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  • SCCWRP testing new EPA health risk model at Inner Cabrillo Beach

    May 31, 2016:

    SCCWRP in late May launched a first-of-its-kind study aimed at ascertaining whether high fecal indicator bacteria Ievels at Inner Cabrillo Beach in the Los Angeles Harbor area are indicative of a health threat to beachgoers who enter the water.

    The study involves using a health risk model known as Quantitative Microbial Risk Assessment (QMRA), which was recently endorsed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to quantify the risk of gastrointestinal illness from waterborne contamination at the beach. Inner Cabrillo Beach is a popular swimming area in San Pedro that receives about half a million beachgoers annually.

    For the past 15 years, beach water-quality managers have worked without success to reduce the concentration of a type of fecal indicator bacteria called Enterococcus, which is periodically found at levels that exceed water-quality guidelines. Managers have spent more than $20 million on structural and nonstructural improvements, including testing and replacing sewer collection lines and installing bird exclusion devices designed to reduce avian fecal matter.

    Performing a QMRA at the beach will offer important new insights into how much risk is associated with swimming at Inner Cabrillo Beach. If the contamination is coming from human sources, such as leaking sanitation infrastructure, it would pose a greater human health risk than if the contamination were coming from non-human sources, such as dogs and seagulls.

    QMRAs are designed to estimate health risks on a site-specific basis using a dose-response model that factors in the concentration of the pathogens in the water, the volumes of water being ingested, and the pathogens’ infectivity to humans. The EPA recommends using QMRAs only when a beach is contaminated with non-human bacterial sources.

    The SCCWRP-led study will mark the first time a QMRA has been conducted at a California marine beach in dry weather, setting a precedent for how to conduct QMRAs of this type in the future.

    For more information, contact Ken Schiff.

    Inner Cabrillo Beach in the Los Angeles Harbor area has been the subject of  more than $20 million
    in unsuccessful clean-up efforts. SCCWRP will launch a study in May to ascertain whether
    high levels of fecal indicator bacteria that remain at the beach despite cleanup efforts are indicative
    of a health threat to beachgoers. (Courtesy of Port of Los Angeles)

  • HAB experts develop statewide strategy for responding to toxic cyanobacterial blooms

    May 03, 2016:

    A group of scientific experts on harmful algal blooms in California has developed a statewide strategy for responding to HABs and mitigating their impacts in water bodies across California.

    The strategy, co-authored by SCCWRP and published in February by the State Water Board’s Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP), provides a roadmap that California’s aquatic resource agencies can use to build capacity for monitoring HABs, assessing a water body’s susceptibility to these toxic blooms, and coordinating management responses.

    HABs are events that trigger production of algal toxins that can impair water quality and recreational uses, as well as threaten the health of humans, wildlife, and pets that come into contact with these toxins. Multiple water bodies in California already have been placed on the state’s 303(d) listing of impaired water bodies due to the toxins produced by HABs.

    Among the report’s recommendations is to use satellite imagery to identify these blooms, develop a centralized online database for tracking HAB events and for issuing bloom advisories, and craft consistent statewide procedures for sampling, health and safety, and quality assurance.

    The report, titled California Freshwater Harmful Algal Blooms Assessment and Support Strategy, is an outgrowth of a 2012 workshop hosted by SWAMP aimed at addressing the growing threat posed by cyanotoxins. One of the workshop’s key recommendations was to develop a long-term, statewide vision and strategic plan for responding to the issue in California.

    This strategy report is intended to serve as a conversation starter that various aquatic resource agencies can use to coordinate and implement a comprehensive strategy. SWAMP already has begun implementing many of the report’s recommendations with support from SCCWRP and others.

    For more information, contact Dr. Meredith Howard

    Pinto Lake in Santa Cruz County is tainted a murky greenish color by toxic cyanobacteria.
    HAB events in Pinto Lake have triggered the recreational water body to be placed on the 
    state's 303(d) listing of impaired water bodies. A new statewide strategy co-authored by SCCWRP
    aims to help aquatic resource managers respond to and mitigate HAB events across California.

