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Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the Sacramento Metropolitan Domestic-Supply Aquifer study unit, 2017—California GAMA Priority Basin Project

May 26, 2022

Groundwater quality in the Sacramento Metropolitan Domestic-Supply Aquifer study unit (SacMetro-DSA) was studied from August to November 2017 as part of the second phase of the Priority Basin Project of the California Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The study unit is in parts of Amador, Placer, Sacramento, and Sutter Counties, and the extent of the study unit was defined by the location of three California Department of Water Resources groundwater subbasins: the North American, the South American, and the Cosumnes. The SacMetro-DSA focused on groundwater resources used for domestic drinking-water supply, which generally correspond to shallower parts of aquifer systems than those of groundwater resources used for public drinking water supply in the same area. The assessments characterized the quality of untreated groundwater, not the quality of drinking water.

This study included two components: (1) a status assessment, which characterized the status of the quality of the groundwater resources used for domestic supply and (2) an understanding assessment, which evaluated the natural and human factors potentially affecting water quality in those resources. The first component of this study—the status assessment—was based on water-quality data collected from 49 sites sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey for the GAMA Priority Basin Project in 2017. The samples were analyzed for volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and naturally present inorganic constituents, such as major ions and trace elements. To provide context, concentrations of constituents measured in groundwater were compared to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water regulatory and non-regulatory benchmarks for drinking-water quality. The status assessment used a grid-based method to estimate the proportion of the groundwater resources that had concentrations of water-quality constituents approaching or above benchmark concentrations. This method provides statistically unbiased results at the study-area scale and permits comparisons to other GAMA Priority Basin Project study areas. The second component of this study—the understanding assessment—identified the natural and human factors that potentially affect groundwater quality by evaluating land-use characteristics, groundwater age, and geochemical and hydrologic conditions of the domestic-supply aquifer and related these data to constituents identified in the status assessment for further evaluation.

In the SacMetro-DSA study unit, arsenic was the only inorganic constituent detected above health-based benchmarks and was detected in 10 percent of the domestic-supply aquifer system. Inorganic constituents were detected above the non-health-based California State Water Resources Control Board—Division of Drinking Water secondary maximum contaminant levels (SMCL-CA) in 16 percent of the system. The inorganic constituents detected above the SMCL-CA were chloride, iron, manganese, and total dissolved solids (TDS). Organic constituents (volatile organic compounds and pesticides) with health-based benchmarks were not detected above health-based benchmarks; however, chloroform was detected at concentrations higher than 10 percent of the health-based benchmark (80 micrograms per liter) in 2 percent of the domestic-supply aquifer system. Of the 310 organic constituents analyzed, 16 constituents were detected; however, only bentazon and chloroform had detection frequencies greater than 10 percent.

Inorganic constituents with health-based benchmarks that were evaluated in the understanding assessment included arsenic and hexavalent chromium. Arsenic and hexavalent chromium are natural constituents of aquifer sediments in the study unit and did not appear to be influenced by anthropogenic processes; rather, the presence of arsenic and hexavalent chromium appeared to be related to geochemical conditions controlled by oxidation–reduction reactions in the aquifer system. Naturally occurring inorganic constituents with SMCL-CAs evaluated in the understanding assessment were the trace elements iron and manganese, the major ion chloride, and TDS. Like arsenic and hexavalent chromium, the presence of iron and manganese was most strongly related to geochemical conditions in the aquifer system, specifically reducing conditions, which were most common near the western edge of the study unit close to the Sacramento River. Concentrations of chloride and TDS are indicators of salinity and were correlated with variables related to well location and included redox, agricultural land use, and elevation. Chloride and TDS were positively correlated to reducing conditions, and agricultural land use was negatively correlated to elevation and well depth. Observed correlations among variables were likely driven by the characteristics of the western part of the study unit, such as its higher proportion of agricultural land use and its relatively low elevation. A large portion of the western edge of the study unit is located in the center of the Sacramento Valley, defined by the location of the Sacramento River. The special-interest constituent perchlorate, also included in the understanding assessment, has natural and anthropogenic sources. Perchlorate was detected frequently and at moderate relative concentrations. In some areas of the study unit, concentrations of perchlorate were higher than what might be expected in nature; therefore, anthropogenic introduction of perchlorate or anthropogenically induced migration of native perchlorate could be occurring.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2022
Title Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the Sacramento Metropolitan Domestic-Supply Aquifer study unit, 2017—California GAMA Priority Basin Project
DOI 10.3133/sir20225021
Authors George L. Bennett V
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2022-5021
Index ID sir20225021
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center