Southern California Bight 2003 Regional Monitoring Program: V. water quality

Technical Report 528
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More than $30 million is expended annually on environmental monitoring in the Southern California Bight (SCB), yet only 5% of the Bight is monitored on an ongoing basis. Therefore, environmental managers in the SCB decided to expand their monitoring program and, starting in 1994, decided to conduct periodic regional assessments of ecosystem condition and assess the overall health of the SCB. Sixty-five different organizations collaborated in 2003 to create the third SCB Regional Monitoring Program (Bight '03). Bight '03 was designed to be integrated regional monitoring program that encompasses regulatory, academic, and non-governmental agencies.

Bight '03 had three components: Coastal Ecology, Shoreline Microbiology, and Water Quality. This report addresses the purpose, approach, findings, and recommendations from the Water Quality component, which focused on contamination-laden stormwater runoff, in particularly its variability in time and space as well as its short-term ecological impacts.

Specifically, the Bight '03 Water Quality component had three primary goals, the first of which was to described the temporal evolution of stormwater plumes produced by the major southern California rivers. Specifically, the study was intended to determine how far offshore the plumes extended, how rapidly they advected, how long before the plumes dispersed and how these properties differed among storms and river systems.

The second goal was to describe how the physical properties (e.g., turbidity, temperature, salinity) of the plume related to biogeochemical and ecological properties that are of more direct concern to the water quality management community. Accomplished primarily through ship-based sampling of water quality parameters, this second goal was to describe how far offshore, and for how ;long after the storm, elevated bacterial concentrations, toxicity, and nutrients could be detected. Similar to the fist goal, the study also addressed how these answers differed among storms and river systems.

The final goal was to determine whether relationships between environmental indicators derived from coincident satellite remote sensing and in situ data sets are sufficiently robust for remote sensing to become a routine water quality monitoring programs. Remote sensing data potentially provide coastal managers with synoptic near-real time regional information about prevailing ocean conditions and hazards that would complement existing field-based sampling protocols, but only if there is a thorough understanding of how to interpret and utilize the proxy measures, such as ocean color. The understanding of these priorities through Bight '03 sampling is intended to provide the basis for developing more efficient, widespread and coast-effective coastal ocean monitoring techniques.

Water quality data were collected across eight major river systems within four geographic regions of southern California. Field measurements included the primary contaminants of interest, i.e., bacterial concentrations, water toxicity, and nutrients, as well as related parameters such as temperatures, salinity, total suspended solids, transmissivity, chlorophyll, and colored dissolved organic material (CDOM) concentrations. For each of the four major regions, i.e., Santa Clara/Ventura Rivers, Ballona Creek/Santa Monica Bay, San Pedro Shelf, and the San Diego, Tijuana Rivers, two stormwater events were sampled for up to three days by ship resulting in 574 water column CTD+ profiles and 705 discrete water samples during 36 ship-days. These data were analyzed in combination with MODIS ocean color satellite remote sensing, buoy meteorological observations, drifters, and HF radar current measurements to evaluate the dispersal patterns, dynamics, and impacts of the freshwater runoff plumes.

Based on these data and resulting analyses, the principal conclusions were as follow:

- Stormwater runoff turbidity plumes were found to be spatially extensive, covering up to 2500 km2 within the Southern California Bight nearshore zone, and persisting over the entire duration of the post-storm sampling period (at least 3 days).

- The spatial and temporal extent of the portion of the plume with contaminants was far less than that of the turbidity plume, typically representing <10% of its area (30-70% off Tijuana); however, with contaminant impacts generally greatly reduced or absent by the third or fourth day of sampling

- Pseudo-nitzschia, a harmful algae that produces domoic acid, was found to be more abundant than previously reported.

- Accurately describing stormwater runoff plumes requires a combination of in situ and remote sensing assessment tools, with satellite data providing valuable synoptic information.

From these conclusions, the following recommendations are provided:

- Future studies designed to describe stormwater plumes should include a combination of ship - and remote sensing-based methods.

- CDOM is a good proxy of the freshwater runoff plume and should be added as a standard measurement parameter on water quality instrument packages.

- Investigations are needed that assess on a local basis the spatial extent of ecological effects of stormwater plumes early in the storm, ideally accompanied by airborne imagery to provide improved temporal & spatial resolution, to fill in knowledge gaps.

The next Bight regional monitoring program should focus on quantifying nutrient loadings and dynamics in association with stormwater runoff and other sources, and characterize their attendant ecosystem impacts such as phytoplankton blooms.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type Report
Publication Subtype Organization Series
Title Southern California Bight 2003 Regional Monitoring Program: V. water quality
Series title Technical Report
Series number 528
Year Published 2007
Language English
Publisher Southern California Coastal Water Research Project
Publisher location Coasta Mesa, CA
Contributing office(s) Coastal and Marine Geology Program
Description xiv, 157 p.
Country United States
State California