Proposed statewide strategy developed to boost capacity for monitoring freshwater HABs

Posted October 30, 2020
SCCWRP and its partners use an underwater autonomous vehicle, left, and a multispectral imaging sensor attached to a drone, right, to monitor cyanobacterial blooms in Lake Elsinore in Riverside County. SCCWRP and the State Water Board have developed a proposed statewide strategy for monitoring freshwater blooms that includes expanded use of remote-sensing technologies.

SCCWRP and the State Water Board have developed a proposed statewide strategy for boosting California’s capacity to monitor the growing threat posed by harmful algal blooms (HABs) in California freshwater environments.

The freshwater HABs monitoring strategy – scheduled to be released in draft form for public comment by mid-January – offers a long-term vision for how California environmental managers should prioritize strategic, cost-effective investments in HABs monitoring to better protect human and ecosystem  health. The document is expected to be finalized following a 30-day public comment period.

Many of the monitoring strategy recommendations, including developing a statewide HABs monitoring partner network, are intended to complement and build off existing freshwater HABs monitoring efforts and incident response reporting across California.

The strategy document, which is based on a vision developed by SCCWRP and the State Water Board for what a comprehensive monitoring framework should look like, represents the next phase in California’s ongoing effort to more effectively manage freshwater HABs statewide.

SCCWRP and the State Water Board unveiled a HABs management strategy in 2016 that called for developing this monitoring strategy, as well as building statewide capacity to respond to HABs incidents and to assess health risks. In response, the State Water Board formalized protocols for responding to publicly reported incidents of HABs statewide; these incident reports have more than doubled in recent years.

Freshwater HABs incidents are ecologically disruptive events that can produce toxins that threaten the health of humans, wildlife and domestic pets that come into contact with them. Reports of freshwater HABs incidents have been increasing in frequency and intensity in streams, lakes and other water bodies as waters warm.

California already has built a robust, weekly monitoring program for HABs in marine environments, the Harmful Algal Bloom Monitoring and Alert Program (HABMAP), which was established in 2008 and is supplemented by algal toxin monitoring in shellfish. Developing a freshwater HABs monitoring strategy has been comparatively more challenging because of the diversity of water body types and the multiple ways that freshwater HABs can impact beneficial uses for water bodies.

The freshwater HABs monitoring strategy consists of six recommended priorities for building California’s freshwater HABs monitoring capacity:

» Develop and implement a partner monitoring program

» Increase investments in remote sensing monitoring approaches

» Implement statewide field surveys focused on human health

» Implement focused assessments of drivers of freshwater HABs

» Develop standardized protocols for monitoring and incident response efforts

» Integrate monitoring elements into all Water Board programs and policies

Once the freshwater HABs monitoring strategy has been finalized, State Water Board staff will gradually implement the strategy in the coming years. Implementation is supported by Assembly Bill 834, a 2019 law that earmarked State funding to support California freshwater  and estuarine HABs program development and statewide monitoring.

The strategy was developed in collaboration with national HAB experts, California’s Regional Water Quality Control Boards, tribal governments and citizen scientists.

During the report’s public comment period – expected to begin no later than January 15, 2021 – the strategy’s authors will be seeking feedback on their recommendations and the technical rationale underlying the recommendations. The draft report will be posted to the Freshwater CyanoHABs section of the Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program’s (SWAMP) website, and will be announced via the State Water Board’s CWQMC California CyanoHab Network listserv.

The State Water Board also is seeking willing partners to begin aligning existing freshwater HABs monitoring efforts to the proposed statewide strategy. The State Water Board anticipates being able to provide training and infrastructure to support these expanded HABs monitoring efforts.

For more information, contact Dr. Jayme Smith.

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