Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the North San Francisco Bay Shallow Aquifer study unit, 2012; California GAMA Priority Basin Project (ver. 1.1, February 2018)

Scientific Investigations Report 2017-5051
Prepared in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board
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Abstract

Groundwater quality in the North San Francisco Bay Shallow Aquifer study unit (NSF-SA) was investigated as part of the Priority Basin Project of the California Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The study unit is in Marin, Mendocino, Napa, Solano, and Sonoma Counties and included two physiographic study areas: the Valleys and Plains area and the surrounding Highlands area. The NSF-SA focused on groundwater resources used for domestic drinking water supply, which generally correspond to shallower parts of aquifer systems than that of groundwater resources used for public drinking water supply in the same area. The assessments characterized the quality of untreated groundwater, not the quality of drinking water.

This study included three components: (1) a status assessment, which characterized the status of the quality of the groundwater resources used for domestic supply for 2012; (2) an understanding assessment, which evaluated the natural and human factors potentially affecting water quality in those resources; and (3) a comparison between the groundwater resources used for domestic supply and those used for public supply.

The status assessment was based on data collected from 71 sites sampled by the U.S. Geological Survey for the GAMA Priority Basin Project in 2012. To provide context, concentrations of constituents measured in groundwater were compared to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and California State Water Resources Control Board Division of Drinking Water regulatory and non-regulatory benchmarks for drinking-water quality. The status assessment used a grid-based method to estimate the proportion of the groundwater resources that has concentrations of water-quality constituents approaching or above benchmark concentrations. This method provides statistically unbiased results at the study-area scale and permits comparisons to other GAMA Priority Basin Project study areas.

In the NSF-SA study unit as a whole, inorganic constituents with human-health benchmarks were detected at high relative concentrations (RCs) in 27 percent of the shallow aquifer system, and inorganic constituents with secondary maximum contaminant levels (SMCL) were detected at high RCs in 24 percent of the system. The inorganic constituents detected at high RCs were arsenic, boron, fluoride, manganese, nitrate, iron, sulfate, and total dissolved solids (TDS). Organic constituents with human-health benchmarks were detected at high RCs in 1 percent of the shallow aquifer system. Of the 148 organic constituents analyzed, 30 constituents were detected, although only 1, chloroform, had a detection frequency greater than 10 percent.

Natural and anthropogenic factors that could affect the groundwater quality were evaluated by using results from statistical testing of associations between constituent concentrations and values of potential explanatory factors. Groundwater age class (modern, mixed, or pre-modern), redox class (oxic or anoxic), aquifer lithology class (metamorphic, sedimentary, or volcanic), and dissolved oxygen concentrations were the explanatory factors that explained distribution patterns of most of the inorganic constituents best. Groundwater classified primarily as pre-modern or mixed in age was associated with higher concentrations of arsenic and fluoride than waters classified as modern. Anoxic or mixed redox conditions were associated with higher concentrations of boron, fluoride, and manganese. Similar patterns of association with explanatory variables were seen for inorganic constituents with aesthetic-based benchmarks detected at high concentrations. Nitrate and perchlorate had higher concentrations in oxic than in the anoxic redox class and were positively correlated with urban land use.

The NSF-SA water-quality results were compared to those of the GAMA North San Francisco Bay Public-Supply Aquifer study unit (NSF-PA). The NSF-PA was sampled in 2004 and covers much of the same area as the NSF-SA, but focused on the deeper public-supply aquifer system. The comparison of the NSF-PA to the NSF-SA showed that there were more differences between the Valleys and Plains study areas of the two study units than between the Highlands study areas of the two study units. As expected from the shallower depth of wells, the NSF-SA Valleys and Plains study area had a lesser proportion of pre-modern age groundwater and greater proportion of modern age groundwater than the NSF-PA Valleys and Plains study area. In contrast, well depths and groundwater ages were not significantly different between the two Highlands study areas. Arsenic, manganese, and nitrate were present at high RCs, and perchlorate was detected in greater proportions of the NSF-SA Valleys and Plains study area than the NSF-PA Valleys and Plains study area.

Suggested Citation

Bennett, G.L., V, 2018, Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the North San Francisco Bay Shallow Aquifer study unit, 2012; California GAMA Priority Basin Project (ver. 1.1, February 2018): U.S. Geological Survey Scientific Investigations Report 2017–5051, 74 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/sir20175051.

ISSN: 2328-0328 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Acknowledgments
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Hydrogeologic Setting
  • Methods
  • Potential Explanatory Factors
  • Status and Understanding of Groundwater Quality in the Shallow Aquifer System
  • Comparison of Shallow and Public-Supply Aquifer Systems
  • Summary
  • References Cited
  • Tables 
  • Appendix 1. Attribution of Potential Explanatory Factors

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Status and understanding of groundwater quality in the North San Francisco Bay Shallow Aquifer study unit, 2012; California GAMA Priority Basin Project (ver. 1.1, February 2018)
Series title Scientific Investigations Report
Series number 2017-5051
DOI 10.3133/sir20175051
Edition Version 1.0: Originally posted July 20, 2017; Version 1.1: February 22, 2018
Year Published 2018
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description Report: x, 74 p.
Country United States
State California
Other Geospatial North San Francisco Bay Shallow Aquifer study unit
Online Only (Y/N) Y