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Status of groundwater quality in the Southern, Middle, and Northern Sacramento Valley study units, 2005-08: California GAMA Priority Basin Project

April 29, 2011

Groundwater quality in the Southern, Middle, and Northern Sacramento Valley study units was investigated as part of the Priority Basin Project of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The study units are located in California’s Central Valley and include parts of Butte, Colusa, Glenn, Placer, Sacramento, Shasta, Solano, Sutter, Tehama, Yolo, and Yuba Counties. The GAMA Priority Basin Project is being conducted by the California State Water Resources Control Board in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

The three study units were designated to provide spatially-unbiased assessments of the quality of untreated groundwater in three parts of the Central Valley hydrogeologic province, as well as to provide a statistically consistent basis for comparing water quality regionally and statewide. Samples were collected in 2005 (Southern Sacramento Valley), 2006 (Middle Sacramento Valley), and 2007–08 (Northern Sacramento Valley).

The GAMA studies in the Southern, Middle, and Northern Sacramento Valley were designed to provide statistically robust assessments of the quality of untreated groundwater in the primary aquifer systems that are used for drinking-water supply. The assessments are based on water-quality data collected by the USGS from 235 wells in the three study units in 2005–08, and water-quality data from the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) database. The primary aquifer systems (hereinafter, referred to as primary aquifers) assessed in this study are defined by the depth intervals of the wells in the CDPH database for each study unit. The quality of groundwater in shallow or deep water-bearing zones may differ from quality of groundwater in the primary aquifers; shallow groundwater may be more vulnerable to contamination from the surface.

The status of the current quality of the groundwater resource was assessed by using data from samples analyzed for volatile organic compounds (VOC), pesticides, and naturally occurring inorganic constituents, such as major ions and trace elements. This status assessment is intended to characterize the quality of groundwater resources within the primary aquifers of the three Sacramento Valley study units, not the treated drinking water delivered to consumers by water purveyors.

Relative-concentrations (sample concentrations divided by benchmark concentrations) 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. For organic (volatile organic compounds and pesticides) and special-interest (perchlorate) constituents, relative-concentrations were classified as high (greater than 1.0); moderate (equal to or less than 1.0 and greater than 0.1); or low (equal to or less than 0.1). For inorganic (major ion, trace element, nutrient, and radioactive) constituents, the boundary between low and moderate relative-concentrations was set at 0.5.

Aquifer-scale proportions were used 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 aquifers that have 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 percentage of the primary aquifers that have moderate and low relative-concentrations, respectively. Two statistical approaches—grid-based, which used one value per grid cell, and spatially-weighted, which used the full dataset—were used to calculate aquifer-scale proportions for individual constituents and classes of constituents.

High and moderate aquifer-scale proportions were significantly greater for inorganic constituents than organic constituents in all three study units. In the Southern Sacramento Valley study unit, relative-concentrations for one or more inorganic constituents with health-based benchmarks (HBBs) were high in 30 percent (%), moderate in 30%, and low in 40% of the primary aquifer. In the Middle Sacramento Valley study unit, aquifer-scale proportions for inorganic constituents with HBBs were high in 24%, moderate in 38%, and low in 38% of the primary aquifer. Arsenic, boron, and nitrate were detected at high relative-concentrations in the Southern and Middle Sacramento Valley study units. In the Northern Sacramento Valley study unit, high, moderate, and low relative-concentrations of inorganic constituents relative to HBBs were 2.1, 12, and 86% of the primary aquifer, respectively. Arsenic was the only constituent detected at high relative-concentrations. The high aquifer-scale proportions for inorganic constituents with non-health-based benchmarks were 32, 27, and 4.6% of the primary aquifer for the Southern, Middle, and Northern Sacramento Valley study units, respectively.

The high aquifer-scale proportions for organic constituents with HBBs were less than 1% in the Southern, Middle, and Northern Sacramento Valley study units. Organic constituents were detected at moderate relative-concentrations in about 3% of the Southern and Middle Sacramento Valley study units and in 1% of the Northern Sacramento Valley study unit. Of the 227 organic constituents analyzed for, 86 were detected, and of those detected, 56 have HBBs. Six organic constituents (atrazine, bentazon, chloroform, simazine, tetrachloroethene, and trichloroethene) were detected in 10% or more of the sampled wells in one or more of the three Sacramento Valley study units.

Citation Information

Publication Year 2011
Title Status of groundwater quality in the Southern, Middle, and Northern Sacramento Valley study units, 2005-08: California GAMA Priority Basin Project
DOI 10.3133/sir20115002
Authors George L. Bennett V, Miranda S. Fram, Kenneth Belitz
Publication Type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Series Title Scientific Investigations Report
Series Number 2011-5002
Index ID sir20115002
Record Source USGS Publications Warehouse
USGS Organization California Water Science Center

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