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Desert aquifers contain high inorganic chemical levels

Desert regions of Southern California have been found to have high concentrations of inorganic elements such as arsenic, boron and fluoride in a larger percentage of aquifers compared to other California regions, according to a study by the US Geological Survey released Wednesday.

Thirty-five percent of the untreated groundwater used for public supply was found to contain these high levels of naturally occurring elements.

High levels are defined as above the maximum contaminant levels determined by the Environmental Protection Agency or California’s Department of Public Health.

The areas studied include the Mojave River area, Antelope Valley, Coachella Valley, Indian Wells Valley, Owens Valley and the Colorado River basin. Elsewhere in California, high levels of these inorganic elements are typically found in 10 to 25 percent of aquifers used for public supply.

The USGS did not analyze tap water, but only studied untreated groundwater. The groundwater is treated to meet health standards before being delivered to the public. The study’s focus was to improve statewide groundwater monitoring.

The findings do not mean the public supply of tap water is contaminated, according Lance Eckhart, principle hydrogeologist for the Mojave Water Agency.

“These natural elements are common in the Mojave and southwest areas,” Eckhart said. “Monitoring programs and rigorous water quality testing of drinking water in the region by local water purveyors and others ensure that the water in the region generally meets or exceeds all state standards and, as a whole, the water quality is good.”

High concentrations of organic elements such as solvents, gasoline components and pesticides were found in less than 1 percent of the desert regions’ aquifers.

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