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Project: Southern California Stormwater Monitoring Coalition (SMC) Regional Watershed Monitoring Program

Background and Objectives

Prior to the initiation of this collaborative effort, in-stream monitoring in southern California was currently conducted by over a dozen different organizations, each of which had disparate monitoring programs that varied in design, frequency, and the indicators selected for measurement. Even where the monitoring designs were similar, the field techniques, laboratory methods, and quality assurance requirements were often not comparable, making region-wide assessments impossible. In addition, the lack of an integrated information management system precluded data sharing among programs. To address these problems, SCCWRP helped the SMC design and implement a coordinated and regional watershed monitoring program. The SMC works with local programs in the region, like the Los Angeles River Watershed Monitoring Program, to facilitate greater data collection and provide a regional context to address site- and watershed-specific questions.

Like the Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program, this program seeks to coordinate and leverage existing monitoring efforts to produce regional estimates of condition, improve data comparability and quality assurance, and maximize data availability while conserving monitoring expenditures. It addresses watersheds, though, rather than the marine environment. The primary goal of this project is to implement an ongoing, large-scale regional monitoring program for southern California’s coastal streams and rivers. The monitoring program should address three main questions:

  1. What is the condition of streams in our region?
  2. What are the stressors that affect stream condition?
  3. Are conditions getting better or worse?


This project was initiated in 2008, with anticipated completion in 2014.


A comprehensive monitoring plan was designed by the SMC, in which each participating group assesses its local geography, and then contributes their part to the whole regional assessment. The program examines the following indicators: benthic macroinvertebrates, benthic algae (soft and diatoms), riparian wetlands (using CRAM), water chemistry, water toxicity (using Ceriodaphnia), and physical habitat. Sampling takes place across 15 coastal southern California watersheds from Ventura to the US-Mexico border, and sites are characterized by land use (open, urban, and agricultural) and stream order. In total, 450 sites will be sampled over a five-year period (approximately 90 sites per year) from 2008 to 2014, with a second five-year cycle to begin in 2015.

This program serves as a link between local and statewide stream assessment programs. All data collected by the SMC will also be used by the State Water Resources Control Board’s Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP), for their statewide Perennial Streams Assessment.


Preliminary results from the first year of data collection showed that physical habitat was altered more often in urban streams, and less often in streams with a surrounding open land use, as expected. Contaminants like metals exceeded toxicity thresholds in only a few cases. For example, more than 90% of stream miles tested were under toxicity thresholds for copper. The Southern California Index of Biotic Integrity (IBI) – a multimetric index based on the relative abundance of tolerant and sensitive benthic macroinvertebrates – showed that 56% of streams were in poor or very poor condition, 28% in fair condition and 16% in good or very good condition. These findings are summarized in a fact sheet and a full report from the first year of the program.

Results of a biological condition assessment from the first year of sampling.


This project is being conducted in collaboration with SMC participants, including the Ventura County Watershed Protection Division; Los Angeles County Flood Control District; Los Angeles County Sanitation District; Orange County Public Works; Riverside County Flood Control District; San Diego County MS4 Co-Permittees; City of Los Angeles Flood Control District; SWAMP; Los Angeles, Santa Ana, and San Diego Regional Water Quality Control Boards; Department of Fish and Game; Los Angeles and San Gabriel Rivers Watershed Council; and Environmental Protection Agency Region IX.

Fact Sheet

Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program and Southern California Stormwater Monitoring Coalition. 2011. Assessing the Health of Southern California Streams.

For more information on Regional Watershed Monitoring, contact Ken Schiff at (714) 755-3202 or Raphael Mazor at (714) 755-3235.
This page was last updated on: 7/1/2014