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The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) is a novel partnership between regulatory agencies and the regulated community to provide the scientific foundation to manage water quality in the largest Pacific estuary in the Americas. The RMP monitors water quality, sediment quality and bioaccumulation of priority pollutants in fish, bivalves and birds. To improve monitoring measurements or the interpretation of data, the RMP also regularly funds special studies. The success of the RMP stems from collaborative governance, clear objectives, and long-term institutional and monetary commitments. Over the past 22 years, high quality data and special studies from the RMP have guided dozens of important decisions about Bay water quality management. Moreover, the governing structure and the collaborative nature of the RMP have created an environment that allowed it to stay relevant as new issues emerged. With diverse participation, a foundation in scientific principles and a continual commitment to adaptation, the RMP is a model water quality monitoring program. This paper describes the characteristics of the RMP that have allowed it to grow and adapt over two decades and some of the ways in which it has influenced water quality management decisions for this important ecosystem.
The overarching goal of the RMP is to collect data and communicate information about water quality in San Francisco Bay in support of management decisions. The RMP was created in 1993 through Regional Board Resolution No. 92-043 that directed the Executive Officer to implement a Regional Monitoring Plan in collaboration with permitted dischargers pursuant to California Water Code, Sections 13267, 13383, 13268, and 13385. The goal was to replace individual receiving water monitoring requirements for dischargers with a comprehensive Regional Monitoring Program.
The Program is guided by a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between the Regional Board and SFEI, first approved in 1996 and amended at various times since (see Appendix C of this Charter). Section VIII of the MOU states the roles and responsibilities of the Regional Board and SFEI in the implementation of the Program. Participating dischargers pay fees to the Program to comply with discharge permit requirements. The cost allocation schedule for Participants is described in Appendix B. The RMP provides an open forum for a wide range of Participant Groups and other Interested Parties to discuss contaminant issues, prioritize science needs, and monitor potential impacts of discharges on the Bay.
In support of the overarching goal described above, the following guiding principles define the intentions and expectations of RMP Participants. Implementation of the RMP will:
- Develop sound scientific information on water quality in the Bay;
- Prioritize funding decisions through collaborative discussions;
- Conduct decision-making in a transparent manner that consistently represents the diversity of RMP Participant interests;
- Utilize external science advisors for guidance and peer review;
- Maintain and make publicly available the data collected by the Program;
- Enhance public awareness and support by regularly communicating the status and trends of water quality in the Bay; and
- Coordinate with other monitoring and scientific studies in the Bay-Delta region to ensure efficiency.
Municipal wastewater has not been extensively examined as a pathway by which pesticides contaminate surface water, particularly relative to the well-recognized pathways of agricultural and urban runoff. A state-of-the-science review of the occurrence and fate of current-use pesticides in wastewater, both before and after treatment, indicates this pathway is significant and should not be overlooked. A comprehensive conceptual model is presented to establish all relevant pesticide-use patterns with the potential for both direct and indirect down-the-drain transport. Review of available studies from the United States indicates 42 pesticides in current use. While pesticides and pesticide degradates have been identified in wastewater, many more have never been examined in this matrix. Conventional wastewater treatment technologies are generally ineffective at removing pesticides from wastewater, with high removal efficiency only observed in the case of highly hydrophobic compounds, such as pyrethroids. Aquatic life reference values can be exceeded in undiluted effluents. For example, seven compounds, including three pyrethroids, carbaryl, fipronil and its sulfone degradate, and imidacloprid, were detected in treated wastewater effluent at levels exceeding U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (US EPA) aquatic life benchmarks for chronic exposure to invertebrates. Pesticides passing through wastewater treatment plants (WWTPs) merit prioritization for additional study to identify sources and appropriate pollution-prevention strategies. Two case studies, diazinon and chlorpyrifos in household pesticide products, and fipronil and imidacloprid in pet flea control products, highlight the importance of identifying neglected sources of environmental contamination via the wastewater pathway. Additional monitoring and modeling studies are needed to inform source control and prevention of undesirable alternative solutions.
Flame retardant chemical additives are incorporated into consumer goods to meet flammability standards, and many have been detected in environmental matrices. A uniquely wide-ranging characterization of flame retardants was conducted, including polybrominated diphenyl ethers (PBDEs) and 52 additional brominated, chlorinated, or phosphate analytes, in water, sediment, bivalves, and harbor seal blubber of San Francisco Bay, a highly urbanized estuary once considered a hot spot for PBDE contamination. Among brominated flame retardants, PBDEs remained the dominant contaminants in all matrices, though declines have been observed over the last decade following their phase-out. Hexabromocyclododecane (HBCD) and other hydrophobic, brominated flame retardants were commonly detected at lower levels than PBDEs in sediment and tissue matrices. Dechlorane Plus (DP) and related chlorinated compounds were also detected at lower levels or not at all across all matrices. In contrast, phosphate flame retardants were widely detected in Bay water samples, with highest median concentrations in the order TCPP > TPhP > TBEP > TDCPP > TCEP. Concentrations in Bay water were often higher than in other estuarine and marine environments. Phosphate flame retardants were also widely detected in sediment, in the order TEHP > TCrP > TPhP > TDCPP > TBEP. Several were present in bivalves, with levels of TDCPP comparable to PBDEs. Only four phosphate flame retardants were detected in harbor seal blubber: TCPP, TDCPP, TCEP, and TPhP. Periodic, multi-matrix screening is recommended to track contaminant trends impacted by changes to flammability standards and manufacturing practices, with a particular focus on contaminants like TDCPP and TPhP that were found at levels comparable to thresholds for aquatic toxicity.
