Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau study unit, 2010: California GAMA Priority Basin Project

Scientific Investigations Report 2014-5238
Prepared in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board
By:  and 

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Abstract

Groundwater quality in the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau study unit was investigated as part of the California State Water Resources Control Board’s Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program Priority Basin Project. The study was designed to provide a statistically unbiased assessment of untreated groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system. The depth of the primary aquifer system for the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau study unit was delineated by the depths of the screened or open intervals of wells in the State of California’s database of public-supply wells. Two types of assessments were made: a status assessment that described the current quality of the groundwater resource, and an understanding assessment that made evaluations of relations between groundwater quality and potential explanatory factors representing characteristics of the primary aquifer system. The assessments characterize the quality of untreated groundwater, not the quality of treated drinking water delivered to consumers by water distributors.

The status assessment was based on water-quality data collected in 2010 by the U.S. Geological Survey from 90 wells and springs (USGS-grid wells) and on water-quality data compiled from the State of California’s regulatory compliance database for samples collected from 240 public-supply wells between September 2007 and September 2010. To provide context, the water-quality data discussed in this report were compared to California and Federal drinking-water regulatory and non-regulatory benchmarks for treated drinking water. Groundwater quality is defined in terms of relative concentrations (RCs), which are calculated by dividing the concentration of a constituent in groundwater by the concentration of the benchmark for that constituent. The RCs for inorganic constituents (major ions, trace elements, nutrients, and radioactive constituents) were classified as “high” (the RC is greater than 1.0, indicating that the concentration is above the benchmark), “moderate” (the RC is from 1.0 to greater than 0.5), or “low” (the RC is less than or equal to 0.5). For organic constituents (volatile organic compounds and pesticides) and special-interest constituents (perchlorate), the boundary between moderate and low RCs was set at 0.1. All benchmarks used for organic constituents were health-based. For inorganic constituents, health-based and aesthetic-based benchmarks were used. Constituents without benchmarks were not considered in the status assessment.

The primary metric used for quantifying regional-scale groundwater quality was the aquifer-scale proportion—the areal percentages of the primary aquifer system with high, moderate, and low RCs for a given constituent or class of constituents. The study unit was divided into six study areas on the basis of geologic differences (Eastside Sacramento Valley, Honey Lake Valley groundwater basin, Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau Low Use Basins, Quaternary Volcanic Areas, Shasta Valley and Mount Shasta Volcanic Area, and Tertiary Volcanic Areas), and each study area was divided into equal-area grid cells. Aquifer-scale proportions were calculated for individual constituents and constituent classes for each of the six study areas and for the study unit as a whole by using grid-based (one well per cell) and spatially weighted (many wells per cell) statistical methods.

The status assessment showed that inorganic constituents were present at high and moderate RCs in greater proportions of the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau study unit than were organic constituents. One or more inorganic constituents with health-based benchmarks were present at high RCs in 9.4 percent, and at moderate RCs in 14.7 percent of the primary aquifer system. Arsenic was present at high RCs in approximately 3 percent of the primary aquifer system; boron, molybdenum, uranium, and vanadium each were present at high RCs in approximately 2 percent of the primary aquifer system. One or more inorganic constituents with aesthetic-based benchmarks were present at high RCs in 15.1 percent of the primary aquifer system and at moderate RCs in 4.9 percent. Manganese, iron, and total dissolved solids were present at high RCs in approximately 12 percent, 5 percent, and 2 percent, respectively, of the primary aquifer system.

Organic constituents were not detected at high or moderate RCs in the primary aquifer system, and one or more organic constituents were detected at low RCs in approximately 40 percent of the primary aquifer system.

Two classes of organic constituents were detected in more than 10 percent of the primary aquifer system: trihalomethanes (chloroform only) and herbicides. The special interest constituent perchlorate was not detected at high RCs, but was detected at moderate RCs in approximately 2 percent of the primary aquifer system.

The understanding assessment relied on statistical tests to evaluate relations between concentrations of constituents and values of potential explanatory factors representing geology, land use, well construction, hydrologic conditions, groundwater age, and geochemical conditions.

The majority of the high and moderate RCs of arsenic, boron, molybdenum, uranium, and total dissolved solids were in samples from the Honey Lake Valley groundwater basin study area. Groundwater mixing with hydrothermal fluids present in the study area, evaporative concentration of groundwater in the Honey Lake playa, presence of uranium-bearing sediment derived from the adjacent Sierra Nevada, and release of arsenic and other trace elements from sediments under high pH and low dissolved oxygen conditions all appeared to contribute to these elevated concentrations. Thermal springs are in many parts of the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau study unit and could account for locally elevated concentrations of arsenic, boron, molybdenum, and total dissolved solids in samples from the other study areas. Vanadium concentrations were greater in oxic samples than in anoxic samples, but were not correlated with pH, contrary to expectations from previous studies.

Organic constituents were not detected at high or moderate RCs, and the occurrence of low organic constituents at low RCs ranged from 27 percent to 73 percent of the primary aquifers system in the six study areas. The Shasta Valley and Mount Shasta Volcanic study area had significantly greater occurrence of low RCs of herbicides compared to all of the other study areas, which could reflect the greater prevalence of modern groundwater in the Shasta Valley and Mount Shasta Volcanic study area and the presence of potential sources of herbicides, including applications to timberlands and roadside rights-of-way. The Eastside Sacramento Valley study area had the greatest occurrence of low concentrations of chloroform, and chloroform occurrence was most strongly associated with the combination of septic-tank density greater than two tanks per square kilometer and urban land use greater than 10 percent within a radius of 500 meters of the well. These conditions were most prevalent in the Eastside Sacramento Valley study area. The detection frequency of low concentrations of perchlorate was consistent with the probability of occurrence expected under natural conditions, except in the Eastside Sacramento Valley study area, where detection frequencies were much higher than expected and could not be explained by known anthropogenic sources of perchlorate.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau study unit, 2010: California GAMA Priority Basin Project
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2014-5238
DOI 10.3133/sir20145238
Year Published 2015
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description xii, 131 p.
Public Comments A product of the California Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial Cascade Range, Modoc Plateau
Datum North American Datum of 1983
Projection Albers Equal Area Projection
Online Only (Y/N) Y
Additional Online Files (Y/N) N