Groundwater quality in the 8,806-square-mile Klamath Mountains (KLAM) study unit was investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from October to December 2010, as part of the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program’s Priority Basin Project (PBP). The GAMA-PBP was developed in response to the California Groundwater Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 and is being conducted in collaboration with the SWRCB and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The KLAM study unit was the thirty-third study unit to be sampled as part of the GAMA-PBP.
The GAMA Klamath Mountains study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of untreated-groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of untreated-groundwater quality throughout California. The primary aquifer system is defined by the perforation intervals of wells listed in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) database for the KLAM study unit. Groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system may differ from the quality in the shallower or deeper water-bearing zones; shallower groundwater may be more vulnerable to surficial contamination.
In the KLAM study unit, groundwater samples were collected from sites in Del Norte, Siskiyou, Humboldt, Trinity, Tehama, and Shasta Counties, California. Of the 39 sites sampled, 38 were selected by using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the primary aquifer system in the study unit (grid sites), and the remaining site was non-randomized (understanding site).
The groundwater samples were analyzed for basic field parameters, organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs] and pesticides and pesticide degradates), inorganic constituents (trace elements, nutrients, major and minor ions, total dissolved solids [TDS]), radon-222, gross alpha and gross beta radioactivity, and microbial indicators (total coliform and Escherichia coli [E. coli]). Isotopic tracers (stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water, isotopic ratios of dissolved strontium in water, and stable isotopes of carbon in dissolved inorganic carbon), dissolved noble gases, and age-dating tracers (tritium and carbon-14) were measured to help identify sources and ages of sampled groundwater.
Quality-control samples (field blanks, replicate sample pairs, and matrix spikes) were collected at 13 percent of the sites in the KLAM study unit, and the results were used to evaluate the quality of the data from the groundwater samples. Field blank samples rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, indicating that contamination from sample collection or analysis was not a significant source of bias in the data for the groundwater samples. More than 99 percent of the replicate pair samples were within acceptable limits of variability. Matrix-spike sample recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for approximately 91 percent of the compounds.
This study did not evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers. After withdrawal, groundwater typically is treated, disinfected, and (or) blended with other waters to maintain water quality. Regulatory benchmarks apply to water that is delivered to the consumer, not to untreated groundwater. However, to provide some context for the results, concentrations of constituents measured in the untreated groundwater were compared with regulatory and non-regulatory health-based benchmarks established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and CDPH, and to non-health-based benchmarks established for aesthetic concerns by the 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.
All concentrations of organic constituents from grid sites sampled in the KLAM study unit were less than health-based benchmarks. In total, VOCs were detected in 16 of the 38 grid sites sampled (approximately 42 percent), pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 8 grid sites (about 21 percent), and microbial indicators were detected in 14 grid sites (approximately 37 percent).
Inorganic constituents (trace elements, major and minor ions, nutrients, and uranium and other radioactive constituents) and microbial indicators were sampled for at 38 grid sites, and all concentrations were less than health-based benchmarks, with the exception of one detection of boron greater than the CDPH notification level of 1,000 micrograms per liter (μg/L). Generally, concentrations of inorganic constituents with non-health-based benchmarks (iron, manganese, chloride, and TDS) were less than the CDPH secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL-CA). Exceptions include three detections of iron greater than the SMCL-CA of 300 μg/L, four detections of manganese greater than the SMCL-CA of 50 μg/L, one detection of chloride greater than the recommended SMCL-CA of 250 μg/L, and one detection of TDS greater than the recommended SMCL-CA of 500 μg/L.