Santa Monica Bay Stormwater Runoff Water Quality Impact Research Needs
G. Fred Lee & Associates
27298 E. El Macero Dr.
El Macero, California 95618-1005
Tel. (530) 753-9630 • Fax (530) 753-9956
web site: http://members.aol.com/gfredlee/gfl.htm February 6, 1999
Dr. John H. Dorsey
Los Angeles Dept. of Public Works
Bureau of Engineering
600 S. Spring St., Ste 700
Los Angeles, CA 90014
I note that you are chairing a session of the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project Technical Advisory Committee meeting, in which one of the topics for discussion is "Potential Research Projects for FY 98/99." As you know I have been concerned for many years about the technically invalid approaches that were used to establish the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project Implementation Plan that were adopted in 1994. As part of reviewing the then proposed Plan for this restoration project, in connection with a request for public comments on the draft plan, I provided detailed comments on the highly significant technical deficiencies in the proposed approach for implementation of the Plan which called for the people in the Los Angeles area to spend over $40 million over the next five years primarily devoted to controlling heavy metals and other chemical constituents in the Santa Monica Bay watershed urban area and highway stormwater runoff as they may impact Santa Monica Bay water quality. As I pointed out in my comments, and as is well known by those familiar with the basic principles of aquatic chemistry, aquatic toxicology, and water quality, the mass emission control strategy for heavy metals and other chemical constituents that was adopted by the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project, while protective for the constituents considered, can readily lead to massive unnecessary expenditure of public and private funds in controlling chemical constituents in runoff from urban area streets and highways.
Under the situation that exists today, where there is significant need for public funding for a variety of social problems, it is important that the funds spent for all areas, including water pollution control, be directed towards solving real significant problems. As discussed in my previous correspondence and reports, those responsible for providing technical advice to the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project ignored what has been well known for over 20 years, that the total concentration of heavy metals and many other constituents is a poor measure of toxic/available forms. Technically valid cost effective stormwater runoff water quality management programs must, if they are to use the public's funds wisely, focus on controlling the constituents in the urban area stormwater runoff that are responsible for real water quality use impairments in the receiving waters for the runoff.
Many of my previous comments on the significant technical deficiencies in the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Plan that were submitted prior to the adoption of the plan in September, 1994 are available from me upon request, and will soon be available on my website, http://members.aol.com/gfredlee/gfl.htm, in the Water Quality Stormwater section. I have attached my February, 1995 comments on the final Plan. This spring I reviewed the information available on the current state of defining real significant water quality problems associated with Santa Monica Bay watershed stormwater runoff derived "constituents of concern" as defined in the Restoration Plan, including discussions with Los Angeles Regional Board staff, scientists to whom I was referred to by the staff who have been doing work on Santa Monica Bay water quality issues, and the State of the Bay 1998 Draft Report, as well as attending the USC Stormwater Management Conference that was recently held on Catalina Island, and find that the deficiencies that I discussed in 1994/95 still exist today with respect to the Restoration Plan still focusing on a mass emission reduction approach as opposed to a technically valid approach of defining those constituents in Santa Monica Bay watershed stormwater runoff that are significantly impacting the beneficial uses of Santa Monica Bay.
In 1994 those responsible for developing the Santa Monica Bay Project Restoration Plan attempted to justify the use of the mass emission approach based on elevated concentrations of lead in Santa Monica Bay sediments relative to some Long and Morgan co-occurrence based approaches for defining the potential water quality significance of chemical constituents in aquatic sediments. Co-occurrence based approaches are fundamentally flawed in developing a valid relationship between the concentrations of constituents in water and/or sediments, and their impact on the beneficial uses of the waterbody of concern. It has been documented by NOAA and the US EPA staff, that the Long and Morgan co-occurrence based approach is less reliable in predicting toxicity of sediments than flipping a coin. The fundamentally flawed nature of co-occurrence based approaches is well recognized in the sediment quality field. While these approaches are used by those who have limited understanding of aquatic chemistry, aquatic toxicology, and water quality, because they enable assessment of a so-called impact of a total concentration of a constituent in sediments they are obviously technically invalid. Dr Jones-Lee and I have published several papers on this topic which are available from our web site in the Contaminated Sediments - Aquafund section.
Our most recent discussion of these issues is presented in Dr. Jones-Lee and my "Comments on 'Draft Functional Equivalent Document Water Quality Control Policy for Guidance on the Development of Regional Toxic Hot Spot Cleanup Plans' Developed by Division of Water Quality State Water Resources Control Board dated March 1998," submitted to the State Water Resources Control Board on May 11, 1998. A copy of those comments are available from me, and will soon be on our web site in the Water Quality Waste Water section.
Last spring I was appointed Chair of the State Stormwater Quality Task Force Stormwater Science Work Group Activities: A Proposed Program. As discussed in the Work Group Plan of Activities, dated April 10, 1998, the focus of the Work Group will be on developing guidance that can be used by stormwater runoff water quality managers and regulatory agencies to determine the real significant water quality use impairments that are occurring in a waterbody that are caused by urban area and highway stormwater runoff associated constituents. Once real significant water quality problems have been defined, then, in conjunction with information provided by the Task Force BMP Work Group, technically valid cost effective control programs can be formulated that will protect the beneficial uses of a waterbody without significant unnecessary expenditures for chemical constituent control. Techniques for implementation of this approach are well established.
About four years ago I began work in the Upper Newport Bay, Orange County, CA watershed to develop and implement the Evaluation Monitoring Approach. We have published extensively on this approach. Our publications are on our web site in the Stormwater section. Evaluation Monitoring is a watershed based technical stakeholder developed consensus on the real water quality problems that exist in a waterbody, the cause of these problems, and the source of the constituents responsible for them. This is the approach that should have been, and still must be adopted in the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project to get this project to focus its resources available on controlling real significant water quality use impairments.
