Regional Monitoring Research Plan

View SCCWRP’s full thematic Research Plan for Regional Monitoring (PDF)

2018-2019 Executive Summary

Southern California environmental managers and scientists spend an estimated $50 million every year on monitoring aquatic environments, but have struggled to answer the big-picture questions being asked by the public: “Is it safe to swim in the ocean?” “Are locally caught fish safe to eat?” and “Are local ecosystems adequately protected?” The reason is that most monitoring is focused on addressing relatively compact areas that surround specific outfalls – monitoring that is required under state and federal laws. Even when scientists compile this compliance-based monitoring data from dozens of agencies, the resulting regional picture is incomplete. Recognizing this challenge, SCCWRP helps coordinate wide-scale regional monitoring programs across a variety of habitats, including streams, wetlands, estuaries, beaches and coastal waters. For each monitoring program, SCCWRP works with local and regional agencies to standardize data collection and coordinate analysis efforts, leveraging the limited resources of many to obtain comprehensive data on some of the region’s most pressing environmental challenges. These programs are among the top regional monitoring programs in the nation and have served as models for developing similar programs internationally.

SCCWRP’s best-known monitoring program is the Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program, conducted every five years since the mid-1990s. The ongoing program mobilizes participating agencies to collect data from across a much greater expanse than just their outfall zones, allowing environmental managers to paint a comprehensive picture of the health of coastal waters that stretch from Point Conception in Santa Barbara County to just south of the U.S.-Mexico border. The Bight program’s freshwater counterpart, the Southern California Stormwater Monitoring Coalition Regional Watershed Monitoring Program, was launched in 2009 to monitor an area that stretches from the Ventura River in Ventura County to the Tijuana River straddling the U.S.-Mexico border. The key to success in developing integrated monitoring designs is SCCWRP’s ability to bring all parties to the table – from local and regional agencies to state and national entities – to work toward agreement on goals, study design and data interpretation. Not only do the comprehensive data sets help environmental managers establish appropriate priorities for addressing big-picture challenges, but regional monitoring also fosters productive interactions among dischargers and regulators as they develop and collaboratively interpret monitoring information and implement findings. Regional monitoring also provides an important launching platform for SCCWRP’s member agencies and research collaborators to test new technologies and assessment tools.

This year, SCCWRP will begin field sampling for the next five-year cycle of the Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program, known as Bight ’18. Additionally, the SMC Regional Watershed Monitoring Program is in the middle of its second cycle that started in 2014. SCCWRP’s focus for 2018-19 will be on:

  • Regional marine monitoring (Bight ’18): The Southern California Bight Regional Monitoring Program, an integrated collaborative regional monitoring initiative, has developed five major study elements for the program’s sixth cycle, known as Bight ’18: Sediment Quality, Ocean Acidification, Harmful Algal Blooms, Trash and Microbiology. Dating back to 1994, the Bight program provides holistic answers to questions regarding the extent and magnitude of anthropogenic impacts and the range of natural variability upon which scientists evaluate these impacts. The Bight program covers approximately 1,500 square miles of near-coastal ocean and has sampled over 2,000 sites. For Bight ’18, more than 80 collaborating agencies will track trends in ecosystem health, including new habitats not previously monitored. Bight ’18 also will provide a platform for testing new monitoring technology, including new sampling techniques, new pollutants, and new ecosystem response assessment tools. Finally, Bight ’18 will examine emerging developments in water-quality management, including the success of previous management actions.
  • Regional watershed monitoring: SCCWRP is facilitating the second cycle of the Southern California Stormwater Monitoring Coalition (SMC) Regional Watershed Monitoring Program. After successfully facilitating the first regional monitoring survey cycle of streams from 2009 to 2014, SCCWRP and the SMC are again assessing the health of Southern California’s approximately 4,300 miles of streams in its coastal watersheds. The regional stream survey is among the largest in country, with sampling at more than 500 sites across all 17 major watersheds between the Ventura and Tijuana Rivers. Data being collected encompass water quality, physical habitat and riparian condition, and biological communities, including benthic invertebrates and algae. The monitoring questions for the second five-year cycle, which runs through 2019, include: (1) What are the extent and magnitude of impact in Southern California’s streams? (2) Are the extent and magnitude getting better or worse? (3) What are the stressors responsible for the impacts observed? The 2017 survey also addresses several special study components, including assessing non-perennial streams, which is a habitat that comprises nearly three-quarters of all stream-miles in the region. Additional novel components include assessing the extent and magnitude of current-use pesticides (pyrethroid and fipronil) and the effects of variable climate (i.e., the swing from extreme drought in 2015-16 to extreme rainfall in winter 2016-17).