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Water Quality Monitoring in the Sacramento River Basin

Sacramento River


Fish population survey in Feather River tributary

Sacramento River Basin waterways historically were used as places to dispose of contaminants. The practice dates back at least to the gold rush era of the 1850s when miners dumped sediment and mercury into tributaries in their search for gold. The sediment clogged natural channels, sometimes making them too shallow for fish passage or navigation, and introduced contaminants such as metals, with mercury being particularly problematic.

After the gold rush, the Sacramento River Basin’s rivers and creeks became dumping grounds for human and animal waste, often untreated. Cities and industries that dispose of wastes into the basin (known as point sources) follow much stricter standards since enactment of the federal Clean Water Act in 1971, and California’s Porter-Cologne Act in 1969. Both laws set pollutant-specific standards for discharges of contaminants into federal and state waters.

In recent decades, treatment for municipal wastewater and industrial wastewater, and management of urban stormwater runoff, have increased and improved greatly. Industries and municipalities now provide at least secondary treatment of wastewater; large and medium-size cities are implementing urban stormwater programs to reduce the impacts of urban runoff to adjacent waterways. In the past several years, agricultural runoff has come under regulation. Agricultural groups have formed coalitions to work together to meet the new requirements.

Water Quality Monitoring Programs

Today, there are dozens of citizen monitoring efforts and watershed-specific monitoring programs being implemented throughout the Sacramento River Basin. Summaries of three of the primary water quality monitoring programs in the Sacramento River Basin—Sacramento Coordinated Monitoring Program, Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program Monitoring, and Sacramento Watershed Coordinated Monitoring Program—follow.

Sacramento Coordinated Monitoring Program

The confluence of the American and Sacramento Rivers is located near downtown Sacramento. To protect and enhance the health of these rivers, the Sacramento Coordinated Monitoring Program (CMP), a joint effort of the Sacramento Regional County Sanitation District and the Sacramento Stormwater Management Program, was implemented in 1991. CMP partnering agencies collect river water samples and test for a variety of water quality constituents and contaminants. The fundamental purpose of the CMP is to develop high-quality data to aid in the development and implementation of water quality policy and regulations in the Sacramento area.

As regulatory requirements for treating stormwater discharges and wastewater have changed over the years, the partnering agencies now are required to conduct more of the monitoring under their individual discharge permits that once was performed voluntarily. The partnerships have continued despite these changes because the cooperative effort saves money and achieves the goal of developing high-quality data in the most cost-effective manner.

By collecting samples throughout the year and under varying weather conditions, the CMP partnering agencies identify water quality conditions, trends, and influences that are invaluable for defining the health of the river system. CMP partnering agencies support many area programs committed to safeguarding water quality in the Sacramento and American Rivers. Data from the program are shared with a wide group of stakeholders that includes regulatory and other public agencies, nonprofit organizations, the general public, and private companies to enhance other environmental efforts in the region.

The CMP has five sampling sites: Veterans Bridge, Freeport Bridge, River Mile 44, Nimbus Dam, and Discovery Park. Water samples are tested for approximately 70 parameters at each site, with an additional 250 parameters analyzed during expanded events that occur three times a year. Monitoring currently takes place on a bimonthly basis (six times per year).

The CMP water quality parameters include:

  • pesticides and herbicides such as diazinon, chlorpyrifos, and Roundup;
  • bacteria (E. coli, fecal and total coliform);
  • mercury;
  • metals such as copper, arsenic, lead, and aluminum; and
  • pH, temperature, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen.

Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program Monitoring

In 2003, the Central Valley RWQCB adopted the Conditional Waiver of Waste Discharge Requirements for Discharges from Irrigated Lands. These regulations provide for a watershed approach that includes a basin-wide monitoring program to assess impacts of irrigation water discharge. Since that time, the Sacramento Valley Water Quality Coalition (organized under NCWA) together with ten individual subcoalition groups, has been conducting ambient monitoring throughout the basin at sites dominated largely by agricultural effluent. Coalition groups are required to monitor water quality at selected locations monthly during the irrigation season and twice during the winter storm season. Constituents monitored are pesticides, metals, nutrients, toxicity, pathogens, general chemistry, and physical parameters. Shown in the figure are the locations of sites monitored under the ILRP from 2003 to 2009.

The objectives of the ILRP Monitoring and Reporting Program are:

  • assess the impacts of waste discharges from irrigated lands to surface waters,
  • determine the level of implementation and the effectiveness of management practices intended to reduce water quality impacts, and
  • evaluate compliance with numeric and narrative water quality objectives adopted to protect beneficial water uses.

Coalitions are required to submit to the Central Valley RWQCB an annual report summarizing the monitoring program findings. Where there are repeated exceedances of water quality objectives, coalitions are required to prepare a management plan that addresses the source and corrective action needed for those exceedances. The Central Valley RWQCB is in the process of developing the Long-Term Irrigated Lands Regulatory Program, with Board adoption scheduled for spring 2011. Future ILRP monitoring requirements will be defined in that long-term program.

