Mercury, methylmercury, and other constituents in sediment and water from seasonal and permanent wetlands in the Cache Creek settling basin and Yolo Bypass, Yolo County, California, 2005-06

Open-File Report 2009-1182

Prepared in cooperation with the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District, the Sacramento River Watershed Program, and the United States Environmental Protection Agency



This report presents surface water and surface (top 0-2 cm) sediment geochemical data collected during 2005-2006, as part of a larger study of mercury (Hg) dynamics in seasonal and permanently flooded wetland habitats within the lower Sacramento River basin, Yolo County, California. The study was conducted in two phases. Phase I represented reconnaissance sampling and included three locations within the Cache Creek drainage basin; two within the Cache Creek Nature Preserve (CCNP) and one in the Cache Creek Settling Basin (CCSB) within the creek's main channel near the southeast outlet to the Yolo Bypass. Two additional downstream sites within the Yolo Bypass Wildlife Area (YBWA) were also sampled during Phase I, including one permanently flooded wetland and one seasonally flooded wetland, which had began being flooded only 1–2 days before Phase I sampling.

Results from Phase I include: (a) a negative correlation between total mercury (THg) and the percentage of methylmercury (MeHg) in unfiltered surface water; (b) a positive correlation between sediment THg concentration and sediment organic content; (c) surface water and sediment THg concentrations were highest at the CCSB site; (d) sediment inorganic reactive mercury (Hg(II)R) concentration was positively related to sediment oxidation-reduction potential and negatively related to sediment acid volatile sulfur (AVS) concentration; (e) sediment Hg(II)R concentrations were highest at the two YBWA sites; (f) unfiltered surface water MeHg concentration was highest at the seasonal wetland YBWA site, and sediment MeHg was highest at the permanently flooded YBWA site; (g) a 1,000-fold increase in sediment pore water sulfate concentration was observed in the downstream transect from the CCNP to the YBWA; (h) low sediment pore water sulfide concentrations (<1 µmol/L) across all sites; and (i) iron (Fe) speciation data suggest a higher potential for microbial Fe(III)-reduction in the YBWA compared to the CCSB.

Phase II sampling did not include the original three Cache Creek sites, but instead focused on the original two sites within the YBWA and a similarly paired set of seasonally and permanently flooded wetland sites within the CCSB. Sediment sampling at the YBWA and CCSB occurred approximately 28 days and 52 days, respectively, after the initial flooding of the respective seasonal wetlands, and again towards the end of the seasonal flooding period (end of May 2006). Results from Phase II sampling include: (a) sediment MeHg concentration and the percentage of THg as MeHg (%MeHg) in unfiltered surface waters were generally higher in the YBWA compared to the CCSB; (b) suspended sediment concentration (SCC) in surface water was positively correlated with both THg and MeHg in unfiltered water across all sites, although the relationship between SCC and MeHg differed for the two regions, suggesting local MeHg sources; (c) MeHg concentration in unfiltered surface water was positively correlated to sediment MeHg concentrations across all sites, supporting the suggestion of unique local (sediment) sources of MeHg to the water column; (d) THg concentration in filtered water was positively correlated with both total Fe and dissolved organic carbon (DOC), offering additional support for the role of these constituents in the partitioning of THg between particulate and dissolved phases; (e) flooding of the YBWA seasonal wetland resulted in a rapid and significant (5-fold) rise in sediment MeHg concentration within 3–4 weeks following inundation; and (f) temporal changes in sediment S and Fe speciation suggest that rates of both microbial sulfate reduction and Fe(III)-reduction were significantly higher at YBWA, compared to CCSB, during the period between flooding and drying.

The geochemical data presented in this report indicate that (a) strong spatial and temporal differences in Hg speciation and transformations can occur within the range of wetland habitats found in the lower Sacramento River basin; (b) flooding of seasonal wetlands can be accompanied by a rapid increase in benthic MeHg production and the release of previously formed MeHg (generated during or since the previous flooding season) to the overlying water column; (c) S and Fe chemistry, and associated microbial reduction pathways, play an important role in mediating the speciation and transformation of Hg in these wetland habitats; (d) hydroperiod is a primary forcing function in mediating MeHg production among various wetland types; and (e) MeHg production appears to be more active in the YBWA compared to the CCSB.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Mercury, methylmercury, and other constituents in sediment and water from seasonal and permanent wetlands in the Cache Creek settling basin and Yolo Bypass, Yolo County, California, 2005-06
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
National Research Program, California Water Science Center
xi, 69 p.
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Yolo County
Other Geospatial:
Cache Creek settling basin, Yolo Bypass
Online Only (Y/N):