Groundwater quality in the 48-square-mile Santa Barbara study unit was investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from January to February 2011, 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 Santa Barbara study unit was the thirty-fourth study unit to be sampled as part of the GAMA-PBP.
The GAMA Santa Barbara 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 as those parts of the aquifers corresponding to the perforation intervals of wells listed in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) database for the Santa Barbara study unit. Groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system may differ from the quality in the shallower or deeper water-bearing zones; shallow groundwater may be more vulnerable to surficial contamination.
In the Santa Barbara study unit located in Santa Barbara and Ventura Counties, groundwater samples were collected from 24 wells. Eighteen of the wells were selected by using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study unit (grid wells), and six wells were selected to aid in evaluation of water-quality issues (understanding wells).
The groundwater samples were analyzed for organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs], pesticides and pesticide degradates, and pharmaceutical compounds); constituents of special interest (perchlorate and N-nitrosodimethylamine [NDMA]); naturally occurring inorganic constituents (trace elements, nutrients, major and minor ions, silica, total dissolved solids [TDS], alkalinity, and arsenic, chromium, and iron species); and radioactive constituents (radon-222 and gross alpha and gross beta radioactivity). Naturally occurring isotopes (stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water, stables isotopes of inorganic carbon and boron dissolved in water, isotope ratios of dissolved strontium, tritium activities, and carbon-14 abundances) and dissolved noble gases also were measured to help identify the sources and ages of the sampled groundwater. In total, 281 constituents and water-quality indicators were measured.
Three types of quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and matrix spikes) were collected at up to 12 percent of the wells in the Santa Barbara study unit, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for the groundwater samples. Blanks rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, suggesting that contamination from sample collection procedures was not a significant source of bias in the data for the groundwater samples. Replicate samples generally were within the limits of acceptable analytical reproducibility. Matrix-spike recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for approximately 82 percent of the compounds.
This study did not attempt to evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers; after withdrawal from the ground, untreated groundwater typically is treated, disinfected, and (or) blended with other waters to maintain water quality. Regulatory benchmarks apply to water that is served 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-regulatory benchmarks established for aesthetic concerns by 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 organic constituents and most inorganic constituents that were detected in groundwater samples from the 18 grid wells in the Santa Barbara study unit were detected at concentrations less than drinking-water benchmarks.
Of the 220 organic and special-interest constituents sampled for at the 18 grid wells, 13 were detected in groundwater samples; concentrations of all detected constituents were less than regulatory and non-regulatory health-based benchmarks. In total, VOCs were detected in 61 percent of the 18 grid wells sampled, pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 11 percent, and perchlorate was detected in 67 percent. Polar pesticides and their degradates, pharmaceutical compounds, and NDMA were not detected in any of the grid wells sampled in the Santa Barbara study unit.
Eighteen grid wells were sampled for trace elements, major and minor ions, nutrients, and radioactive constituents; most detected concentrations were less than health-based benchmarks. Exceptions are one detection of boron greater than the CDPH notification level (NL-CA) of 1,000 micrograms per liter (μg/L) and one detection of fluoride greater than the CDPH maximum contaminant level (MCL-CA) of 2 milligrams per liter (mg/L).
Results for constituents with non-regulatory benchmarks set for aesthetic concerns from the grid wells showed that iron concentrations greater than the CDPH secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL-CA) of 300 μg/L were detected in three grid wells. Manganese concentrations greater than the SMCL-CA of 50 μg/L were detected in seven grid wells. Chloride was detected at a concentration greater than the SMCL-CA recommended benchmark of 250 mg/L in four grid wells. Sulfate concentrations greater than the SMCL-CA recommended benchmark of 250 mg/L were measured in eight grid wells, and the concentration in one of these wells was also greater than the SMCL-CA upper benchmark of 500 mg/L. TDS concentrations greater than the SMCL-CA recommended benchmark of 500 mg/L were measured in 17 grid wells, and concentrations in six of these wells were also greater than the SMCL-CA upper benchmark of 1,000 mg/L.