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  • SCCWRP-developed CEC monitoring framework highlighted at State Water Board meeting

    June 02, 2017:

    State Water Board members explored multiple approaches being taken to improve CEC monitoring statewide during an informational meeting agenda item in February.

    Some of the presentations they heard at the meeting highlighted an adaptive management strategy developed by SCCWRP to evaluate the risks of CECs in aquatic systems.

    Two Regional Water Quality Control Boards – North Coast and Los Angeles – discussed the pilot studies they’re undertaking with SCCWRP in their respective regions to evaluate the utility of this CEC monitoring strategy.

    Initially unveiled by SCCWRP in 2015, the risk-based adaptive management strategy is intended to provide water-quality managers with an efficient, cost-effective way to zero in on the CECs that pose the greatest potential risks to humans and ecosystems.

    Through the pilot studies, water-quality managers will gain insights into whether the monitoring strategy could be effectively applied to aquatic systems across California, particularly water bodies with significant water-quality impairments.

    During the February 22 informational agenda item, State Water Board staff also briefed board members on the underlying research that SCCWRP and its partners are conducting to refine the scientific tools that are foundational to the strategy. 

    SCCWRP’s CEC monitoring strategy focuses on two emerging technologies that SCCWRP has been working on with collaborators for nearly a decade: 

    » Bioanalytical screening assays, in which engineered cell lines are exposed to water samples so that a potential biological response can be measured

    » Non-targeted chemical analysis, in which chromatography and rapid-scan mass spectrometry are used to separate and identify chemicals in complex mixtures based on physical and chemical properties

    These technologies have the potential to enable water-quality managers to screen a much larger universe of CECs than they can with existing, chemical-specific monitoring methods. Incorporation of these CEC screening tools could streamline existing monitoring workflows and make more efficient use of labor-intensive, time-consuming traditional methods, such as whole-organism toxicity testing and targeted chemical analyses.

    In May, SCCWRP is scheduled to brief regulators and dischargers from the Central Valley and Delta regions on the CEC monitoring strategy during a two-day workshop in Sacramento.

    And later this year, SCCWRP will reassemble an expert advisory panel that will help SCCWRP vet and help shape research to improve CEC monitoring in recycled water. SCCWRP assembled the initial statewide panel in 2009.

    For more information, contact Dr. Keith Maruya



    Next-generation CEC monitoring strategies that SCCWRP is working to test and 
    validate were described by State Water Board staff during a presentation to board
     members exploring the approaches being used to improve CEC monitoring statewide.

  • EPA workshop focuses on science-informed solutions for managing HABs

    June 02, 2017:

    About 150 water-quality managers from across the nation discussed the state of knowledge about harmful algal blooms (HABs) and best-practices solutions and strategies for combatting them during a management-focused workshop in April at SCCWRP.

    The three-day workshop, hosted by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and California’s Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program, provided a forum for lake managers, public health officials, tribal leaders and other water-quality managers to get up to speed on the latest science and to share their in-field experiences with HABs. 

    HAB events trigger production of algal toxins that can impair water quality and threaten the health of humans, wildlife and domestic pets.

    SCCWRP, which was invited by the EPA to co-organize the workshop, will use the feedback provided by meeting attendees to help shape its own HAB research agenda. SCCWRP already co-authored a statewide strategy in 2016 intended to help California water-quality managers build capacity for HAB monitoring and assessment work and to coordinate management responses.

    In particular, meeting attendees – who hailed from California, Nevada, Arizona, Washington and the Pacific Islands, including Hawaii – underscored the need for more research on freshwater HABs. 

    Furthermore, lake managers discussed their experiences relying on “Band-Aid” approaches – such as algicides and nutrient binders – to curb HAB events. The national HAB experts who presented at the workshop, including SCCWRP’s Dr. Meredith Howard, emphasized that these temporary solutions should only be one component of a multi-pronged HAB management strategy.

    To effectively manage HABs over the long term, experts at the workshop recommended site-specific investigations to understand the environmental factors driving blooms and toxin production, including nutrient inputs, hydrology and water residence time, salinity and temperature.  By understanding the primary drivers of HAB events within a waterbody, water-quality managers can develop targeted, customized watershed management plans, as well as strategies for appropriately utilizing short-term waterbody treatments.

    The workshop featured on-the-ground testimonials from water-quality managers from as far away as Ohio, Massachusetts and South Carolina who have been successful in managing HAB events. They offered practical advice for how to develop a HAB monitoring program grounded in the latest science.

    About 100 people attended the workshop in person, plus about 50 more via webinar.

    For more information, contact Dr. Meredith Howard.