  • Expert panel urges action on West Coast ocean acidification

    May 03, 2016:

    Global carbon dioxide emissions are triggering fundamental changes to ocean chemistry along the North American West Coast that should be addressed through immediate and decisive management actions, including development of a coordinated regional management strategy, a panel of leading ocean scientists has unanimously concluded.

    A failure to adequately respond to this change in seawater chemistry, known as ocean acidification (OA), is anticipated to have devastating ecological consequences for the West Coast in the decades to come, according to the 20-member West Coast Ocean Acidification and Hypoxia Science Panel, which published its findings in April.

    The panelists, who include two SCCWRP scientists, say they hope the findings will serve as a catalyst for coordinated West Coast management action aimed at mitigating the impacts of ocean acidification and to get ahead of future OA-related challenges.

    Already, some West Coast marine shelled organisms are having difficulty forming their protective outer shells, and the West Coast shellfish industry is seeing high mortality rates during early life stages when shell formation is critical.

    Because of the way the Pacific Ocean circulates, the North American West Coast is exposed to disproportionately high volumes of seawater at elevated acidity levels.

    In its final report, the panel recommended a number of specific, multi-agency solutions that can be implemented immediately, including:

    Exploring approaches that involve the use of seagrass to remove carbon dioxide from seawater.
    Supporting wholesale revisions to OA-related water-quality criteria.
    Identifying strategies for reducing the amounts of land-based pollution entering coastal waters. 
    Enhancing a West Coast-wide monitoring network that provides information toward development of coastal ecosystem management plans.

    More long-term recommendations include developing predictive mathematical models that provide insight into how West Coast ecosystems are impacted by ocean acidification and a related phenomenon known as hypoxia, or low dissolved oxygen levels. SCCWRP is already working in this arena by collaborating with multiple partners on the development of coupled physical and biogeochemical ocean models that estimate OAH impacts from global carbon dioxide emissions, natural upwelling process and nutrients introduced via local discharges.

    The Panel was convened in 2013 to explore how West Coast government agencies could work together with scientists to combat the effects of ocean acidification and hypoxia.

    For more information, contact Dr. Steve Weisberg

  • SCCWRP unveils algaeMetrics tool to simplify algae-based bioassessment calculations

    May 02, 2016:

    SCCWRP has created a free online tool to help Southern California stream managers and scientists automatically generate stream bioassessment scores using raw algae data collected from wadeable streams.

    The algaeMetrics calculator, unveiled in April, is designed to streamline the process by which algal indices of biotic integrity (IBIs) are calculated during stream bioassessments.

    Prior to development of the calculator, stream managers were required to perform a series of lengthy calculations that required familiarity with a statistical programming language.

    With the algaeMetrics calculator, the user simply uploads raw spreadsheet data to a web-based calculator, and the calculator automatically computes scores for three primary benthic algal IBIs that are used for Southern California stream bioassessments.

    The three algal IBIs are described in a 2014 journal article co-authored by SCCWRP.

    To request a demonstration of the calculator, contact Shelly Moore.



    The algaeMetrics calculator is designed to streamline the process of calculating algal
    indices of biotic integrity for stream bioassessments. The web-based calculator is free
    to use.

  • SCCWRP testing utility of remote sensing to assess hydromodification risk

    February 19, 2016:

    SCCWRP has partnered with Orange County Public Works and the manufacturer of a professional-grade unmanned aerial system equipped with sensors to begin conducting high-resolution mapping of waterways susceptible to hydromodification.

    The first-of-its-kind pilot project will involve flying PrecisionHawk remote-controlled aircraft over stream channels in south Orange County that stormwater managers are working to protect from erosion and other morphological change.

    SCCWRP is interested in adapting professional-grade aerial monitoring systems for environmental applications because, unlike traditional airplanes and helicopters, they can be deployed to gather data quickly, at low altitudes, and at far less expense than could be accomplished by typical on-ground surveys.

