The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program analyzed trends in groundwater quality throughout the nation for the sampling period of 1988-2012. Trends were determined for networks (sets of wells routinely monitored by the USGS) for a subset of constituents by statistical analysis of paired water-quality measurements collected on a near-decadal time scale. The data set for chloride, dissolved solids, and nitrate consisted of 1,511 wells in 67 networks, whereas the data set for methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE) consisted of 1, 013 wells in 46 networks. The 25 principal aquifers represented by these networks account for about 75 percent of withdrawals of groundwater used for drinking-water supply for the nation.
Statistically significant changes in chloride, dissolved-solids, or nitrate concentrations were found in many well networks over a decadal period. Concentrations increased significantly in 48 percent of networks for chloride, 42 percent of networks for dissolved solids, and 21 percent of networks for nitrate. Chloride, dissolved solids, and nitrate concentrations decreased significantly in 3, 3, and 10 percent of the networks, respectively. The magnitude of change in concentrations was typically small in most networks; however, the magnitude of change in networks with statistically significant increases was typically much larger than the magnitude of change in networks with statistically significant decreases. The largest increases of chloride concentrations were in urban areas in the northeastern and north central United States. The largest increases of nitrate concentrations were in networks in agricultural areas.
Statistical analysis showed 42 or the 46 networks had no statistically significant changes in MTBE concentrations. The four networks with statistically significant changes in MTBE concentrations were in the northeastern United States, where MTBE was widely used. Two networks had increasing concentrations, and two networks had decreasing concentrations. Production and use of MTBE peaked in about 2000 and has been effectively banned in many areas since about 2006. The two networks that had increasing concentrations were sampled for the second time close to the peak of MTBE production, whereas the two networks that had decreasing concentrations were sampled for the second time 10 years after the peak of MTBE production.