The State of Water Quality and Monitoring Practices in Southern California

Posted by Christine Lee on Wednesday, March 21 2012


Hi everyone,

Nancy L. C. Steele (Council for Watershed Health) and I (Christine Lee - Caltech-Jet Propulsion Laboratory) would like to submit a Switzer Network Innovation Proposal for consideration.  We would love to hear your feedback on how to make this proposal not just a standalone project - but one that has far-reaching benefits and lessons learned that would be applicable to other water quality monitoring and protection efforts. This undertaking is particularly timely and important, given that the BEACH Act is on the chopping block for Obama administration's budget FY2013, which would eliminate all federal support for beach water quality monitoring.   Another important thing to note is that the EPA is also planning to roll out NEW standards which will involve substantial lab upgrades and personnel training; I'm not certain how this will work with water monitoring support in jeopardy.  

Thank you, and we look forward to your feedback.


The State of Water Quality and Monitoring Protocols in Southern California


Fellow:  Nancy L.C. Steele, Executive Director, Council for Watershed Health

Fellow:  Christine M. Lee, Postdoctoral Research Scientist, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory


Problem Statement. Water quality monitoring is central to protecting both environmental and public health by informing the public of potential contamination and health threats and identifying pollution hotspots. Once these threats are identified, city or county officials can effectively and efficiently mitigate them.  The current state of beach monitoring programs is tenuous at best, with the US EPA proposing to cut 100% of federal support provided for these efforts.  This move is highly incongruous with their simultaneous plan to unroll new water quality monitoring protocols and standards, which will require additional funds to set up new equipment and train end users.  


Approach.  We propose to conduct a water quality monitoring project in the Los Angeles River Watershed in Southern California that provides insight to how these impending transitions of new water quality protocols and lack of federal support will come into play, with respect to scientific, economic, and public health considerations. 


Specific Objectives.   


(1) The Science.  New EPA water quality standards are likely to incorporate quantitative PCR methods (qPCR) for Bacteroidales.  We will compare the relative extent of bacterial contamination at popular swimming sites in LA River Watershed as measured by conventional culture-based methods and the proposed qPCR method.  Sampling at these sites is already on-going during summer, high-season for public access/use.  Target organisms will include E. coli, Bacteroidales, and Clostridium perfringens.

Part of the science objective is to understand the limitations of qPCR in Southern California sites.  Potential collaborators from the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation have observed that qPCR is highly site-specific (interference and false positives) and we will focus on this particular limitation as part of the science investigation;


(2) Data Analysis.  Using GIS, we will map and evaluate this data with respect to population density and land use (i.e., known potential point/non-point sources), which will put the collected information into context;


(3) Economic Analysis.  We will conduct a cost-benefit analysis of implementing qPCR vs standard culture techniques for public health labs in Los Angeles, based on startup, training, etc., given proposed elimination of federal support to beach monitoring programs; and


(4) Dissemination of Information.  Make these maps available to the public, to be determined by discussions with Center for Watershed Health stakeholders.  Our strategy for our outreach component is still under discussion as well.


Partnerships.  This proposed project is a unique opportunity to combine the science and laboratory facilities offered at the California Institute of Technology – Jet Propulsion Laboratory with the research and public health objectives of the Council for Watershed Health.  Synergistic efforts at the City of Los Angeles Bureau of Sanitation will also be leveraged, as CWH already has a continued working relationship with them and have collaborated with City of LA in the past.

Add comment

Log in to post comments

A vibrant community of environmental leaders