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Data Series 455

In cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board

Groundwater-Quality Data in the Madera–Chowchilla Study Unit, 2008: Results from the California GAMA Program

By Jennifer L. Shelton, Miranda S. Fram, and Kenneth Belitz


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Groundwater quality in the approximately 860-square-mile Madera–Chowchilla study unit (MADCHOW) was investigated in April and May 2008 as part of the Priority Basin Project of the Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program. The GAMA Priority Basin Project was developed in response to the Groundwater Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 and is being conducted by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).

The study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of the quality of raw groundwater used for public water supplies within MADCHOW, and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of groundwater quality throughout California. Samples were collected from 35 wells in Madera, Merced, and Fresno Counties. Thirty of the wells were selected using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study area (grid wells), and five more were selected to provide additional sampling density to aid in understanding processes affecting groundwater quality (flow-path wells). Detection summaries in the text and tables are given for grid wells only, to avoid over-representation of the water quality in areas adjacent to flow-path wells.

Groundwater samples were analyzed for a large number of synthetic organic constituents (volatile organic compounds [VOCs], low-level 1,2-dibromo-3-chloropropane [DBCP] and 1,2-dibromoethane [EDB], pesticides and pesticide degradates, polar pesticides and metabolites, and pharmaceutical compounds), constituents of special interest (N-nitrosodimethylamine [NDMA], perchlorate, and low-level 1,2,3-trichloropropane [1,2,3-TCP]), naturally occurring inorganic constituents (nutrients, major and minor ions, and trace elements), and radioactive constituents (uranium isotopes, and gross alpha and gross beta particle activities). Naturally occurring isotopes and geochemical tracers (stable isotopes of hydrogen, oxygen, and carbon, and activities of tritium and carbon-14), and dissolved noble gases also were measured to help identify the sources and ages of the sampled groundwater. In total, approximately 300 constituents and field water-quality indicators were investigated.

Three types of quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and samples for matrix spikes) each were collected at approximately 11 percent of the wells sampled for each analysis, and the results obtained from these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for the groundwater samples. Field blanks rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, suggesting that data for the groundwater samples were not compromised by possible contamination during sample collection, handling or analysis. Differences between replicate samples were within acceptable ranges. Matrix spike recoveries were within acceptable ranges for most compounds.

This study did not attempt to evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers; after withdrawal from the ground, raw groundwater typically is treated, disinfected, or blended with other waters to maintain water quality. Regulatory thresholds apply to water that is served to the consumer, not to raw groundwater. However, to provide some context for the results, concentrations of constituents measured in the raw groundwater were compared with regulatory and non-regulatory health-based thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and the California Department of Public Health (CDPH), and with aesthetic and technical thresholds established by CDPH. Comparisons between data collected for this study and drinking-water thresholds are for illustrative purposes only, and are not indicative of compliance or non-compliance with regulatory thresholds.

The concentrations of most constituents detected in groundwater samples from MADCHOW wells were below drinking-water thresholds. Organic compounds (VOCs and pesticides) were detected in about 40 percent of the samples from grid wells, and most concentrations were less than 1/100 of regulatory or non-regulatory health-based thresholds, although the concentrations of low-level DBCP in 10 percent and low-level EDB in 3 percent of the samples from grid wells were above the corresponding USEPA maximum contaminant levels (MCL-USs). Perchlorate was detected in 70 percent of the samples from grid wells, and most concentrations were less than one-tenth of the CDPH maximum contaminant level (MCL-CA). Low-level 1,2,3-TCP was detected in 33 percent of the samples from grid wells, and all concentrations were less than 1/1,000 of the USEPA lifetime health advisory level (HAL-US). Most concentrations of trace elements and nutrients in samples were below regulatory and non-regulatory health-based thresholds. Concentrations were above the MCL-US for nitrate in 7 percent of the samples from grid wells, for arsenic and uranium in 13 percent each of the samples from grid wells; and the concentration of vanadium was above the CDPH notification level (NL–CA) in 3 percent of the samples from grid wells. Detections of radioactive constituents were below regulatory and non-regulatory health-based thresholds in most samples. Combined activities of uranium isotopes were detected above the MCL-CA in 20 percent of the subset of 25 grid well samples analyzed, and gross alpha particle activity was detected above the MCL-US in 20 percent of the samples from the 30 total grid wells. Most of the samples from MADCHOW grid wells had concentrations of major and minor ions, total dissolved solids, and trace elements below the CDPH secondary maximum contaminant levels (SMCL-CAs), which are nonenforceable thresholds set for aesthetic and technical concerns. Twenty percent of the samples from grid wells contained specific-conductance values, or concentrations of chloride, total dissolved solids, or manganese above the respective SMCL–CAs.

Revised December 2, 2009

First posted November 12, 2009

For additional information contact:
Director, California Water Science Center
U.S. Geological Survey
6000 J Street, Placer Hall
Sacramento, California 95819

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Suggested citation:

Shelton, J.L., Fram, M.S., and Belitz, Kenneth, 2009, Groundwater-quality data for the Madera–Chowchilla study unit, 2008: Results from the California GAMA program: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 455, 80 p.





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