Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay
Our Program and Focus Areas
The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay (RMP) is SFEI’s largest program. It provides the information that regulators and decision-makers need to manage the Bay effectively. The RMP is an innovative collaborative effort between SFEI, the Regional Water Quality Control Board, and the regulated discharger community.
An innovative partnership
The RMP has combined shared financial support, direction, and participation by regulatory agencies and the regulated community in a model of collective responsibility. The RMP has established a climate of cooperation and a commitment to participation among a wide range of regulators, dischargers, industry representatives, non-governmental agencies, and scientists. The RMP provides an open forum for interested parties to discuss contaminant issues facing the Bay.
An adaptive, long term program of study in support of management
Stable funding has enabled the RMP to develop long-term plans. In addition, Special Studies provide an opportunity to adapt to changing management priorities and advances in scientific understanding. RMP committees and workgroups meet regularly to keep the Program efficient, focused on the highest priority issues, and to ensure that RMP science is sound. The RMP has continually improved since its inception in 1993.
A high quality body of knowledge
The RMP has produced a world-class dataset on estuarine contaminants. Monitoring performed in the RMP determines spatial patterns and long-term trends in contamination through sampling of water, sediment, bivalves, bird eggs, and fish, and evaluates toxic effects on sensitive organisms and chemical loading to the Bay. The Program combines RMP data with data from other sources to provide for comprehensive assessment of chemical contamination in the Bay.
A portal to information about contamination in San Francisco Bay
The RMP provides information targeted at the highest priority questions faced by managers of the Bay. The RMP produces summary reports (Pulse of The Bay and RMP Update), technical reports that document specific studies and synthesize information from diverse sources, as well as journal publications that disseminate RMP results to the world’s scientific community. The RMP website provides access to RMP data, information products, and links to other sources of information about water quality in San Francisco Bay.
Status and Trends Monitoring Elements
The RMP has a long-term Status and Trends Monitoring Program that began in 1993. The monitoring design has evolved over time, including a major design evaluation and revision in 2022. The elements currently (2023) include the following, as described in the report on the 2002 design revision process (coming soon):
- Dry season (every 2 years)
- Wet season (annually as a pilot study from 2022-2024)
- Deep Bay (every 5 years)
- Margins (every 5 years)
- Near-field (every 5 years)
- Sport fish (every 5 years)
- Bird eggs (every 3 years)
- Prey fish (every 5 years)
- Marine mammals (pilot study in 2023-2024)
- Long-term hydrographic and suspended sediment studies by the U.S. Geological Survey (annually)
The Sources, Pathways, and Loading Workgroup (SPLWG) was formed in 1999 to produce recommendations for collection, interpretation, and synthesis of data on sources and loads of trace contaminants. This information is needed to support efforts to identify and eliminate pollution in the landscape, and prevent it from impacting the beneficial uses of San Francisco Bay. The first decade of work was focused on using a field-intensive monitoring program to estimate loads of PCBs, mercury, and other legacy trace contaminants entering the Bay. Pathways included the Sacramento and San Joaquin Rivers, urban and nonurban stormwater in the nine counties that fringe the Bay, municipal and industrial wastewater, and atmospheric deposition. With the PCB and mercury TMDLs in place and impairment assessments completed for organochlorine pesticides, PAHs, PBDEs, and dioxins/furans, the second decade focused on refining loads for PCBs and Hg, searching for PCB and mercury sources in municipal stormwater, and building modeling tools to estimate regional loads and temporal trends, and identify high-leverage subcatchments and source areas.
Now in its third decade, the SPLWG is increasing its work on characterizing contaminants of emerging concern (CECs) in stormwater, and continuing to develop an integrated modeling and monitoring approach for both legacy contaminants and CECs to address RMP management questions more efficiently. CECs of interest include PFAS, organophosphate esters, bisphenols, and tire-related chemicals, but priorities are continuing to evolve as information is generated about sources, pathways, and the impacts of CECs on Bay beneficial uses. In concert with other workgroups and the RMP more generally, the goal is to continue to use the latest integrated modeling and monitoring tools to support improved linkages between spatial and temporal watershed loading trends and Bay beneficial use impairment and recovery.
The group is supported by scientific advisors with international reputations:
- Tom Jobes
- Dr. Jon Butcher
- Dr. Steven Corsi
- Dr. Robert Budd
Lead Scientists: Alicia Gilbreath and Tan Zi
For further information, please contact Alicia at 510-746-7308 or [email protected] or Tan at 510-746-7338 or [email protected]
The Bay RMP fills critical science needs to assist managers in their goal of reducing harmful emerging contaminants in San Francisco Bay. Emerging contaminants are unregulated or under-regulated and not commonly monitored, yet may pose significant ecological and/or human health risks.
