Near-field receiving water monitoring of trace metals and a benthic community near the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant in south San Francisco Bay, California; 2009

Open-File Report 2010-1188

Prepared in cooperation with the City of Palo Alto, California
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Results reported herein include trace element concentrations in sediment and in the clam Macoma petalum (formerly reported as Macoma balthica (Cohen and Carlton, 1995)), clam reproductive activity, and benthic macroinvertebrate community structure for a mudflat one kilometer south of the discharge of the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant (PARWQCP) in South San Francisco Bay. This report includes data collected for the period January 2009 to December 2009 and extends a critical long-term biogeochemical record dating back to 1974. These data serve as the basis for the City of Palo Alto's Near-Field Receiving Water Monitoring Program, initiated in 1994. In 2009, metal concentrations in both sediments and clam tissue were among the lowest concentrations on record and consistent with results observed since 1991. Following significant reductions in the late 1980s, silver (Ag) and copper (Cu) concentrations appeared to have stabilized. Annual mean concentrations have fluctuated modestly (2-4 fold) in a nondirectional manner. Data for other metals, including chromium, mercury, nickel, selenium, vanadium, and zinc, have been collected since 1994. Over this period, concentrations of these elements, which more likely reflect regional inputs and systemwide processes, have remained relatively constant, aside from typical seasonal variation that is common to all elements. Within years, the winter months (January-March) generally exhibit maximum concentrations, with a decline to annual minima in spring through fall. Mercury (Hg) in sediments and M. petalum were comparable to concentrations observed in 2008 and were generally consistent with data from previous years. Selenium (Se) concentrations in sediment varied among years and showed no sustained temporal trend. In 2009, sedimentary Se concentrations declined from the record high concentrations observed in 2008 to concentrations that were among the lowest on record. Selenium in M. petalum was unchanged from 2008. Overall, Cu and Ag concentrations in sediments and soft tissues of the clam, M. petalum, remained representative of the concentrations observed since 1991 following significant reductions in the discharge of these elements from the PARWQCP. This suggests that, as with other elements of regulatory interest, regional-scale factors now largely influence sedimentary and bioavailable concentrations of Ag and Cu. Analyses of the benthic community structure of a mudflat in South San Francisco Bay over a 36-year period show that changes in the community have occurred concurrent with reduced concentrations of metals in the sediment and in the tissues of the biosentinel clam, M. petalum, from the same area. Analysis of the reproductive activity of M. petalum shows increases in reproductive activity concurrent with the decline in metal concentrations in the tissues of this organism. Reproductive activity is presently stable, with almost all animals initiating reproduction in the fall and spawning the following spring of most years. The community has shifted from being dominated by several opportunistic species to a community where the species are more similar in abundance, a pattern that suggests a more stable community that is subjected to fewer stressors. In addition, two of the opportunistic species (Ampelisca abdita and Streblospio benedicti) that brood their young and live on the surface of the sediment in tubes have shown a continual decline in dominance coincident with the decline in metals; both species had short-lived rebounds in abundance in 2008 and 2009. Heteromastus filiformis (a subsurface polychaete worm that lives in the sediment, consumes sediment and organic particles residing in the sediment, and reproduces by laying its eggs on or in the sediment) showed a concurrent increase in dominance, with the last several years prior to 2008 showing a stable population. An unidentified disturbance occurred on the mudflat in early 2008 that resulted in the loss o

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Near-field receiving water monitoring of trace metals and a benthic community near the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant in south San Francisco Bay, California; 2009
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Open-File Report
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U.S. Geological Survey
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National Research Program
ix, 46 p.; Figures; Tables; Appendices
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