Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the Bear Valley and Lake Arrowhead Watershed Study Unit, 2010: California GAMA Priority Basin Project
Groundwater quality in the 112-square-mile Bear Valley and Lake Arrowhead Watershed (BEAR) study unit was investigated as part of the Priority Basin Project (PBP) of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The study unit comprises two study areas (Bear Valley and Lake Arrowhead Watershed) in southern California in San Bernardino County. The GAMA-PBP is conducted by the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) in cooperation with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.
The GAMA BEAR study was designed to provide a spatially balanced, robust assessment of the quality of untreated (raw) groundwater from the primary aquifer systems in the two study areas of the BEAR study unit. The assessment is based on water-quality collected by the USGS from 38 sites (27 grid and 11 understanding) during 2010 and on water-quality data from the SWRCB-Division of Drinking Water (DDW) database. The primary aquifer system is defined by springs and the perforation intervals of wells listed in the SWRCB-DDW water-quality database for the BEAR study unit.
This study included two types of assessments: (1) a status assessment, which characterized the status of the quality of the groundwater resource as of 2010 by using data from samples analyzed for volatile organic compounds, pesticides, and naturally present inorganic constituents, such as major ions and trace elements, and (2) an understanding assessment, which evaluated the natural and human factors potentially affecting the groundwater quality. The assessments were intended to characterize the quality of groundwater resources in the primary aquifer system of the BEAR study unit, not the treated drinking water delivered to consumers. Bear Valley study area and the Lake Arrowhead Watershed study area were also compared statistically on the basis of water-quality results and factors potentially affecting the groundwater quality.
Relative concentrations (RCs), which are sample concentration of a particular constituent divided by its associated health- or aesthetic-based benchmark concentrations, were used for evaluating the groundwater quality for those constituents that have Federal or California regulatory or non-regulatory benchmarks for drinking-water quality. An RC greater than 1.0 indicates a concentration greater than a benchmark. Organic (volatile organic compounds and pesticides) and special-interest (perchlorate) constituent RCs were classified as “high” (RC greater than 1.0), “moderate” (RC less than or equal to 1.0 and greater than 0.1), or “low” (RC less than or equal to 0.1). For inorganic (radioactive, trace element, major ion, and nutrient) constituents, the boundary between low and moderate RCs was set at 0.5.
Aquifer-scale proportion was used as the primary metric in the status assessment for evaluating groundwater quality at the study-unit scale or for its component areas. High aquifer-scale proportion was defined as the percentage of the area of the primary aquifer system with a RC greater than 1.0 for a particular constituent or class of constituents; the percentage is based on area rather than volume. Moderate and low aquifer-scale proportions were defined as the percentage of the primary aquifer system with moderate and low RCs, respectively. A spatially weighted statistical approach was used to evaluate aquifer-scale proportions for individual constituents and classes of constituents.
The status assessment for the Bear Valley study area found that inorganic constituents with health-based benchmarks were detected at high RCs in 9.0 percent of the primary aquifer system and at moderate RCs in 13 percent. The high RCs of inorganic constituents primarily reflected high aquifer-scale proportions of fluoride (in 5.4 percent of the primary aquifer system) and arsenic (3.6 percent). The RCs of organic constituents with health-based benchmarks were high in 1.0 percent of the primary aquifer system, moderate in 8.1 percent, and low in 70 percent. Organic constituents were detected in 79 percent of the primary aquifer system. Two groups of organic constituents and two individual organic constituents were detected at frequencies greater than 10 percent of samples from the USGS grid sites: trihalomethanes (THMs), solvents, methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE), and simazine. The special-interest constituent perchlorate was detected in 93 percent of the primary aquifer system; it was detected at moderate RCs in 7.1 percent and at low RCs in 86 percent.
The status assessment in the Lake Arrowhead Watershed study area showed that inorganic constituents with human-health benchmarks were detected at high RCs in 25 percent of the primary aquifer system and at moderate RCs in 41 percent. The high aquifer-scale proportion of inorganic constituents primarily reflected high aquifer-scale proportions of radon‑222 (in 62 percent of the primary aquifer system) and uranium (26 percent). RCs of organic constituents with health-based benchmarks were moderate in 7.7 percent of the primary aquifer system and low in 46 percent. Organic constituents were detected in 54 percent of the primary aquifer system. The only organic constituents that were detected at frequencies greater than 10 percent of samples from the USGS grid sites were THMs. Perchlorate was detected in 62 percent of the primary aquifer system at uniformly low RCs.
The second component of this study, the understanding assessment, identified the natural and human factors that could have affected the groundwater quality in the BEAR study unit by evaluating statistical correlations between water-quality constituents and potential explanatory factors. The potential explanatory factors evaluated were land use (including density of septic tanks and leaking or formerly leaking underground fuel tanks), site type, aquifer lithology, well construction (well depth and depth to the top-of-perforated interval), elevation, aridity index, groundwater-age distribution, and oxidation-reduction condition (including pH and dissolved oxygen concentration). Results of the statistical evaluations were used to explain the distribution of constituents in groundwater of the BEAR study unit.
In the Bear Valley study area, high and moderate RCs of fluoride were found in sites known to be influenced by hydrothermic conditions or that had high concentrations of fluoride historically. The high RC of arsenic can likely be attributed to desorption of arsenic from aquifer sediments saturated in old groundwater with high pH under reducing conditions. The THMs were detected more frequently at USGS grid sites that were wells, part of a large urban water system, and surrounded by urban land use. Solvents, MTBE, and simazine were all detected more frequently at USGS grid sites that were wells with a greater urban percentage of surrounding land use and that accessed older groundwater than other USGS grid sites. Comparison between the observed and predicted detection frequencies of perchlorate at USGS grid sites indicated that anthropogenic sources could have contributed to low levels of perchlorate in the groundwater of the Bear Valley study area.
In the Lake Arrowhead Watershed study area, high and moderate RCs of radon-222 and uranium can be attributed to older groundwater from the granitic fractured-rock primary aquifer system. Low RCs of THMs were detected at USGS grid sites that were wells and part of small water systems. The similarities between the observed and predicted detection frequencies of perchlorate in samples from USGS grid sites indicated that the source and distribution of perchlorate were most likely attributable to precipitation (rain and snow), with minimal, if any, contribution from anthropogenic sources.
Mathany, T.M., and Burton, C.A., 2017, Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the Bear Valley and Lake Arrowhead Watershed Study Unit, 2010: California GAMA Priority Basin Project: U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5043, 71 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175043.
ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)
Table of Contents
- Hydrogeologic Setting
- Evaluation of Potential Explanatory Factors
- Status and Understanding of Water Quality
- References Cited
- Appendix 1. Attribution of Potential Explanatory Factors
- Appendix 2. Additional Water-Quality Data
Additional publication details
|Publication Subtype||USGS Numbered Series|
|Title||Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the Bear Valley and Lake Arrowhead Watershed Study Unit, 2010: California GAMA Priority Basin Project|
|Series title||Scientific Investigations Report|
|Publisher||U.S. Geological Survey|
|Publisher location||Reston, VA|
|Contributing office(s)||California Water Science Center|
|Description||xii, 71 p.|
|Other Geospatial||Bear Valley and Lake Arrowhead Watershed study unit|
|Online Only (Y/N)||Y|
|Google Analytic Metrics||Metrics page|