CA) of 300 μg/L were detected in samples from 19 grid wells. Manganese concentrations greater than the SMCL-CA of 50 μg/L were detected in 27 grid wells. Chloride was detected at a concentration greater than the SMCL-CA upper benchmark of 500 mg/L in one grid well. TDS concentrations in three grid wells were greater than the SMCL-CA upper benchmark of 1,000 mg/L.

Publication Year 2014
Title Groundwater-quality data in the Santa Cruz, San Gabriel, and Peninsular Ranges Hard Rock Aquifers study unit, 2011-2012: results from the California GAMA program
DOI 10.3133/ds874
Authors Tracy A. Davis, Jennifer L. Shelton
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Data Series
Series Number 874
Index ID ds874
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center