Despite widespread detection of microplastic pollution in marine environments, data describing microplastic abundance in urban estuaries and microplastic discharge via treated municipal wastewater are limited. This study presents information on abundance, distribution, and composition of microplastic at nine sites in San Francisco Bay, California, USA. Also presented are characterizations of microplastic in final effluent from eight wastewater treatment plants, employing varying treatment technologies, that discharge to the Bay. With an average microplastic abundance of 700,000 particles/km2, Bay surface water appears to have higher microplastic levels than other urban waterbodies sampled in North America. Moreover, treated wastewater from facilities that discharge into the Bay contains considerable microplastic contamination. Facilities employing tertiary filtration did not show lower levels of contamination than those using secondary treatment. As textile-derived fibers were more abundant in wastewater, higher levels of fragments in surface water suggest additional pathways of microplastic pollution, such as stormwater runoff.
About this Update
The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) has been investigating contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) since 2001. CECs can be broadly defined as synthetic or naturally occurring chemicals that are not regulated or commonly monitored in the environment but have the potential to enter the environment and cause adverse ecological or human health impacts.
The RMP Emerging Contaminants Workgroup (ECWG), established in 2006, includes representatives from RMP stakeholder groups, regional scientists, and an advisory panel of expert researchers that work together to address the workgroup’s guiding management question – Which CECs have the potential to adversely impact beneficial uses in San Francisco Bay? The overarching goal of the ECWG is to develop cost-effective strategies to identify and monitor CECs to minimize impacts to the Bay.
To this end, the RMP published a CEC Strategy document in 2013 (Sutton et al. 2013). The strategy is a living document that guides RMP special studies on CECs, assuring continued focus on the issues of highest priority to the health of the Bay. A key focus of the strategy is a tiered risk and management action framework that guides future monitoring proposals. The strategy also features a multi-year plan indicating potential future research priorities.
This 2015 CEC strategy update features revised designations of CECs in the tiered risk and management action framework based on monitoring and research conducted since 2013. Brief summaries of relevant RMP findings are provided. In addition, a proposed multi-year plan for future RMP Special Studies on CECs is outlined. A full revision of the CEC strategy is anticipated in 2016.
In this report, we investigate how re-integrating components of oak woodlands into developed landscapes — “re-oaking” — can provide an array of valuable functions for both wildlife and people. Re-oaking can increase the biodiversity and ecological resilience of urban ecosystems, improve critical urban forest functions such as shade and carbon storage, and enhance the capacity of cities to adapt to a changing climate. We focus on Silicon Valley, where oak woodland replacement by agriculture and urbanization tells a story that has occurred in many other cities in California. We highlight how the history and ecology of the Silicon Valley landscape can be used as a guide to plan more ecologically-resilient cities in the Bay Area, within the region and elsewhere in California. We see re-oaking as part of, and not a substitute for, the important and broader oak woodland conservation efforts taking place throughout the state.
Dissolved copper is one of the more pervasive and toxic constituents of stormwater runoff and is commonly found in stream, estuary, and coastal marine habitats of juvenile salmon. While stormwater runoff does not usually carry copper concentrations high enough to result in acute lethality, they are of concern because sublethal concentrations of copper exposure have been shown to both impair olfactory function and alter behavior in various species in freshwater. To compare these results to other environments that salmon are likely to encounter, experiments were conducted to evaluate the effects of salinity on the impairment of olfactory function and avoidance of copper. Copper concentrations well within the range of those found in urban watersheds, have been shown to diminish or eliminate the olfactory response to the amino acid, l-serine in freshwater using electro-olfactogram (EOG) techniques. The olfactory responses of both freshwater-phase and seawater-phase coho and seawater-phase Chinook salmon, were tested in freshwater or seawater, depending on phase, and freshwater-phase coho at an intermediate salinity of 10‰. Both 10‰ salinity and full strength seawater protected against the effects of 50μg copper/L. In addition to impairing olfactory response, copper has also been shown to alter salmon behavior by causing an avoidance response. To determine whether copper will cause avoidance behavior at different salinities, experiments were conducted using a multi-chambered experimental tank. The circular tank was divided into six segments by water currents so that copper could be contained within one segment yet fish could move freely between them. The presence of individual fish in each of the segments was counted before and after introduction of dissolved copper (<20μg/L) to one of the segments in both freshwater and seawater. To address whether use of preferred habitat is altered by the presence of copper, experiments were also conducted with a submerged structural element. The presence of sub-lethal levels of dissolved copper altered the behavior of juvenile Chinook salmon by inducing an avoidance response in both freshwater and seawater. While increased salinity is protective against loss of olfactory function from dissolved copper, avoidance could potentially affect behaviors beneficial to growth, survival and reproductive success.