Ground-water quality in the approximately 3,000 square-mile Kern County Subbasin study unit (KERN) was investigated from January to March, 2006, as part of the Priority Basin Assessment Project of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The GAMA Priority Basin Assessment project was developed in response to the Groundwater Quality Monitoring Act of 2001, and is being conducted by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in collaboration with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The Kern County Subbasin study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of raw (untreated) ground-water quality within KERN, as well as a statistically consistent basis for comparing water quality throughout California. Samples were collected from 50 wells within the San Joaquin Valley portion of Kern County. Forty-seven of the wells were selected using a randomized grid-based method to provide a statistical representation of the ground-water resources within the study unit. Three additional wells were sampled to aid in the evaluation of changes in water chemistry along regional ground-water flow paths. The ground-water samples were analyzed for a large number of man-made 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]), naturally occurring inorganic constituents (nutrients, major and minor ions, and trace elements), radioactive constituents, and microbial indicators. Naturally occurring isotopes (tritium, carbon-14, and stable isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, and carbon) and dissolved noble gases also were measured to help identify the source and age of the sampled ground water. Quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and laboratory matrix spikes) were collected and analyzed at approximately 10 percent of the wells, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data from the ground-water samples. Assessment of the quality-control information resulted in censoring of less than 0.4 percent of the data collected for ground-water samples. This study did not attempt to evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers; after withdrawal from the ground, raw ground water typically is treated, disinfected, or blended with other waters to maintain acceptable water quality. Regulatory thresholds apply, not to the raw ground water, but to treated water that is served to the consumer. However, to provide some context for the results, concentrations of constituents measured in the raw ground water were compared with health-based thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and as well as with thresholds established for aesthetic concerns (secondary maximum contaminant levels, SMCL-CA) by CDPH. VOCs and pesticides each were detected in approximately 60 percent of the grid wells, and detections of all compounds but one were below health-based thresholds. The fumigant, 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP), was detected above the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL-US) in one sample. Detections of most inorganic constituents were also below health-based thresholds. Constituents detected above health-based thresholds include: nitrate, (MCL-US, 2 samples), arsenic (MCL-US, 2 samples), and vanadium (California notification level, NL-CA, 1 sample). All detections of radioactive constituents were below health-based thresholds, although nine samples had activities of radon-222 above the lower proposed MCL-US. Most of the samples from KERN wells had concentrations of major elements, total dissolved solids, and trace elements below the non-enforceable thresholds set for aesthetic concerns.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Ground-Water Quality Data in the Kern County Subbasin Study Unit, 2006 - Results from the California GAMA Program