The Priority Basin Project (PBP) of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program was developed in response to the Groundwater Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 and is being conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB). The GAMA-PBP began sampling, primarily public supply wells in May 2004. By the end of February 2006, seven (of what would eventually be 35) study units had been sampled over a wide area of the State. Selected wells in these first seven study units were resampled for water quality from August 2007 to November 2008 as part of an assessment of temporal trends in water quality by the GAMA-PBP.
The initial sampling was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of the quality of raw groundwater used for public water supplies within the seven study units. In the 7 study units, 462 wells were selected by using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study area. Wells selected this way are referred to as grid wells or status wells. Approximately 3 years after the initial sampling, 55 of these previously sampled status wells (approximately 10 percent in each study unit) were randomly selected for resampling. The seven resampled study units, the total number of status wells sampled for each study unit, and the number of these wells resampled for trends are as follows, in chronological order of sampling: San Diego Drainages (53 status wells, 7 trend wells), North San Francisco Bay (84, 10), Northern San Joaquin Basin (51, 5), Southern Sacramento Valley (67, 7), San Fernando–San Gabriel (35, 6), Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley Basins (91, 11), and Southeast San Joaquin Valley (83, 9).
The groundwater samples were analyzed for a large number of synthetic organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs], pesticides, and pesticide degradates), constituents of special interest (perchlorate, N-nitrosodimethylamine [NDMA], and 1,2,3-trichloropropane [1,2,3-TCP]), and naturally-occurring inorganic constituents (nutrients, major and minor ions, and trace elements). Naturally-occurring isotopes (tritium, carbon-14, and stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water) also were measured to help identify processes affecting groundwater quality and the sources and ages of the sampled groundwater. Nearly 300 constituents and water-quality indicators were investigated.
Quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and samples for matrix spikes) were collected at 24 percent of the 55 status wells resampled for trends, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for the groundwater samples. Field blanks rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, suggesting that contamination was not a noticeable source of bias in the data for the groundwater samples. Differences between replicate samples were mostly within acceptable ranges, indicating acceptably low variability in analytical results. Matrix-spike recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for 75 percent of the compounds for which matrix spikes were collected.
This study did not attempt to evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers. After withdrawal, groundwater typically is treated, disinfected, and blended with other waters to maintain acceptable water quality. The benchmarks used in this report apply to treated water that is served to the consumer, not to untreated groundwater. To provide some context for the results, however, concentrations of constituents measured in these groundwater samples were compared with benchmarks established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and California Department of Public Health (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.
Most constituents that were detected in groundwater samples from the trend wells were found at concentrations less than drinking-water benchmarks. Four VOCs—trichloroethene, tetrachloroethene, 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane, and methyl tert-butyl ether—were detected in one or more wells at concentrations greater than their health-based benchmarks, and six VOCs were detected in at least 10 percent of the samples during initial sampling or resampling of the trend wells. No pesticides were detected at concentrations near or greater than their health-based benchmarks. Three pesticide constituents—atrazine, deethylatrazine, and simazine—were detected in more than 10 percent of the trend-well samples during both sampling periods. Perchlorate, a constituent of special interest, was detected more frequently, and at greater concentrations during resampling than during initial sampling, but this may be due to a change in analytical method between the sampling periods, rather than to a change in groundwater quality. Another constituent of special interest, 1,2,3-TCP, was also detected more frequently during resampling than during initial sampling, but this pattern also may not reflect a change in groundwater quality. Samples from several of the wells where 1,2,3-TCP was detected by low-concentration-level analysis during resampling were not analyzed for 1,2,3-TCP using a low-level method during initial sampling. Most detections of nutrients and trace elements in samples from trend wells were less than health-based benchmarks during both sampling periods. Exceptions include nitrate, arsenic, boron, and vanadium, all detected at concentrations greater than their health-based benchmarks in at least one well during both sampling periods, and molybdenum, detected at concentrations greater than its health-based benchmark during resampling only. The isotopic ratios of oxygen and hydrogen in water and tritium and carbon-14 activities generally changed little between sampling periods, suggesting that the predominant sources and ages of groundwater in most trend wells were consistent between the sampling periods.