Ground-water quality in the approximately 1,630 square-mile Owens and Indian Wells Valleys study unit (OWENS) was investigated in September-December 2006 as part of the Priority Basin Project of 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 collaboration with the California State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB).
The Owens and Indian Wells Valleys study was designed to provide a spatially unbiased assessment of raw ground-water quality within OWENS study unit, as well as a statistically consistent basis for comparing water quality throughout California. Samples were collected from 74 wells in Inyo, Kern, Mono, and San Bernardino Counties. Fifty-three of the wells were selected using a spatially distributed, randomized grid-based method to provide statistical representation of the study area (grid wells), and 21 wells were selected to evaluate changes in water chemistry in areas of interest (understanding wells).
The ground-water samples were analyzed for a large number of synthetic organic constituents [volatile organic compounds (VOCs), pesticides and pesticide degradates, pharmaceutical compounds, and potential wastewater- indicator compounds], constituents of special interest [perchlorate, N-nitrosodimethylamine (NDMA), and 1,2,3- trichloropropane (1,2,3-TCP)], naturally occurring inorganic constituents [nutrients, major and minor ions, and trace elements], radioactive constituents, and microbial indicators. Naturally occurring isotopes [tritium, and carbon-14, and stable isotopes of hydrogen and oxygen in water], and dissolved noble gases also were measured to help identify the source and age of the sampled ground water.
This study evaluated the quality of raw ground water in the aquifer in the OWENS study unit and did not attempt to evaluate the quality of treated water delivered to consumers. Water supplied to consumers typically is treated after withdrawal from the ground, disinfected, and blended with other waters to maintain acceptable water quality. Regulatory thresholds apply to treated water that is served to the consumer, not to raw ground water. However, to provide some context for the results, concentrations of constituents measured in the raw ground water were compared with regulatory and non-regulatory health-based thresholds established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA) and California Department of Public Health (CDPH) and non-regulatory thresholds established for aesthetic concerns (secondary maximum contamination levels, SMCL-CA) by CDPH.
VOCs and pesticides were detected in samples from less than one-third of the grid wells; all detections were below health-based thresholds, and most were less than one-one hundredth of threshold values. All detections of perchlorate and nutrients in samples from OWENS were below health-based thresholds.
Most detections of trace elements in ground-water samples from OWENS wells were below health-based thresholds. In samples from the 53 grid wells, three constituents were detected at concentrations above USEPA maximum contaminant levels: arsenic in 5 samples, uranium in 4 samples, and fluoride in 1 sample. Two constituents were detected at concentrations above CDPH notification levels (boron in 9 samples and vanadium in 1 sample), and two were above USEPA lifetime health advisory levels (molybdenum in 3 samples and strontium in 1 sample). Most of the samples from OWENS wells had concentrations of major elements, TDS, and trace elements below the non-enforceable standards set for aesthetic concerns. Samples from nine grid wells had concentrations of manganese, iron, or TDS above the SMCL-CAs.