SFEI’s Wetland Science Focus Area’s Director, Josh Collins, is a leader in the coordination of statewide science advisory teams and acquiring funding to develop monitoring and assessment tools that support the State’s Wetland and Riparian Area Protection Policy (Policy). The purpose of the Policy is to advance statewide efforts to ensure no overall net loss and a long-term net gain in the quantity, quality and sustainability of wetlands in California. It also wants to promote a common framework for wetland area monitoring and assessment to inform regulatory decisions and ensure consistency with statewide environmental reporting programs and enhance the State Water Board’s capabilities to support efforts of other agencies and groupsin the conservation planning of watersheds, wetlands, and other aquatic resources.
The California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup (CWMW) and the State Water Board has convened several committees, advisory groups and workgroups consisting scientific and technical leaders from state, federal and local regulatory agencies, consultants, and academics across the state to vet and develop standardized wetland monitoring and assesment methods, and data management and information disemination tools that support the WRAPP. Those online tools allow aquatic resource managers, and the public, access to statewide monitoring information from wetland projects, and ambient surveys in order to make informed management decisions based on the best avaiable, standardized monitoring data.
Those tools are built by SFEI’s Environmental Informatics Program staff and showcased elsewhere one SFEI’s website. They include (EcoAtlas, CRAM, CARI, Project Tracker, and the Landscape Profile tool).
California’s Wetland and Riparian Area Protection Policy
In 2008 the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board) resolved to improve wetlands protection around the state through a new policy, Resolution No. 2008-0026, that called for the development of a policy to protect wetlands and riparian areas in order to restore and maintain the water quality and beneficial uses of the waters of the state.
Phase 1 of the Wetland and Riparian Area Protection Policy (Wetland Policy) was released in draft in 2013 and is going through a public comment period. The Phase 1 Wetland Policy is called the “Wetland Area Protection and Dredge and Fill Permitting Policy.” The purpose of Phase 1 is to protect all waters of the State, including wetlands, from dredge and fill discharges. The Wetland Policy includes four elements: (1) a wetland definition; (2) a wetland delineation method; (3) a wetland assessment and monitoring framework; and (4) authorization procedures for dredge and fill discharges to waters of the state.
The Wetland Policy’s Technical Advisory Team
With funding from the EPA Region-9 Wetland Program Development grants, Josh Collins has been the Chair of a Technical Advisory Team (TAT) of wetland scientists from state, federal and local agencies and organizations that provides science support for the State Water Board’s Wetland Policy Development Team (PDT). At the request of the PDT, the TAT has developed several technical memoranda to assist in scientific analysis of specific policy topics including:
- Technical Memorandum 1: Technical Advisory Team Formation and Purpose
- Technical Memorandum 2: Wetland Definition
- Technical Memorandum 3: Landscape Framework
- Technical Memorandum 4: Wetland Delineation
Other memos under development include:
- Technical Memorandum 5: Monitoring and Assessment Plan
- Technical Memorandum 6: Scientific Rationale for the Watershed Approach
California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup (CWMW)
Josh Collins is an active participant in (and current Co-chair of) the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup (CWMW), whose mission is to improve the monitoring and assessment of wetland and riparian resources by developing a comprehensive wetland monitoring plan for California and increasing coordination and cooperation among local, state, and federal agencies, tribes, and non-governmental organizations. The workgroup reviews technical and policy aspects of wetland monitoring tool development, implementation and use of data to improve wetland management in California.
To achieve its primary goal of coordinated wetland monitoring, assessment, and reporting, the CWMW recommends that a Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Plan (WRAMP). The WRAMP consists of coordinated, comparable regional and statewide efforts that use standardized methods to monitor the effects of natural processes, climate change, and government policies, programs, and projects on the distribution, abundance, and condition of wetlands and riparian areas. A plan for implementing the WRAMP Tenets has been outlined in the Five Year Coordinated Work Plan for Development of a Wetlands Conservation Program (WCP). As state and federal agencies in California move toward implementation of the WRAMP toolkit and the WCP, improved coordination is needed to ensure smooth implementation and maximum utility of data collected. SFEI has been leading an effort to develop the science support and online technical tools that support standard methodologies for wetland monitoring and assessment across the state.