    Pinto Lake in Santa Cruz County, tainted a murky greenish color by toxic cyanobacteria, 
    is an example of the type of HAB events that water-quality managers are working to curb 
    through more research and ongoing monitoring. HAB management was the focus of a
     three-day EPA workshop at SCCWRP. 

  • SCCWRP research featured at S.D. Regional Board workshop on monitoring technologies

    June 01, 2017: Next-generation environmental monitoring technologies being developed by SCCWRP and its research partners were featured at an April workshop hosted by the San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Board that focused on how newer technologies could improve the quality and speed of routine data collection.  


    The technology workshop, titled “Use of Remote Monitoring Technologies to Assist the San Diego Water Board Mission,” was designed to expose Regional Board members to promising, next-generation solutions for environmental monitoring. 

    The April 12 agenda item prominently featured SCCWRP presentations and demonstrations, and covered topics that ranged from unmanned aerial systems to bioanalytical screening tools. The board spent about an hour listening to presentations and engaging in discussion, then took part in demonstrations over a 90-minute lunch break. 

    Four SCCWRP staff attended the meeting to give presentations and lead demonstrations: 

    » Dr. Steve Steinberg provided an overview of how multispectral cameras can be attached to unmanned aerial systems to obtain high-quality imagery and develop topographic models. 

    » Dr. Alvina Mehinto discussed the adaption of commercially available cell bioassays to rapidly screen receiving waters for contaminants of emerging concern (CECs). 

    » Shelly Moore demonstrated the potential of virtual-reality goggles to aid in scenario planning and to visit inaccessible and difficult-to-reach areas. 

    » Paul Smith demonstrated the use of mobile applications for streamlining field data collection, as well as open-access portals for storing and sharing data. Other presentations covered topics for which SCCWRP serves as a research collaborator, including in situ passive sampling devices for measuring contaminants in receiving waters, and a field instrument that can continuously monitor receiving waters for microbial contamination. SCCWRP’s interactions with board members and others during the Regional Board meeting will help the agency refine and expand its research directions going forward. For more information, contact Dr. Steve Steinberg.



    SCCWRP’s Shelly Moore, left, guides Melissa Valdovinos of the San Diego  Regional 
    Water Quality Control Board through a virtual-reality tour of the mouth of the Tijuana
     River during a board meeting in April. During the meeting, SCCWRP delivered a series 
    of presentations and demonstrations for board members on  next-generation monitoring
     technologies.

  • New stream flow targets aid in watershed planning decisions

    June 01, 2017: SCCWRP and its partners have published a comprehensive study outlining how to use a suite of newly developed flow-ecology modeling tools to optimally protect the in-stream biological communities of more than 600 wadeable stream sites across Southern California.

    The three-year study, published in March, is intended to help Southern California watershed managers as they make difficult decisions regarding how to set stream flow targets across a watershed – decisions that can affect everything from reservoir operations to stormwater capture and use strategies.

    The flow-ecology modeling work involved mathematically modeling the hydrological flow patterns that are necessary to sustain healthy, in-stream biological communities for 572 wadeable stream sites across Southern California.

    Watershed managers already have begun using the flow-target data sets, along with associated assessment tools developed during the study, to understand the ecological implications of altering hydrological flow patterns in various watersheds. Study data also are being used to inform development of a statewide assessment framework that will guide watershed managers in setting recommended flow targets for streams statewide.

    The scientific framework that SCCWRP and its partners used to develop the recommended flow targets is known as the Ecological Limits of Hydrologic Alteration (ELOHA). The framework relates flow alterations to stream condition as indicated by benthic macroinvertebrate stream communities. With ELOHA, researchers are able to factor in a wide range of flow conditions (i.e., stormwater flows vs. low flows) and climatic conditions (i.e., wet vs. dry years).

    During the study, researchers identified seven flow metrics identified as having the most influence on biological condition; flow alterations beyond the thresholds proposed by the study were assumed to be associated with declines in in-stream biological condition. Watershed managers can now use the stream flow-target data and assessment tools to evaluate the impacts of proposed flow alterations, as well as prioritize areas for protection. The flow-target data also offer insights into the level of influence that flow patterns have in terms of altering in-stream biological health at a given site, relative to other factors such as contamination and habitat alteration.

    In-stream biological health is one of numerous factors that watershed managers must take into account as they set flow targets for various streams. Watershed managers also are responsible for maintaining flood-control protections, maximizing conservation and reuse, and being responsive to requests to maintain existing flows for ecological purposes.

    The San Diego River watershed served as the first case study evaluating the utility of the new flow-ecology modeling tools. Watershed managers there used the tools to evaluate how proposed changes in reservoir management strategies would impact in-stream biological communities. The managers also examined how the proposed installation of low-impact development (LID) solutions for managing stormwater runoff would impact in-stream biological health.

