Ground-Water Quality in the Southeastern Sacramento Valley Aquifer, California, 1996

By Barbara J. Milby Dawson


Water-Resources Investigations Report 01-4125

Sacramento, California 2001
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In 1996, the U.S. Geological Survey sampled 29 domestic wells and 2 monitoring wells in the southeastern Sacramento Valley as part of the U.S. Geological Survey's National Water-Quality Assessment (NAWQA) Program. This area, designated as the NAWQA Sacramento subunit study area, was chosen because it had the largest amount of ground-water use in the Sacramento River Basin. The Sacramento subunit study area is about 4,400 square kilometers and includes intense agricultural and urban development. The wells sampled ranged from 14.9 to 79.2 meters deep. Ground-water samples from 31 wells were analyzed for 6 field measurements, 14 inorganic constituents, 6 nutrient constituents, organic carbon, 86 pesticides, 87 volatile organic compounds, tritium (hydrogen-3), radon-222, deuterium (hydrogen-2), and oxygen-18.

Nitrate levels were lower than the 2000 drinking-water standards in all but one well, but many detections were in the range that indicated an effect by human activities on ground-water quality. Radon was detected in all wells, and was measured at levels above the proposed Federal 2000 maximum contaminant level in 90 percent of the wells. Five pesticides and one pesticide degradation product were detected in ground-water samples and concentrations were below 2000 drinking-water standards. All pesticides detected during this study have been used in the Sacramento Valley. Thirteen volatile organic compounds were detected in ground water. One detection of trichloroethene was above Federal 2000 drinking-water standards, and another, tetrachloromethane, was above California 1997 drinking-water standards; both occurred in a well that had eight volatile organic compound detections and is near a known source of ground-water contamination. Pesticides and volatile organic compounds were detected in agricultural and urban areas; both pesticides and volatile organic compounds were detected at a higher frequency in urban wells.

Ground-water chemistry indicates that natural processes and human activities are affecting ground-water quality in the upper part of the southeastern Sacramento Valley aquifer. The factors identified as having an influence on ground-water quality were redox condition in the aquifer, depth within the aquifer, and land use overlying the aquifer. Nitrate concentra-tions showed a statistical correlation with each of these factors. Detections of pesticides and volatile organic compounds were too few to compare concentrations with the various factors, but the types of synthetic compounds detected were consistent with the sur-rounding land use. Sixty-one percent of the wells sampled in this study showed the effect of human activities on ground-water quality in the form of a nitrate concentration over 3 milligrams per liter or a detection of a pesticide or volatile organic compound. In general, the water quality in the southeastern Sacramento Valley aquifer was found suitable for most uses.




Purpose and Scope

Study Area Description

Climate and Population

Water Use and Land Use


Study Design and Methods

Study Area and Well Selection

Water Sample Collection and Analysis

Data Reporting and Analysis


Well Descriptions

Quality-Control Data Anlyses

Ground-Water Quality

General Water Chemistry

Inorganic Constituents

Nutrient Constituents

Dissolved Organic Carbon

Stable Isotopes




Volatile Organic Compounds

Factors Affecting Ground-Water Quality

Ground-Water Redox Condition

Depth to Water Table and Well Opening

Land Use, Pesticide Use, and Fertilizer Use

Summary and Conclusions

References Cited

Water Resources of California

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