In 1997, the U.S. Geological Survey installed and sampled 28 wells in rice areas in the Sacramento Valley as part of the National Water-Quality Assessment Program. The purpose of the study was to assess the shallow ground-water quality and to determine whether any effects on water quality could be related to human activities and particularly rice agriculture. The wells installed and sampled were between 8.8 and 15.2 meters deep, and water levels were between 0.4 and 8.0 meters below land surface. Ground-water samples were analyzed for 6 field measurements, 29 inorganic constituents, 6 nutrient constituents, dissolved organic carbon, 86 pesticides, tritium (hydrogen- 3), deuterium (hydrogen-2), and oxygen-18. At least one health-related state or federal drinking-water standard (maximum contaminant or long-term health advisory level) was exceeded in 25 percent of the wells for barium, boron, cadmium, molybdenum, or sulfate. At least one state or federal secondary maximum contaminant level was exceeded in 79 percent of the wells for chloride, iron, manganese, specific conductance, or dissolved solids. Nitrate and nitrite were detected at concentrations below state and federal 2000 drinking-water standards; three wells had nitrate concentrations greater than 3 milligrams per liter, a level that may indicate impact from human activities. Ground-water redox conditions were anoxic in 26 out of 28 wells sampled (93 percent). Eleven pesticides and one pesticide degradation product were detected in ground-water samples. Four of the detected pesticides are or have been used on rice crops in the Sacramento Valley (bentazon, carbofuran, molinate, and thiobencarb). Pesticides were detected in 89 percent of the wells sampled, and rice pesticides were detected in 82 percent of the wells sampled. The most frequently detected pesticide was the rice herbicide bentazon, detected in 20 out of 28 wells (71 percent); the other pesticides detected have been used for rice, agricultural, and non-agricultural purposes. All pesticide concentrations were below state and federal 2000 drinking-water standards. The relation of the ground-water quality to natural processes and human activities was tested using statistical methods (Spearman rank correlation, Kruskal?Wallis, or rank-sum tests) to determine whether an influence from rice land-use or other human activities on ground-water chemistry could be identified. The detection of pesticides in 89 percent of the wells sampled indicates that human activities have affected shallow ground-water quality. Concentrations of dissolved solids and inorganic constituents that exceeded state or federal 2000 drinking-water standards showed a statistical relation to geomorphic unit. This is interpreted as a relation to natural processes and variations in geology in the Sacramento River Basin; the high concentrations of dissolved solids and most inorganic constituents did not appear to be related to rice land use. No correlation was found between nitrate concentration and pesticide occurrence, indicating that an absence of high nitrate concentrations is not a predictor of an absence of pesticide contamination in areas with reducing ground-water conditions in the Sacramento Valley. Tritium concentrations, pesticide detections, stable isotope data, and dissolved-solids concentrations suggest that shallow ground water in the ricegrowing areas of the Sacramento Valley is a mix of recently recharged ground water containing pesticides, nitrate, and tritium, and unknown sources of water that contains high concentrations of dissolved solids and some inorganic constituents and is enriched in oxygen-18. Evaporation of applied irrigation water, which leaves behind salt, accounts for some of the elevated concentrations of dissolved solids. More work needs to be done to understand the connections between the land surface, shallow ground water, deep ground water, and the drinking-water supplies in the Sacramento Valley.
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USGS Numbered Series
Shallow ground-water quality beneath rice areas in the Sacramento Valley, California, 1997