A global leader in this field, the Bay RMP has developed an emerging contaminants strategy that guides decisions on monitoring and management. Early identification of problem pollutants and quick action to prevent their spread is an optimal and cost-effective approach for protecting water quality. This is especially true in an ecosystem like the Bay, which can act as a long-term trap for persistent contaminants, with recovery taking decades or centuries when contamination is extensive.
Diligent surveillance using state-of-the-art analytical techniques has identified emerging contaminants of moderate concern for the Bay:
- PFAS, stain and water repelling chemicals widely used in industrial and consumer products
- Fipronil and imidacloprid, insecticides with significant urban uses
- Alkylphenols and alkylphenol ethoxylates, ingredients in detergents and many other products
- Bisphenols, plastic ingredients
- Organophosphate esters, flame retardants and plasticizers
A scientific advisory panel of internationally renowned experts advises the Bay RMP Emerging Contaminants Workgroup (ECWG):
- Dr. Bill Arnold, University of Minnesota
- Dr. Miriam Diamond, University of Toronto
- Dr. Lee Ferguson, Duke University
- Dr. Derek Muir, Environment and Climate Change Canada
- Dr. Heather Stapleton, Duke University
- Dr. Dan Villenueve, US EPA
Lead Scientist: Rebecca Sutton, Ph.D.
The Bay was included on the 1998 303(d) List of impaired water bodies for PCB contamination, which led to the development of a TMDL control plan that was ultimately approved in 2010. The TMDL established PCB concentrations in sport fish as the key indicator of impairment. More than forty years after the ban, PCBs are still far higher than the fish tissue target of 10 ppb established by the TMDL and have not shown clear signs of decline since 1997. Shiner surfperch is the main indicator species, and had a Bay-wide average concentration of 220 ppb in the most recent sampling in 2019. PCB concentrations in shiner surfperch across five long-term monitoring locations were generally higher in 2019 than in the prior round of sampling, but there are some possible signs of long-term decline. Overall, the rate of PCB decline in the Bay is slow at best, and continued monitoring is needed for a more definitive assessment. Detailed studies of PCBs have been conducted at selected locations and provide some indication that concentrations in Bay fish on a local scale could decline in response to reductions in loads from nearby watersheds. More rigorous modeling and monitoring are needed to better evaluate this forecast.
The scientific advisory panel for the RMP PCB Workgroup consists of:
- Dr. Frank Gobas, Simon Fraser University
- Dr. Earl Hayter, US Army Engineer Research and Development Center
Lead Scientist: Jay Davis
For more information, please contact Jay Davis at: 510-746-7368 or [email protected].
Sediment is a building block of Bay geography and is the physical foundation for tidal marshes, which must vertically accrete to keep pace with sea-level rise and continue functioning as natural filters for nutrients and pollutants from urban, agricultural, and industrial runoff sources. Sediment on the Bay floor can store contaminants within interstitial waters and suspended sediment can transport contaminants throughout the Bay. In addition, suspended sediment is a key factor limiting algal blooms and eutrophication. There is a growing focus on sediment processes in the Bay, driven by the need for better information on water and sediment quality, as well as the impacts of climate change and sea-level rise to the Bay’s tidal wetlands.
In 2018, the RMP formed the Sediment Workgroup to provide technical oversight and stakeholder guidance on RMP studies addressing management and policy needs related to sediment delivery, sediment transport, dredging, and beneficial reuse of sediment within the Bay. The Sediment Workgroup includes representatives from federal and state agencies, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA), U.S. Army Corp of Engineers (USACE), U.S. Geological Survey (USGS), San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board (SFBRWQCB), and San Francisco Bay Conservation and Development Commission (BCDC), as well as representatives from ports, the dredging community, local water agencies, universities, and private consulting firms.
The scientific advisory panel for the Bay RMP Sediment Workgroup consists of two internationally renowned estuarine sediment experts:
- Dr. David Schoellhamer, USGS (retired)
- Dr. Patricia Wiberg, University of Virginia
Lead Scientist: Scott Dusterhoff
For more information, please contact Scott Dusterhoff at [email protected].
