Effort launched to develop prototype causal assessment screening tool

Posted October 27, 2018
SCCWRP and its partners are working to develop a causal assessment tool to help water-quality managers rapidly narrow down potential causes of degraded ecological condition in coastal waters and streams, such as San Diego Creek in Orange County, above.

SCCWRP and its partners in October began developing a management tool for rapidly narrowing down potential causes of degraded ecological condition in California streams and coastal waters, part of an ongoing effort to improve causal assessment methods as water-quality managers increasingly rely on biology-based condition assessments.

The screening-level causal assessment tool is being designed for use alongside biology-based condition assessment tools, which water-quality managers have become more dependent on in recent years to prioritize their remediation efforts.

The tool will draw upon a standard list of possible stressors that can either be rapidly eliminated from consideration oridentified as a possible cause of impairment based on a standard set of evidence types. The tool is intended to serve as the first tier of a proposed three-tiered framework for conducting causal assessments in California streams and coastal waters.

The proposed framework consists of a “screening” assessment, a “detailed” assessment and a “confirmatory” assessment; it is designed to provide water-quality managers with an empirical, transparent and repeatable method for identifying the most likely cause(s) of water body impairment. Both regulated and regulatory parties would be able to use the framework to prioritize clean-up, restoration and remediation efforts.

SCCWRP developed the proposed causal assessment framework after evaluating the utility of a stream causal assessment framework developed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency known as the Causal Analysis/Diagnosis Decision Information System (CADDIS). During the CADDIS evaluation, which consisted of four case studies published in 2015, SCCWRP and its partners determined that the CADDIS framework would need to be modified for application in California.

The development of the screening-level tier will take place over three years and will include field testing on degraded streams in San Diego.

SCCWRP and its partners will look for opportunities to flesh out the other two tiers of the proposed framework as part of ongoing and planned projects.

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