Groundwater quality in the 112-square-mile Bear Valley and Selected Hard Rock Areas (BEAR) study unit was investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from April to August 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 BEAR study unit was the thirty-first study unit to be sampled as part of the GAMA-PBP. The GAMA Bear Valley and Selected Hard Rock Areas 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 the zones corresponding to the perforation intervals of wells listed in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) database for the BEAR study unit. Groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system may differ from the quality in the shallow or deep water-bearing zones; shallow groundwater may be more vulnerable to surficial contamination. In the BEAR study unit, groundwater samples were collected from two study areas (Bear Valley and Selected Hard Rock Areas) in San Bernardino County. Of the 38 sampling sites, 27 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 11 sites were selected to aid in the understanding of the potential groundwater-quality issues associated with septic tank use and with ski areas in the study unit (understanding sites). The groundwater samples were analyzed for organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs], pesticides and pesticide degradates, pharmaceutical compounds, and wastewater indicator compounds [WICs]), constituents of special interest (perchlorate, N-nitrosodimethylamine [NDMA], and 1,2,3-trichloropropane [1,2,3-TCP]), and inorganic constituents (trace elements, nutrients, dissolved organic carbon [DOC], major and minor ions, silica, total dissolved solids [TDS], alkalinity, and arsenic and iron species), and uranium and other radioactive constituents (radon-222 and activities of tritium and carbon-14). Isotopic tracers (of hydrogen and oxygen in water, of nitrogen and oxygen in dissolved nitrate, of dissolved boron, isotopic ratios of strontium in water, and of carbon in dissolved inorganic carbon) and dissolved noble gases (argon, helium-4, krypton, neon, and xenon) were measured to help identify the sources and ages of sampled groundwater. In total, groundwater samples were analyzed for 289 unique constituents and 8 water-quality indicators in the BEAR study unit. Quality-control samples (blanks, replicate pairs, or matrix spikes) were collected at 13 percent of the sites in the BEAR study unit, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data from the groundwater samples. 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. Replicate pair samples all were within acceptable limits of variability. Matrix-spike sample recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for approximately 84 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 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 and special-interest constituents from grid sites sampled in the BEAR study unit were less than health-based benchmarks. In total, VOCs were detected in 17 of the 27 grid sites sampled (approximately 63 percent), pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 4 grid sites (approximately 15 percent), and perchlorate was detected in 21 grid sites (approximately 78 percent). Inorganic constituents (trace elements, major and minor ions, nutrients, and uranium and other radioactive constituents) were sampled for at 27 grid sites; most concentrations were less than health-based benchmarks. Exceptions include one detection of arsenic greater than the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL-US) of 10 micrograms per liter (μg/L), three detections of uranium greater than the MCL-US of 30 μg/L, nine detections of radon-222 greater than the proposed MCL-US of 4,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), and one detection of fluoride greater than the CDPH maximum contaminant level (MCL-CA) of 2 milligrams per liter. 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) in most grid sites. Exceptions include two detections of iron greater than the SMCL-CA of 300 μg/L and one detection of manganese greater than the SMCL-CA of 50 μg/L.
Additional publication details
USGS Numbered Series
Groundwater-quality data in the Bear Valley and Selected Hard Rock Areas study unit, 2010: Results from the California GAMA Program
California Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program