Sep 9, 2015

On September 9, the San Francisco Chronicle highlighted some of the environmental strides and challenges revealed in the latest Pulse of the Bay, a comprehensive water quality summary that ranks San Francisco Bay’s water quality as “fair to good.”

The Pulse of the Bay, a product of the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay, says that water quality is excellent for swimming at most beaches, poor at two of 28 beaches in summer and poor at six of 22 in wet weather.

People should limit consumption of Bay fish species including striped bass and California halibut due to contamination from mercury and PCBs, while Chinook salmon and jacksmelt caught in the Bay are safe to eat, according to the report.

Water quality conditions for aquatic life in the Bay are fair, but pollutants (especially mercury), invasive species, and trash are significant concerns. Testing of mussels and harbor seals documented five contaminants not previously identified in bay wildlife.

Mercury and PCBs, legacy pollutants from industrial activities in previous decades, have failed to decline over the past 20 years and remain in Bay sediments.  PCB concentrations in sediment appear to be trending downward in the Central and South Bay but upward in Lower South Bay. Scientists also found a cluster of high concentrations of PCBs on the shoreline of southwestern Central Bay and western South Bay.

The Pulse also contains forward-looking predictions for the Bay in 50 years from six water quality experts, who project that improved pollution controls will result in a cleaner Bay and better water quality. The experts believe that water shortages will lead to more re-use of what is today considered wastewater. In 2065, storm runoff and wastewater will be captured, treated and blended into the water supply.

“In 2065 there will be no such thing as wastewater.  All water is valuable to us, and we will be re-using it one way or another, either by recycling it onto the landscape or by treating it to a point where we can put it back in the drinking water supply,” said Adam Olivieri of EOA Inc.

Tom Mumley, Assistant Executive Officer of the San Francisco Regional Water Board, predicts that so-called grayscape will be converted into greenscape. “This is not a dream, we’re requiring it in a progressive way starting with the forthcoming stormwater permit,” he said.

SFEI’s Jay Davis, lead scientist for the Regional Monitoring Program, believes that technological improvements will lead to better monitoring and tracking of water quality. At the same time, new technologies will bring both benefits and potential risks. “Fifty years from now we will continue to care about water quality in the Bay and it will continue to be a productive ecosystem, even if climate change and other forces leave it greatly altered.”

Climate change could cause major alterations in flows into the Bay, the spatial extent of the Bay, its water movement and chemistry, according to the report’s 2065 predictions. In addition, desalination will become an important regional water source, with implications for the Bay.

This edition of The Pulse of the Bay is the latest in a series of these reports that are released every other year.  They are written and published by SFEI as part of the Regional Monitoring Program.  



Peter Fimrite
Associated Staff: 
Programs and Focus Areas: 
Clean Water Program
Bay Regional Monitoring Program