    PrecisionHawk, a Raleigh, N.C.-based manufacturer of professional-grade remote sensing systems, is sending a small unmanned aerial systems (sUAS) crew and system engineer to Orange County to pilot the aircraft during the project.

    PrecisionHawk uses on-board navigation and industry-standard imaging sensors to generate high-resolution location and elevation information. For the initial data collection, PrecisionHawk and SCCWRP are testing a visible spectrum camera, a multispectral infrared camera, and a LiDAR (Light Detection and Ranging) laser profiling system capable of penetrating gaps in dense foliage to generate imagery of the ground surface below.

    A PrecisionHawk team visited SCCWRP in late January to begin an initial round of flight tests, including in the San Bernardino Mountains. The initial flight tests were an opportunity to assess the feasibility of using the technology for mapping areas covered in dense vegetation and snow pack. SCCWRP is working to assess the viability of unmanned aerial systems for member agency applications.

    PrecisionHawk also will benefit from the partnership, as the company is interested in learning how its sUAS systems – which are primarily used in the agriculture industry – might be extended to applications in the environmental monitoring arena.

    The PrecisionHawk project, part of a larger initiative to assess the value of sUAS systems for a range of environmental monitoring applications, is being conducted in partnership with the San Francisco Estuary Institute, SCCWRP’s sister organization in Northern California.

    Future potential applications of sUAS that SCCWRP and SFEI will be exploring include quantifying and mapping harmful algal blooms (HABs), collecting water samples from hard-to-access water bodies, mapping estuaries and wetlands, and identifying debris and pollution plumes.

    For more information, contact Dr. Steve Steinberg.


    Vev Jackson, a PrecisionHawk UAS pilot, prepares to launch a fixed-wing UAS for a high-altitude
    test flight in the San Bernardino Mountains in January. The team was testing the use of
    a multispectral camera system at an elevation of 6,500 feet near
    Big Bear along the upper Santa Ana River.


    Eric Postma, a PrecisionHawk electronics engineer, conducts a pre-flight test on a unmanned
    aerial system in the San Bernardino Mountains in January. SCCWRP and Orange County Public Works
    are partnering with PrecisionHawk to map waterways susceptible to hydromodification.


  • SCCWRP, partners launching outreach campaign for OAH modeling

    February 19, 2016:

    A team of scientists that is developing a predictive model examining how the West Coast is impacted by ocean acidification and hypoxia (OAH) will launch a public outreach campaign in March to solicit input from Southern California scientists, coastal managers and other stakeholders.

    Project scientists want to share with the broader scientific and management community the approach being used to develop the model and get suggestions for how to maximize its utility while the project is still in its formative stages. The stakeholders will be asked for suggestions about data that can be used to both calibrate and validate the model.

    Later, as the model is validated and uncertainty is quantified, project scientists will continue to work with this outreach group to help define the nutrient management scenario analyses that will be run in the model.

    SCCWRP will host the first outreach meeting in March; the meeting date will be announced in early February.

    The West Coast OAH modeling project is a sweeping initiative to help West Coast managers understand which marine habitats are most vulnerable to OAH and to what extent local, land-based sources of pollution are exacerbating coastal OAH conditions.

    SCCWRP is working on the project with the University of California, Los Angeles, University of Washington, and National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory.

    The modeling work involves coupling West Coast physical and biogeochemical ocean models together to predict the relative contributions of global carbon dioxide emissions, natural upwelling processes, and nutrients introduced via local discharges.

    The model also will be valuable for assessing local management strategies, such as carbon sequestration. A downscaled version of the model is being developed specifically for the Southern California Bight.

    When the model is finished in 2018, scientists hope to be able to share with the management community whether the actions they take at the local level can have a meaningful effect in reducing or eliminating the harmful effects of OAH. Those harmful effects include the ability of calcifying organisms to form their shells.

    For more information, contact Dr. Martha Sutula.