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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—2017

Open-File Report 2018-1107

Prepared in cooperation with the City of Palo Alto, California
By:
https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20181107

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Abstract

Trace-metal concentrations in sediment and in the clam Macoma petalum (formerly reported as Macoma balthica), clam reproductive activity, and benthic macroinvertebrate community structure were investigated in a mudflat 1 kilometer south of the discharge of the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant (PARWQCP) in south San Francisco Bay, Calif. This report includes the data collected by U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) scientists for the period January 2017 to December 2017. These append to long-term datasets extending back to 1974. A major focus of the report is an integrated description of the 2017 data within the context of the longer, multi-decadal dataset. This dataset supports the City of Palo Alto’s Near-Field Receiving Water Monitoring Program, initiated in 1994.

Significant reductions in silver and copper concentrations in sediment and M. petalum occurred at the site in the 1980s following the implementation by PARWQCP of advanced wastewater treatment and source control measures. Since the 1990s, concentrations of these elements appear to have stabilized at concentrations somewhat above silver (Ag) or near copper (Cu) regional background concentrations. Data for other metals, including chromium (Cr), mercury (Hg), nickel (Ni), selenium (Se), and zinc (Zn), have been collected since 1994. Over this period, concentrations of these elements have remained relatively constant, aside from seasonal variation that is common to all elements. In 2017, concentrations of silver and copper in M. petalum varied seasonally in response to a combination of site-specific metal exposures and annual growth and reproduction, as reported previously. Seasonal patterns for other elements, including Cr, Ni, Zn, Hg, and Se, were generally similar in timing and magnitude as those for Ag and Cu. This record suggests that legacy contamination and regional-scale factors now largely control sedimentary and bioavailable concentrations of silver and copper, as well as other elements of regulatory interest, at the Palo Alto site.

Analyses of the benthic community structure of a mudflat in south San Francisco Bay over a 40-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 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 (2017), with almost all animals initiating reproduction in the fall and spawning the following spring. The entire infaunal community has shifted from being dominated by several opportunistic species to a community where the species are more similar in abundance, a pattern that indicates 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, 2009, and 2010 and showed signs of increasing abundance in 2017. 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 and, in the last several years before 2008, showed a stable population. H. filiformis abundance increased slightly in 2011–2012 and returned to pre-2011 numbers in 2017. An unidentified disturbance occurred on the mudflat in early 2008 that resulted in the loss of the benthic animals, except for deep-dwelling animals like M. petalum. However, within two months of this event animals returned to the mudflat. The resilience of the community suggested that the disturbance was not due to a persistent toxin or anoxia. The reproductive mode of most species that were present in 2017 is reflective of species that were available either as pelagic larvae or as mobile adults. Although oviparous species were lower in number in this group, the authors hypothesize that these species will return slowly as more species move back into the area. The use of functional ecology was highlighted in the 2017 benthic community data, which showed that the animals that have now returned to the mudflat are those that can respond successfully to a physical, nontoxic disturbance. Today, community data show a mix of species that consume the sediment, or filter feed, have pelagic larvae that must survive landing on the sediment, and those that brood their young. USGS scientists view the 2008 disturbance event as a response by the infaunal community to an episodic natural stressor (possibly sediment accretion or a pulse of freshwater), in contrast to the long-term recovery from metal contamination. We will compare this recovery to the long-term recovery observed after the 1970s when the decline in sediment pollutants was the dominating factor.

Suggested Citation

Cain, D.J., Thompson, J.K., Parchaso, F., Pearson, S., Stewart, R., Turner, M., Barasch, D., Slabic, A., and Luoma, S.N., 2018, 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—2017: U.S. Geological Survey Open-File Report 2018–1107, 71 p., https://doi.org/10.3133/ofr20181107.

ISSN: 2331-1258 (online)

Study Area

Table of Contents

  • Executive Summary of Past Findings
  • Abstract
  • Introduction
  • Methods
  • Results
  • Summary
  • Acknowledgment
  • References Cited

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Report
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Title:
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—2017
Series title:
Open-File Report
Series number:
2018-1107
DOI:
10.3133/ofr20181107
Year Published:
2018
Language:
English
Publisher:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
WMA - Earth System Processes Division
Description:
vi, 71 p.
Country:
United States
State:
California
City:
Palo Alto
Other Geospatial:
San Francisco Bay
Online Only (Y/N):
Y