Microplastics are tiny bits of plastic smaller than five millimeters. Their small size exempts them from most current regulations, but makes them difficult to filter out or remove once they are in aquatic ecosystems. Microplastics enter the environment through human use of plastic products. Plastic doesn’t decay – it just breaks down into smaller and smaller pieces. Synthetic clothing and textiles, disposable plastic items like plastic bags and polystyrene foam packaging, tires wearing down as they are driven over roads, and littered cigarette butts can all contribute to microplastic pollution. These tiny bits of plastic may be harmful to aquatic life. Animals may breathe microplastics in via their gills or mistake microplastics for food, and these tiny plastic bits can have toxic effects. Exposure to microplastics also means exposure to the chemical pollutants within the plastics, most of which are emerging contaminants. Because microplastics can be made of many different types of plastics with many different chemistries, scientists are still working to understand the many ways they may affect aquatic organisms and human health.
Our research in the San Francisco Bay has generated a first-of-its-kind, comprehensive regional study of microplastic pollution of a major urban estuary and adjacent ocean environment, making SFEI a world leader in the science of understanding microplastic pollution. As policymakers and water quality managers become more interested in microplastics and their risks to aquatic ecosystems, SFEI science data and conceptual modeling is providing insights that inform local, state, and national decisions to protect the environment.
Lead Scientist: Diana Lin, Ph.D
For further information, visit www.sfei.org/projects/microplastics or please contact Diana Lin at: 510-746-7385 or [email protected].
THE RMP DOCUMENT ARCHIVES
This archive contains important documents relating to the establishment and development of the RMP.
Laying the Foundations: Establishing the RMP
The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay is an innovative collaboration of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the regulated discharger community, and the San Francisco Estuary Institute. It provides water quality regulators with the information they need to manage the Bay effectively. The RMP produces two types of summary reports: The Pulse of the Bay and the RMP Update. The Pulse focuses on Bay water quality and summarizes information from all sources. The RMP Update has a narrower and specific focus on highlights of RMP activities.
The purpose of the RMP Update is to provide a concise overview of recent RMP activities and findings, and a look ahead to significant products anticipated in the next two years.
The report includes:
- a brief summary of some of the most noteworthy findings of this multifaceted Program;
- a description of the management context that guides the Program; and
- a summary of progress in, and plans for, addressing priority water quality topics.
Click Here for a PDF of the 2021 RMP Update.
To request hard copies of the Update, please fill out this form: https://forms.gle/cNxBSN88GrPp1mQF9
If you have comments or questions please contact Jay Davis ([email protected])
Previous RMP Updates:
Find an interactive, eBook version of the 2014 RMP Update here
Projects Related to the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay
The Pulse of the Bay
Download the Pulse of the Bay! This report from the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay features articles on the four major pathways by which pollutants enter the Bay: municipal wastewater, industrial wastewater, stormwater, and dredging and dredged sediment disposal. Each article provides a basic introduction to the pathway and discusses the regulatory framework, recent findings, and future challenges. The report also includes some of the latest highlights from monitoring of important parameters such as nutrients, emerging contaminants, mercury, PCBs, and selenium.
Perfluoroalkyl and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
A recent analysis of PFAS in the surface waters of SF Bay was conducted to understand the occurrence, fate, and potential risks to ecological and human health. Eleven of 40 PFAS were detected at part per trillions (ppt) concentrations in ambient water collected in 2021 from 22 sites in the Bay. Seven PFAS (PFPeA, PFHxA, PFHpA, PFOA, PFBS, PFHxS, and PFOS), were found in at least 50% of samples. Concentrations of PFAS in the Bay were generally consistent with similar studies globally for surface water. Sustained, multi-matrix monitoring of this important class of contaminants of emerging concern is a high priority for the RMP.
Microplastic Pollution in San Francisco Bay
Plastic pollution is gaining global recognition as a threat to the resilience and productivity of ocean ecosystems. However, we are only just beginning to understand the scope and impacts of microplastic particles (less than 5 mm) on coastal and ocean resources, and the San Francisco Bay Area is no exception. A preliminary study of nine water sites in San Francisco Bay, published in 2016, showed greater levels of microplastics than the Great Lakes or Chesapeake Bay.
California Pesticides: A Data Visualization Tool to Link Pesticide Use and Management to Water Quality
Despite California's data-rich environment, there are still many obstacles when trying to access and understand pesticide data at the nexus of water quality, ecological effects, and human health. We recognize a need to fill data gaps, not necessarily by collecting new data, but by better leveraging information already technically in the public domain. The goal of this project is to bring pesticide reporting, occurrence, and toxicity data together in ways that yield insights and meet the expressed needs of stakeholders in clear, efficient, credible, and repeatable ways.
