Federal scientists launch Tahoe groundwater study | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Federal scientists launch Tahoe groundwater study

Jeff Munson

A statewide plan to determine all nutrients, organics and contaminants in California’s water supplies is under way, with researchers preparing a study next week of the Lake Tahoe Basin’s area groundwater supplies.

Scientists from the U.S. Geological Survey will present their plans to study untreated well water from the Lake Tahoe and Martis groundwater basins today. The meeting, conducted by the State Water Resources Control Board and the USGS, is set for 1 to 3 p.m. at the South Tahoe Public Utility District, 1275 Meadow Crest Drive, South Lake Tahoe.

The State Water Board’s Groundwater Ambient Monitoring and Assessment Program is partnering with the USGS and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratories to sample drinking water wells in 35 groundwater basin “study units” throughout California. The USGS is the project lead for assessments.

One such common occurring contaminant in the Sierra Nevada range is radon. It is considered to be at such low levels that it is usually undetectable and should not be a public concern, said James Nickles, spokesman for USGS. Miranda Fram, hydrologist for the USGS, added that local water suppliers are aware of all naturally occurring elements in groundwater.

Beginning next week the USGS will sample drinking water wells in the Martis basin and in the northern, western and southern portions of the Tahoe basin. Scientists will also sample water from mountain springs and drinking water wells in the Tahoe and Martis watersheds that are outside groundwater basins. The sampling will be finished by the end of August, and a report on the data is expected to be available in about a year.

The assessment is designed to characterize water quality in groundwater basins. It does not evaluate the quality of water delivered to consumers, said James Nickles, spokesman for the USGS. After withdrawal from the ground, water is typically treated or mixed to maintain water quality before consumers receive it.

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“We are looking at hundreds of different contaminants, both natural and man made that contain minute concentrations of substances,” Nickles said. “What we will do is take this information that we gather from these studies, create a statewide data base, establish some trends, look at threats and ask ourselves how can we manage our basins better.”

With the cooperation of local water agencies, the non-regulatory program is testing well water in every major groundwater basin in California over a 10-year period.

The goal is to improve statewide groundwater monitoring and facilitate the availability of information about groundwater quality to the public.