    For more information, contact Dr. Eric Stein.


    A SCCWRP-led flow-ecology study has generated data on the hydrologic flow
    patterns that are necessary to support healthy, in-stream biological communities
    for hundreds of wadeable stream sites in Southern California. Many of these sites
    don’t presently have optimal flow patterns for in-stream biological communities, as
    shown in the map above, where flow conditions at various sites have been scored
    and assigned a grade of A through D.

  • SMC completes analysis of bioassessment scores for engineered channels

    February 17, 2017: The Southern California Stormwater Monitoring Coalition has completed a comprehensive analysis of the range of ecological condition scores obtained when engineered channels across coastal Southern California are scored using existing stream bioassessment tools.


    The study, co-authored by SCCWRP and published in the SMC's 2015 annual report, found that condition assessments based on multiple bioindicators are far more useful in engineered channels than assessments based on one indicator alone.

    Specifically, using a benthic macroinvertebrate-based scoring tools together provided a more complete picture of stream health. The algae-based scoring tools, for example, generated a wider range of bioassessment scores than the benthic macroinvertebrate-based scoring tool, which typically generated bioassessment scores well below the threshold for healthy streams.

    The SMC also shed light on why some engineered channels score better than others – insights that could help stream managers understand how best to direct resources to improve channel health. The study showed that bioassessment scores are influenced by habitat factors, including microhabitat diversity and shading, as well as by water quality, including specific conductivity and temperature.

    The SMC study was conducted as California moves toward developing a biointegrity policy governing the condition of streams statewide. The SMC is evaluating the biological condition of engineered channels across California's South Coast region to understand how stream managers could be affected by this upcoming policy.

    Engineered channels, which are streams that have been modified through installation of manmade features such as concrete lining, tend to score more poorly with bioassessment tools than their non-engineered counterparts, and might not be able to support the same biological communities. Engineered channels make up an estimated 40% of all stream-miles in the region.

    The findings of the SMC study will inform ongoing discussions between regulators and permittees about appropriate biological objectives for engineered channels.

    For more information, contact Dr. Raphael Mazor.


    The Southern California Stormwater Monitoring Coalition's 2015 Report on the
    SMC Regional Stream Survey, published in January, includes the findings of a study
    shedding light on why some engineered channels in Southern California receive higher
    ecological condition scores than others. The insights could help stream managers understand
    how best to direct resources to improve the ecological health of engineered channels across
    coastal Southern California.

  • Flow-through units being deployed along L.A. River to study CECs' impacts on fish

    February 10, 2017: SCCWRP and its partners will expose fish to flowing Los Angeles River water in real time this spring as part of an on-site study examining potential biological impacts to fish from exposure to contaminants of emerging concern (CECs).


    The pilot project, which marks the first use of mobile exposure units for a Southern California water-quality study, will enable researchers to replicate environmental conditions more accurately than exposing the fish to a water sample in a laboratory setting. Mobile exposure units are set up along stream banks to pump water in real time through fish exposure chambers; the devices control for factors such as flow rate, food source, illumination and dissolved oxygen.

    For the pilot study, scheduled to kick off in April, SCCWRP and the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation will set up mobile exposure units at two L.A. River sites – one just downstream of the L.A.-Glendale Water Reclamation Plant, and the other at a site in the Sepulveda Basin that receives urban runoff. Fathead minnows will be placed in exposure chambers for 15 days.

    Researchers hope to learn whether CECs, which can be found in wastewater effluent and land-based runoff, trigger biological effects in fish, including changes in gene expression, tissue integrity and sex characteristics.

    SCCWRP will analyze the fish using traditional toxicology tests and targeted chemical analysis, as well as use novel bioanalytical assays to link observed biological effects to CEC bioactivity levels. 

    In particular, endocrine-disruptive CECs such as nonylphenol, estrone, bisphenol A and galaxolide have been shown to affect sexual maturation and reproduction of fish in laboratory settings; these CECs have previously been detected in the L.A. River watershed.

    The L.A. River flow-through study is being launched as water-quality regulators increasingly focus on understanding how CECs in freshwater systems could be affecting fish communities. 

    Over time, SCCWRP intends to use the mobile exposure units to conduct additional exposure studies in other watersheds. The goal is to gain a better understanding of what biological endpoints should be tracked to comprehensively assess CECs’ impacts on fish.

    For more information, contact Dr. Alvina Mehinto.


    Mobile exposure units, which are set up along stream banks, pump water in real time
    through exposure chambers that house fish to more accurately mimic real environmental
    conditions. SCCWRP and its partners will use the technology for the first time this spring to
    track how fathead minnows are impacted be CECs in Los Angeles River water.