Environmental science students at the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board office.
Environmental science students at the Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board office.

IoES students study contamination levels to help clean up L.A.’s Groundwater Basin

On June 12 a team of Environmental Science seniors met with the Southern California Regional Water Quality Control Board to present the findings of a year-long research effort that analyzed toxic substances in the southwestern part of the Los Angeles Coastal Plain in Los Angeles County.

The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board (LARWQCB) intends to shift from concentration-based regulation of groundwater pollution to policies centered around contaminant mass estimations. As a step toward establishing mass-based regulation, the LARWQCB tasked an Environmental Science Practicum team with building a pollutant mass-estimate model for the West Coast section of the Los Angeles Groundwater Basin. The project’s goal was to calculate the mass of volatile organic compounds (VOCs), some of which have been associated with adverse health effects ranging from neurological issues to cancer, within the study area.MassMaps

The team created an automated, self-optimizing model that incorporated a geostatistical interpolation method called Kriging, geological properties, VOC properties, and non-detect data treatment to produce a total mass estimate as well as maps that visually represent the distribution of VOC mass. This model can help inform the LARWQCB of groundwater contamination on a holistic scale to more effectively plan for monitoring, assessment, permit issuance, and enforcement.

Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology graduate student Travis Brooks advised the group of undergraduates that included Soseh Baboumian, Maya Keiko Bruguera, Albert Lu, Emilio Mendoza Ronquillo, Evan Tang, Ziqi Wan, and Shihao Zhu.

Having such a model to build off of and utilize allows water agencies to take a step forward in achieving mass-based groundwater regulation. With this new approach, decision-makers may provide insight into the groundwaters of this region, as well as monitoring and remediation priorities. More informed regulation can thus lead to more effective and efficient protection of a major resource in a place and time where the availability of local water supplies is of major concern.