ILRP Monitoring Sites

Anderson Creek at Ash Creek Road

Butte Slough at Pass Road

Cache Creek at Capay/Diversion Dam

Capell Creek u/s of Lake Berryessa

Colusa Basin Drain abv Knights Landing–SacValley

Colusa Drain nr Maxwell Road

Coon Creek at Brewer Road

Coon Creek at Striplin Road_SacValley

Coon Hollow Creek

Cosumnes River at Twin Cities Road

Coyote Creek at Tyler Road

Dry Creek at Alta Mesa

Fall River at FRR Bridge

Freshwater Creek at Gibson Road

Gilsizer Slough at George Washington Road

Grand Isle at Leary Road

Indian Creek at Arlington Bridge

Laguna Creek at Alta Mesa

Lower Snake River at Nuestro Road

Lurline Creek at 99W

McGaugh Slough at Finley Road

Middle Fork Feather River at A-23

North Canyon Creek at Hassler Road

Pine Creek at Nord Gianella Road

Pit River at Canby Road

Pit River at Pittville Bridge

Rough and Ready Pumping Plant at Road 108

Spanish Creek above Greenhorn Creek

Stone Corral Creek at Maxwell Road

Stony Creek on Hwy 45 near Road 24

Ulatis Creek at Brown Road

Wadsworth Canal at S Butte Road

Walker Creek at County Road 48

Willow Slough Bypass at Pole Line Road

Z Drain

Sacramento Watershed Coordinated Monitoring Program

SWCMP is a coordinated monitoring effort between DWR and Central Valley RWQCB. This program monitors ambient water quality at locations in the Sacramento River starting upstream of Lake Shasta and going south to Verona, and at the lower end of all large streams tributary to the Sacramento River. It is funded jointly by DWR Northern District Water Quality Section and the Central Valley RWQCB SWAMP.

The overall program objectives are to:

  • create an ambient monitoring network within the Sacramento River Basin using consistent monitoring and quality assurance protocols,
  • document ambient water quality in both clean and potentially polluted areas,
  • provide data to identify specific problems and evaluate the effectiveness of water quality regulatory programs, and
  • establish a database to track long-term trends in ambient water quality.

The program was initiated in November 2008, and sites have been sampled quarterly since that time. Constituents analyzed include all standard chemical, physical, and biological parameters (e.g., temperature, bacteria, nutrients, metals, dissolved oxygen, numerous other chemical parameters). Flow is recorded at sites with existing DWR/USGS gaging stations. Macroinvertebrate sampling has been done at selected sites with plans to make this a regular program component for all sites. In addition, it is hoped that the program can be expanded to include sites in some upper watershed areas of major tributaries. The locations below are also being monitored annually for water column and sediment toxicity.

A public report summarizing the results of the first 2 years of monitoring is being prepared by the RWQCB, and the intent is to produce a summary report annually thereafter. The goal is to provide Sacramento River Basin stakeholders with easily accessible, current, and defensible water quality data in DWR’s Water Data Library. The Water Data Library is managed by DWR and has a streamlined process of organizing and distributing water quality data.

SWCMP Sampling Locations
  1. North Fork Pit River at Alturas
  2. South Fork Pit River near Alturas
  3. Pit River near Canby
  4. Fall River at Glenburn
  5. Pit River at Pittville
  6. McCloud River above Shasta Lake
  7. Sacramento River at Delta
  8. Pit River near Montgomery Creek
  9. Cow Creek near Millville
  10. Clear Creek near mouth near Redding
  11. Churn Creek near Anderson
  12. Stillwater Creek near Anderson
  13. Bear Creek near Anderson
  14. Sacramento River at Balls Ferry
  15. Battle Creek at Jelly's Ferry Road Bridge
  16. Cottonwood Creek at Cottonwood
  17. Paynes Creek near Red Bluff
  18. Sacramento River at Bend Bridge
  19. Sacramento River below Red Bluff
  20. Red Bank Creek at Highway 99W near Red Bluff
  21. Antelope Creek near mouth near Red Bluff
  22. Elder Creek at Gerber
  23. Mill Creek near mouth near Los Molinos
  24. Thomes Creek at Hall Road
  25. Deer Creek at Hwy 99E near Vina
  26. Sacramento River at Vina bridge
  27. Sacramento River at Hamilton City
  28. Big Chico Creek at Chico
  29. Butte Creek below Western Canal Siphon
  30. Stony Creek at The Nature Conservancy
  31. Honcut Creek at Highway 70
  32. Sacramento River at Colusa
  33. Butte Slough near Meridian
  34. Yuba River at Marysville
  35. Bear River near mouth
  36. Sacramento River above CBD near Knights Landing
  37. Colusa Basin Drain near Knights Landing
  38. Feather River near Verona
  39. Sutter Bypass at RD-1500 Powerplant
  40. Sacramento River at Verona
  41. Sacramento River below Knights Landing

Working toward a Regional Monitoring Program

SRWP conducted water quality monitoring on the Sacramento River mainstem and its major tributaries between 1998 and 2008. SRWP’s monitoring program was one of the first ongoing monitoring programs for the Sacramento River Basin. Annual reports were developed for each monitoring year, and a Monitoring Program Summary was developed in December 2006. This information helped establish a baseline for Sacramento River Basin water quality conditions. With the CMP, ILWMP, and SWCMP, SRWP is now working toward the development of a sustainable regional water quality monitoring program for the Sacramento River Basin.

adobe_pdf.jpg Download the PDF version of this chapter from the original report here.