Bioassessment in California


What's at Stake

California is endowed with some of the most diverse terrestrial and aquatic habitats, all of which are home to magnificent varieties of fish, wildlife and plants, many of them found nowhere else on earth. Yet an alarrning rate of these habitats are becoming degraded by pollution and development, and species biodiversity is being lost. Aquatic resources are especially at risk, as growing human population and developments make increasing demands on water.

Assessing Water Quality

Water quality has traditionally been assessed with indirect measures of aquatic health emphasizing expensive and somewhat complex chemical and toxicity testing. However, water quality is most directly assessed by measuring the physical condition of a water body and the integrity of its biological communities. Adding a physical and biological measure to chemical and toxicological assessments better defines the effects of what is discharged into a body of water, and provides a more appropriate measure to evaluate discharges of non-chemical substances (e.g. sedimentation and habitat destruction). Additionally, biological and physical assessments are substantially less expensive than chemical and toxicological testing, integrate the effects of water quality over time, are sensitive to multiple aspects of water and habitat quality, and provide the public with more familiar expressions of ecological health.

Standardizing Biological and Physical Habitat Assessment

The U.S. EPA has requested that all water resource management programs evaluate the effects of human activities on the chemical, physical and biological components of water resources. To answer this request, California is in the process of developing a state-wide biological assessment (bioassessment) program which utilizes standardized, cost-effective and reliable measures of the chemical, physical and biological integrity of the state's water bodies. In 1993, the California Department of Fish and Game distributed the California Stream Bioassessment Procedure (CSBP) as a set of standard bioassessment procedures for state-wide water quality regulatory programs. These procedures, now in the third edition were developed with input from other aquatic biologists and represent the regional adaptation of the national U.S. EPA Rapid Bioassessment Protocols. The CSBP has been successfully used to assess the biological and physical conditions of wadeable streams influenced by point source pollution of organic enrichment and inorganic sediment and presently have been incorporated into several demonstration projects throughout California.

Why Should Citizens Become Involved

The need for high quality water for use by people and wildlife is a concern for all Californians. With the demand on the state's water resources and the constraints on the financial resources necessary to protect it, water quality agencies and concerned citizens must join forces to protect our rivers and lakes. Right now, citizens must depend on their government to know the condition of California's streams and lakes and to protect them from environmental degradation. Although few would debate how seriously public servants take the concept of public trust, the reality is that there are too few biologists to monitor the myriad of our state's aquatic habitats. At some point it becomes necessary for citizens to become involved, and a first step is to be inforrned about environmental processes, find out how to measure those processes and to learn what it takes to improve environmental health.

Standardizing Citizen Water Quality Monitoring

Agency involvement in citizen monitoring of water quality has recently developed in California. A recent State Water Resources Control Board's survey shows at least 50 monitoring groups are active in California. These groups are measuring a variety of water parameters but the use of their data by water quality agencies is only a small portion of its potential. A survey of resource managers found that the acceptance and usefulness of citizen monitoring data depends on adherence to quality assurance/quality control procedures and protocols. Standard training, referral from a recognized organization and a central clearinghouse to manage data would further improve the use of citizen generated data.

In answer to these concerns, DFG introduced a CSBP document entitled "Habitat and Biological Assessment for Citizen Monitors" in March 1996. The procedure is a generalized state guideline to help citizen monitors produce high quality, reliable assessments of stream habitat and water quality. The procedures are rigorous and go beyond the educational value of biological monitoring. Citizen monitoring groups must be under the direction of a project advisor who should be an aquatic biologist/entomologist or a representative from a water quality agency. Each group must also develop Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) and a Quality Assurance Project Plan (QAPP) for their specific monitoring program or project. In addition, the procedures describe the creation of "validation samples" as a regular part of performing water quality assessments.

Need for Training

As stated earlier, citizen participation is essential and their involvement will help make a difference in achieving aquatic habitat protection, conservation and preservation goals. Training for citizens interested in water quality monitoring can be at varying levels of intensity associated with the level of involvement they desire. The most intense level of training involves taxonomic identification of benthic macro invertebrates to the order/family level which is a requirement of the CSBP. However, people can also choice to be trained to recognize water pollution and how to assess physical habitat condition and collect chemical or biological samples.

Training site

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