Groundwater quality in the Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley groundwater basins, California

Fact Sheet 2011-3089
U.S. Geological Survey and the California State Water Resources Control Board
By:  and 



The Monterey-Salinas study unit is nearly 1,000 square miles and consists of the Santa Cruz Purisima Formation Highlands, Felton Area, Scotts Valley, Soquel Valley, West Santa Cruz Terrace, Salinas Valley, Pajaro Valley, and Carmel Valley groundwater basins (California Department of Water Resources, 2003; Kulongski and Belitz, 2011). These basins were grouped into four study areas based primarily on geography. Groundwater basins in the north were grouped into the Santa Cruz study area, and those to the south were grouped into the Monterey Bay, the Salinas Valley, and the Paso Robles study areas (Kulongoski and others, 2007). The study unit has warm, dry summers and cool, moist winters. Average annual rainfall ranges from 31 inches in Santa Cruz in the north to 13 inches in Paso Robles in the south. The study areas are drained by several rivers and their principal tributaries: the Salinas, Pajaro, and Carmel Rivers, and San Lorenzo Creek. The Salinas Valley is a large intermontane valley that extends southeastward from Monterey Bay to Paso Robles. It has been filled, up to a thickness of 2,000 feet, with Tertiary and Quaternary marine and terrestrial sediments that overlie granitic basement. The Miocene-age Monterey Formation and Pliocene- to Pleistocene-age Paso Robles Formation, and Pleistocene to Holocene-age alluvium contain freshwater used for supply. The primary aquifers in the study unit are defined as those parts of the aquifers corresponding to the perforated intervals of wells listed in the California Department of Public Health database. Public-supply wells are typically drilled to depths of 200 to 650 feet, consist of solid casing from the land surface to depths of about 175 to 500 feet, and are perforated below the solid casing. Water quality in the primary aquifers may differ from that in the shallower and deeper parts of the aquifer system. Groundwater movement is generally from the southern part of the Salinas Valley north towards the Monterey Bay. Land use in the study unit is about 44 percent (%) natural (mostly grassland and forests), 43% agricultural, and 13% urban. The primary agricultural uses are row crops, pasture, hay, and vineyards. The largest urban areas are the cities of Santa Cruz, Watsonville, Monterey, Salinas, King City, and Paso Robles. Recharge to the groundwater system is primarily from stream-channel infiltration from the major rivers and their tributaries, and from infiltration of water from precipitation and irrigation. The primary sources of discharge are water pumped for irrigation and municipal supply, evaporation, and discharge to streams.

Study Area

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype USGS Numbered Series
Title Groundwater quality in the Monterey Bay and Salinas Valley groundwater basins, California
Series title Fact Sheet
Series number 2011-3089
DOI 10.3133/fs20113089
Year Published 2011
Language English
Publisher U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location Reston, VA
Contributing office(s) California Water Science Center
Description 4 p.
State California
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