This study describes the complex geology of the northern Sacramento Valley, focusing on the Late Cenozoic geologic formations and structures that compose or influence the valley’s fresh groundwater aquifer formations. The California Department of Water Resources (DWR) acquired geologic data from groundwater observation well drilling operations that were conducted in the valley over the last 15 years. Using the observation well drilling data, DWR evaluated and classified the lithology of the subsurface sediments, implemented petrographic sand provenance analyses on lithologic sediment samples, and reviewed associated geophysical logs from each bore hole. In addition, DWR conducted an extensive literature review of published and unpublished data and then integrated the data to produce this geologic report, map, and cross sections that describe the geology of the northern Sacramento Valley.
Results from the lithologic logging, petrographic analyses, and data review show that the heterogeneous sediments of the northern Sacramento Valley’s most productive groundwater-bearing geologic formations, the Tehama Formation and the Tuscan Formation, intermix in the subsurface in various areas near the center of the valley. The results also show that toward the westward and eastward extents of the valley, the sediments of the formations become more unified in composition due to the proximity of their respective sediment source areas. However, because of the depositional environment of the geologic formations, sediment sizes within the formations can be discontinuous and intermittent in places, resulting in variable groundwater aquifer zones within the geologic formations.
Additional data are needed to further define the northern Sacramento Valley aquifer system. Drilling and installing groundwater observation wells in areas of little or no data can provide the information needed to determine the extent and variability of the valley’s groundwater aquifers.
Groundwater level data supplied by the observation wells can provide valuable information for monitoring aquifer conditions, for determining the change in groundwater levels over time, and for assessing the ability of groundwater to move through the geologic aquifer sediments. In addition, a textural analysis of formational sediments using lithologic cuttings and/or driller’s well logs could be performed to better identify aquifer production zones.
In summary, the geology of the northern Sacramento Valley is diverse and has a widely varied historical sequence of earth-shaping events. It includes periods of time when much of the area was below sea level, multiple and distinct periods of volcanic activity, several periods of mountain building, and intermingled periods of massive erosion and deposition. Analyses of the data illustrate the heterogeneity of the groundwater-bearing geologic formations in the subsurface, and the intermixing of formational sediments toward the center of the northern Sacramento Valley, resulting in a region with great geologic and hydrogeologic complexity.