RMP Annual Meeting
The 28th RMP Annual Meeting was hosted on Thursday, October 14th, 2021. Fully virtual for the second year, the meeting included an excellent lineup with presentations from RMP staff and other invited experts. We heard about and discussed findings on Bay sediment supply, PFAS, tire particles and chemicals, and contaminants in Bay fish, among other topics. If you missed the meeting or any specific sessions, recordings of the meeting and presenter slides will be posted below shortly
The Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay is an innovative collaboration of the San Francisco Bay Regional Water Quality Control Board, the regulated discharger community, and the San Francisco Estuary Institute. It provides water quality regulators with the information they need to manage the Bay effectively. The RMP produces two types of summary reports: The Pulse of the Bay and the RMP Update. The Pulse focuses on Bay water quality and summarizes information from all sources.
Contaminant Data Download and Display (CD3)
Contaminant Data Display and Download Tool or CD3 is an innovative visualization tool for accessing water quality data for the San Francisco Bay-Delta and northern montane regions. It is the primary tool for accessing and downloading the San Francisco Bay Regional Monitoring Program’s (RMP) long-term dataset and other project data stored in SFEI's Regional Data Center (RDC).
Contaminants of Emerging Concern Strategy
More than 100,000 chemicals have been registered or approved for commercial use in the US. For many of these chemicals, major information gaps limit evaluations of their potential risks, and environmental monitoring of these chemicals has not been required by regulatory agencies. Nevertheless, researchers and government agencies have begun to collect occurrence, fate, and toxicity data for a number of these chemicals.
Archive Sample Tool
The Archive Sample Tool provides a web interface that SFEI researchers can use to browse the RMP archives when considering using archive material for a study. The RMP has been collecting archive samples during each sampling event for sediment, bivalve, fish and birds since the early 1990's. These samples are available to SFEI researchers with RMP Program Manager approval, and can be requested directly from the tool.
A Broad Scan of Bay Contaminants: Non-targeted Analysis of Bay Wildlife
A cutting edge analysis identifies low levels of five unmonitored compounds in wildlife of San Francisco Bay. Bay mussel and harbor seal samples were tested for previously unmonitored contaminants using a non-targeted analysis that screens mainly for long-lived, fat-soluble, chlorine and bromine-rich chemicals. The samples contained five contaminants not previously identified in Bay wildlife, and for which toxicity is largely unknown. Most of the Bay chemical contamination was from high priority contaminants that the RMP already monitors, or closely related compounds.
Publications related to the Regional Monitoring Program for Water Quality in San Francisco Bay
The Institute has collectively produced more than 1300 reports, articles, and other publications over the course of its 24-year existence. The following list represents those publications associated with this individual program and its focus areas.
Year of Publication: 2023
Assessment of Long-Chain Polyethoxylate Surfactants in Wastewater Effluent, Stormwater Runoff, and Ambient Water of San Francisco Bay, CA. American Chemical Society; 2023 . Report No.: 1126. .
Multi-Year Plan 2023. Richmond, California: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2023 . Report No.: 1096. (3.61 MB) .
Year of Publication: 2022
2021 RMP Water Cruise Report. Livermore, CA: Applied Marine Sciences; 2022 . Report No.: 1098. (1.52 MB) .
2022 Pulse of the Bay. Richmond, California: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022 . Report No.: 1095. (5.57 MB) (63.26 MB) .
2022 Pulse Resources. 2022. (8.17 MB) (541.71 KB) (347.88 KB)
2022 RMP Multi-Year Plan. Richmond, California: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022 . Report No.: 1058. (4.32 MB) .
2023 Detailed Workplan and Budget. Richmond, California: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022 . Report No.: 1117. (800.9 KB) .
Bisphenols in San Francisco Bay: Wastewater, Stormwater, and Margin Sediment Monitoring. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022 . Report No.: 1093. (1.22 MB) .
Microplastics from Tire Particles in San Francisco Bay Factsheet. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022. (1.38 MB) .
Occurrence and risk assessment of organophosphate esters and bisphenols in San Francisco Bay, California, USA. Science of the Total Environment [Internet]. 2022;813. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/S0048969721073630?via%3Dihub .
PFAS in San Francisco Bay Water. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022 . Report No.: 1094. (2.37 MB) .
Priority margin unit stormwater monitoring to support load estimates of PCBs into San Leandro Bay and the Emeryville Crescent. Richmond, CA: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022 . Report No.: 1088. (2.06 MB) .
San Francisco Bay Watershed Dynamic Model (WDM) Progress Report, Phase 2. Richmond, California: San Francisco Estuary Institute; 2022 . Report No.: 1091. (3.56 MB) .
Small Tributaries Pollutants of Concern Reconnaissance Monitoring: Application of Storm-event Loads and Yields-Based and Congener-Based PCB Site Prioritization Methodologies. 2022 . Report No.: 1067. (4.33 MB) (1.24 MB) (989.4 KB) (1.83 MB) .
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