USGS groundwater survey of California deserts finds high concentrations of inorganic chemicals

By on January 11, 2013

A U.S. Geological Survey study of groundwater in southern California desert regions found high concentrations of naturally occurring inorganic elements in contrast with very little man-made pollutants, according to a USGS release.

Arsenic, boron, fluoride, gross-alpha radioactivity, molybdenum, strontium, vanadium, and uranium were found in 35 percent of wells tested by the USGS from 2006 to 2008.  The highest concentrations were found in parts of Owens Valley, Antelope Valley, the Mojave, Coachella Valley, Colorado River Basin and Indian Wells Valley.

These elements are likely naturally occurring in desert rocks and soils. Groundwater absorbs the elements as it contacts them.

Surveyors found less than one percent of desert aquifers had man-made chemicals like gasoline or fertilizer in water.

The survey did not test treated tap water.  Click here to see USGS’ catalog of up-to-date California groundwater conditions.

Image: The Mojave Desert (Credit: Theschmallfella, via Wikimedia Commons)


  1. Richard Makdisi

    January 25, 2013 at 11:11 am

    What were the concentrations of the metals in groundwater relative to their respective drinking water standards?

    • Austen Verrilli

      February 4, 2013 at 3:44 pm

      Hi Richard,

      Sorry for the late reply! Here is a link to the full report. There are several charts comparing contaminant levels to water quality standards from pages 20-25. I believe that should answer your question.


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