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Data Series 688

A product of the California Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program
Prepared in cooperation with the California State Water Resources Control Board

Groundwater-Quality Data in the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau Study Unit, 2010: Results from the California GAMA Program

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

Thumbnail of and link to report PDF (10.7 MB)Abstract

Groundwater quality in the 39,000-square-kilometer Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau (CAMP) study unit was investigated by the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) from July through October 2010, as part of the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment (GAMA) Program’s Priority Basin Project (PBP). The GAMA PBP was developed in response to the California Groundwater Quality Monitoring Act of 2001 and is being conducted in collaboration with the SWRCB and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (LLNL). The CAMP study unit is the thirty-second study unit to be sampled as part of the GAMA PBP.

The GAMA CAMP study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of untreated-groundwater quality in the primary aquifer system and to facilitate statistically consistent comparisons of untreated-groundwater quality throughout California. The primary aquifer system is defined as that part of the aquifer corresponding to the open or screened intervals of wells listed in the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) database for the CAMP study unit. The quality of groundwater in shallow or deep water-bearing zones may differ from the quality of groundwater in the primary aquifer system; shallow groundwater may be more vulnerable to surficial contamination.

In the CAMP study unit, groundwater samples were collected from 90 wells and springs in 6 study areas (Sacramento Valley Eastside, Honey Lake Valley, Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau Low Use Basins, Shasta Valley and Mount Shasta Volcanic Area, Quaternary Volcanic Areas, and Tertiary Volcanic Areas) in Butte, Lassen, Modoc, Plumas, Shasta, Siskiyou, and Tehama Counties. Wells and springs were selected by using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study unit (grid wells).

Groundwater samples were analyzed for field water-quality indicators, organic constituents, perchlorate, inorganic constituents, radioactive constituents, and microbial indicators. Naturally occurring isotopes and dissolved noble gases also were measured to provide a dataset that will be used to help interpret the sources and ages of the sampled groundwater in subsequent reports. In total, 221 constituents were investigated for this study.

Three types of quality-control samples (blanks, replicates, and matrix spikes) were collected at approximately 10 percent of the wells in the CAMP study unit, and the results for these samples were used to evaluate the quality of the data for the groundwater samples. Blanks rarely contained detectable concentrations of any constituent, suggesting that contamination from sample collection procedures was not a significant source of bias in the data for the groundwater samples. Replicate samples generally were within the limits of acceptable analytical reproducibility. Matrix-spike recoveries were within the acceptable range (70 to 130 percent) for approximately 90 percent of the compounds.

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

All organic constituents and most inorganic constituents that were detected in groundwater samples from the 90 grid wells in the CAMP study unit were detected at concentrations less than drinking-water benchmarks.

Of the 148 organic constituents analyzed, 27 were detected in groundwater samples; concentrations of all detected constituents were less than regulatory and nonregulatory health-based benchmarks, and all were less than 1/10 of benchmark levels. One or more organic constituents were detected in 52 percent of the grid wells in the CAMP study unit: VOCs were detected in 30 percent, and pesticides and pesticide degradates were detected in 31 percent.

Trace elements, major ions, nutrients, and radioactive constituents were sampled for at 90 grid wells in the CAMP study unit, and most detected concentrations were less than health-based benchmarks. Exceptions include three detections of arsenic greater than the USEPA maximum contaminant level (MCL-US) of 10 micrograms per liter (µg/L), two detections of boron greater than the CDPH notification level (NL-CA) of 1,000 µg/L, two detections of molybdenum greater than the USEPA lifetime health advisory level (HAL-US) of 40 µg/L, two detections of vanadium greater than the CDPH notification level (NL-CA) of 50 µg/L, one detection of nitrate, as nitrogen, greater than the MCL-US of 10 milligrams per liter (mg/L), two detections of uranium greater than the MCL-US of 30 µg/L and the MCL-CA of 20 picocuries per liter (pCi/L), one detection of radon-222 greater than the proposed MCL-US of 4,000 pCi/L, and two detections of gross alpha particle activity greater than the MCL-US of 15 pCi/L.

Results for inorganic constituents with non-regulatory benchmarks set for aesthetic concerns showed that iron concentrations greater than the CDPH secondary maximum contaminant level (SMCL-CA) of 300 µg/L were detected in four grid wells. Manganese concentrations greater than the SMCL-CA of 50 µg/L were detected in nine grid wells. Chloride and TDS were detected at concentrations greater than the upper SMCL-CA benchmarks of 500 mg/L and 1,000 mg/L, respectively, in one grid well.

Microbial indicators (total coliform and Escherichia coli [E. coli]) were detected in 11 percent of the 83 grid wells sampled for these analyses in the CAMP study unit. The presence of total coliform was detected in nine grid wells, and the presence of E. coli was detected in one of these same grid wells.

First posted March 6, 2013

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

Part or all of this report is presented in Portable Document Format (PDF); the latest version of Adobe Reader or similar software is required to view it. Download the latest version of Adobe Reader, free of charge.

Suggested citation:

Shelton, J.L., Fram, M.S., and Belitz, Kenneth, 2013, Groundwater-quality data in the Cascade Range and Modoc Plateau study unit, 2010—Results from the California GAMA Program: U.S. Geological Survey Data Series 688, 124 p.




Hydrologic Setting


Water-Quality Results

Future Work



References Cited


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