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Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the South Coast Interior groundwater basins, 2008: California GAMA Priority Basin Project

May 14, 2014

Groundwater quality in the approximately 653-square-mile (1,691-square-kilometer) South Coast Interior Basins (SCI) study unit was investigated as part of the Priority Basin Project of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The South Coast Interior Basins study unit contains eight priority groundwater basins grouped into three study areas, Livermore, Gilroy, and Cuyama, in the Southern Coast Ranges hydrogeologic province. The GAMA Priority Basin Project is being conducted by the California State Water Resources Control Board in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The GAMA South Coast Interior Basins study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of untreated (raw) groundwater quality within the primary aquifer system, as well as a statistically consistent basis for comparing water quality between basins. The assessment was based on water-quality and ancillary data collected by the USGS from 50 wells in 2008 and on water-quality data from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) database. The primary aquifer system was defined by the depth intervals of the wells listed in the CDPH database for the SCI study unit. The quality of groundwater in the primary aquifer system may be different from that in the shallower or deeper water-bearing zones; shallow groundwater may be more vulnerable to surficial contamination.

The first component of this study, the status of the current quality of the groundwater resource, was assessed by using data from samples analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides, and naturally occurring inorganic constituents, such as trace elements and minor ions. This status assessment is intended to characterize the quality of groundwater resources within the primary aquifer system of the SCI study unit, not the treated drinking water delivered to consumers by water purveyors.

Relative-concentrations (sample concentration divided by the health- or aesthetic-based benchmark concentration) were used for evaluating groundwater quality for those constituents that have Federal or California regulatory or non-regulatory benchmarks for drinking-water quality. A relative-concentration greater than 1.0 indicates a concentration greater than a benchmark, and a relative-concentration less than or equal to 1.0 indicates a concentration equal to or less than a benchmark. Relative-concentrations of organic constituents and special-interest constituents were classified as “high” (relative-concentration greater than 1.0), “moderate” (relative-concentration greater than 0.1 and less than or equal to 1.0), or “low” (relative-concentration less than or equal to 0.1). Relative-concentrations of inorganic constituents were classified as “high” (relative-concentration greater than 1.0), “moderate” (relative-concentration greater than 0.5 and less than or equal to 1.0), or “low” (relative-concentration less than or equal to 0.5).

Aquifer-scale proportion was used as the primary metric in the status assessment for evaluating regional-scale groundwater quality. High aquifer-scale proportion is defined as the percentage of the area of the primary aquifer system with a relative-concentration greater than 1.0 for a particular constituent or class of constituents; percentage is based on an areal rather than a volumetric basis. Moderate and low aquifer-scale proportions were defined as the areal percentage of the primary aquifer system with moderate and low relative-concentrations, respectively. Two statistical approaches—grid-based and spatially weighted—were used to evaluate aquifer-scale proportions for individual constituents and classes of constituents. Grid-based and spatially weighted estimates were comparable in the SCI study unit (within 90-percent confidence intervals).

Inorganic constituents (one or more) with health-based benchmarks were detected at high relative-concentrations in 29 percent of the primary aquifer system, at moderate relative-concentrations in 37 percent, and at low relative-concentrations in 34 percent. High aquifer-scale proportions of inorganic constituents primarily reflected high aquifer-scale proportions of nitrate (14 percent), boron (8.6 percent), molybdenum (8.6 percent), and arsenic (5.7 percent). In contrast, the relative-concentrations of organic constituents (one or more) were high in 1.6 percent, moderate in 2.0 percent, and low or not detected in 96 percent of the primary aquifer system. Of the 207 organic and special-interest constituents analyzed for, 15 constituents were detected. Perchlorate was found at moderate relative-concentrations in 34 percent of the aquifer. Two organic constituents were frequently detected (in greater than 10 percent of samples): the trihalomethane chloroform and the herbicide simazine.

The second component of this study, the understanding assessment, identified natural and human factors that may have affected groundwater quality by evaluating land use, physical characteristics of the wells, and geochemical conditions of the aquifer. This evaluation was done by using statistical tests of correlations between these potential explanatory factors and water-quality data. Concentrations of arsenic, molybdenum, and manganese were generally greater in anoxic and pre-modern groundwater than other groundwater. In contrast, concentrations of nitrate and perchlorate were significantly higher in oxic and modern groundwater. Concentrations of simazine were greater in modern than pre-modern groundwater. Chloroform detections were positively correlated with greater urban land use. Boron concentrations and chloroform detections were higher in the Livermore study area than in the other study areas of the SCI; total dissolved solids and sulfate concentrations were greater in the Cuyama study area.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2014
Title Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the South Coast Interior groundwater basins, 2008: California GAMA Priority Basin Project
DOI 10.3133/sir20145023
Authors Mary C. Parsons, Justin T. Kulongoski, Kenneth Belitz
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2014-5023
Index ID sir20145023
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center