Developing Wetland Monitoring, Assessment and Reporting Tools
SFEI is working with statewide wetland partners to design and develop science based technical tools that support the State's Wetland Policy.
1) Landscape Assessments
Through several different funding sources, SFEI has developed a standard mapping protocols and drafted several GIS base maps of aquatic resources at local or regional scales to support watershed based monitoring and assessment projects. Those mapping projects demonstrated adaptive methodologies to apply a standard mapping protocol to different regions across the state by working with local wetland experts to develop new approaches to map region-specific wetland types while maintaining the standardized proceedures. To date, SFEI has developed the Bay Area Aquatic Resource Inventory (BAARI), Tahoe Aquatic Resources Inventry (TARI) and a North Coast Aquatic Resources Inventory (NCARI) mapping protocols to demonstrate how more detailed and standardized base maps of aquatic resources can be implemented around the state.
Those project specific, base maps were incorporated into the online Califorinia Aquatic Resources Inventory (CARI) GIS dataset that is displayed on EcoAtlas, along with other regional maps (when available). For areas that do not have detailed GIS, the USGS's National Hydrography Dataset and the USFWS National Wetlands Inventory base maps are visible. The wetland classification system for CARI was standardized making EcoAtlas' CARI dataset the 'best available', standardized statewide dataset of aquatic resources. An online map editing tool has been added to EcoAtlas to encourage local map stewardship for improvements and updates to CARI by local stakeholders.
2) Rapid Wetland Condition Assessments
The Califorina Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) was developed as a standardized tool to monitor and report on the ecological condition of wetlands in a watershed as well as identifiy sites where more intensive monitoring is needed. SFEI has been a leader in developing CRAM and staff continue to be active members of the statewide CRAM Steering Committee that meets quarterly to review and maintain the California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM) field manuals, training procedures, data managment, and reporting tools. The Steering Committee is chaired by a staff member from the State Water Board and includes wetland scientists and technical staff from state and federal agencies with regulatory or managmeent responsibility for the health of aquatic resources as well as from academia and other scientific organizations across the state.
Related Projects, News, and Events:
California's EcoAtlas provides access to information for effective wetland management. EcoAtlas is a set of tools for generating, assembling, storing, visualizing, sharing, and reporting environmental data and information. The tools can be used individually or together, and they can be adjusted or tuned to meet the specific needs of environmental planners, regulators, managers, scientists, and educators. The maps and tools can be used to create a complete picture of aquatic resources in the landscape by integrating stream and wetland maps, restoration information, and monitoring results with land use, transportation, and other information important to the state’s wetlands.
SFEI and the Santa Clara Valley Water District's (Valley Water) Priority D-5 Project have been conducting baseline ecological condition assessments in Santa Clara County, CA to characterize the distribution and abundance of stream and wetlands in five major watersheds, and assess the overall ecological condition of streams in the watersheds based on the California Rapic Assessment Method for streams (CRAM). The surveys employ the state's recommended Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Plan's aproach that includes the use of GIS-base maps of aquatice resources (BAARI), and spatially-balanced ambient stream surveys using CRAM. These surveys form a foundation from which Valley Water can evaluate and compare current ecological conditons across the County to support asset management priorities, set performance targets, and track change over time.
CRAM is a standardized, scientifically defensible rapid assessment method for monitoring the ecological conditions of wetlands throughout California. Because it is standardized, one can compare ecological conditions of wetlands locally, regionally and statewide.
In 2014, SFEI and the Santa Valley Water District launched a collaborative partnership aimed at sharing experience, knowledge and resources, and working toward a shared vision of watershed management. Through this partnership, the District has asked SFEI to develop a set of online tools to: 1) identify opportunities for multi-benefit management actions in and along the channels managed by the District; and 2) track the impacts of those actions towards meeting established management targets.
The California Aquatic Resources Inventory (CARI) is a Geographic Information System (GIS) based map of wetlands, streams, and riparian areas within California that is hosted online through EcoAtlas.