In connection with defining potential Santa Monica Bay Restoration research projects for FY 98/99, those responsible for developing a prioritized list of these projects should critically examine the "constituents of concern" that was formulated in 1994 as the focus of the mass emission control program to determine which of those constituents are causing real significant water quality use impairments in Santa Monica Bay and its tributaries. By use impairment for aquatic life related uses, that would justify the implementation of a control program for urban area and highway stormwater runoff, there should be reasonable demonstration that a potentially toxic constituent, such as lead or other heavy metals, present in Santa Monica Bay water or sediments that is derived from urban area and highway stormwater runoff is in a toxic/available form and that the toxicity caused by this constituent is significantly adverse to the beneficial uses of Santa Monica Bay.
While there are real significant water quality use impairments associated with constituents present in urban area and highway stormwater runoff to Santa Monica Bay, such as fecal indicator organisms that impair the sanitary quality of the beaches and litter that impairs the aesthetic quality of the beaches, based on my review of the information available, there has been no demonstration that the majority of the chemical "constituents of concern" established during the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Project Plan development are causing real significant water quality problems - use impairments in Santa Monica Bay that should cause the people of the region to spend funds controlling their input to the Bay.
For each of the "constituents of concern" established in the Plan, a research program should be developed to determine whether the constituent is in fact adverse to the beneficial uses of the Bay. For potentially toxic heavy metals and organics, the focus of the 1998/99 research should be on determining, using a suite of sensitive test organisms, whether stormwater runoff to Santa Monica Bay is sufficiently toxic to cause significant adverse impacts on desirable forms of aquatic life within the Bay water and/or sediments. While there have been some toxicity measurements, the work done so far falls short of that needed to define the magnitude and extent of toxicity entering the Bay associated with stormwater runoff events, and especially its persistence in the Bay. It is through this persistence that the toxicity due to chemical constituents in the stormwater runoff will be manifested as an adverse impact to the beneficial uses of the Bay. Toxicity at the point of discharge of stormwater to the Bay could be of such limited extent and duration within the Bay to not be significantly adverse to the desirable forms of aquatic life within the Bay.
For constituents such as heavy metals that accumulate in Bay sediments, sediment toxicity testing should be done using a suite of sensitive organisms and appropriate reference sites to determine if the Santa Monica Bay sediments are toxic. Where toxicity is found its cause and water quality significance should be assessed. A sediment quality triad, using aquatic life toxicity, aquatic organism assemblage information, and appropriate chemical information, should be used to define real significant water quality use impairments. The Long and Morgan co-occurrence based values should not be used for any purpose in connection with this assessment because of their unreliability. As discussed in our comments on significant technical deficiencies in the FED covering the toxic hot spot cleanup plans, the State Board staff proposed designation of toxic hot spots, the chemistry component of the triad must be based on integrated use of chemical information and toxicity tests through properly conducted toxicity investigation evaluation (TIEs).
Where a real water quality use impairment is found associated with toxicity in the water column or sediments then the specific cause and the source of this toxicity should be evaluated. The research effort that must be undertaken as one of the subsequent phases of a more appropriately formulated management plan for the Santa Monica Bay watershed stormwater runoff should involve forensic studies to define the specific sources of the chemical constituents responsible for the toxicity in water column or sediments that has been found to be significantly adverse to the beneficial uses of the Santa Monica Bay. It should not be assumed that all lead, copper, zinc, cadmium, etc., entering the Bay from all sources have the same potential to cause toxicity in Bay waters or sediments. A carefully conducted forensic study to trace to the origin the constituents responsible for the toxicity should be conducted. It is through this approach that it would be possible to reliably determine whether there is need to initiate a BMP to control the chemical constituents in urban area and highway stormwater runoff from the Santa Monica Bay watershed in order to protect the designated beneficial uses of Santa Monica Bay.
Similar types of programs should be developed for those "chemicals of concern" because of the potential for excessive bioaccumulation, such as mercury and the chlorinated hydrocarbon pesticides, PCBs, and dioxins, where a water quality problem is defined based on excessive edible tissue residues rather than concentrations in water and/or sediments. For aquatic life nutrients, such as nitrogen and phosphorus compounds, the focus should be on first finding excessive fertilization related water quality use impairments in Santa Monica Bay and the sources of the available forms of the nutrient(s) that is controlling aquatic plant growth. Additional information on the Evaluation Monitoring approach and its implementation will soon be published as a paper, "Evaluation Monitoring as an Alternative to Conventional Water Quality Monitoring for Assessing the Water Quality Characteristics of a Waterbody," that will be presented at the National Monitoring Conference that will be held in July, 1998 in Reno, NV. A preprint of this paper will soon be published on our web site.
The efforts to define real water quality use impairments in Santa Monica Bay, associated with chemical constituents in urban area and highway stormwater runoff, have become even more significant through the State Water Board having recently adopted a new 303 (d) list of impaired waterbodies. The Los Angeles Regional Water Quality Control Board has listed Santa Monica Bay Offshore and Nearshore as an impaired waterbody for cadmium, chlordane, copper, DDT, debris, fish consumption advisory, lead, mercury, nickel, PAHs, PCBs, sediment toxicity, silver, and zinc. With the exception of silver, all of these listings are based on some arbitrarily developed approach for determining a concentration of constituent in sediments that caused those who developed the list to conclude that the constituent was present in the sediments in sufficient concentrations of toxic/available forms to cause a significant impairment of the beneficial uses of the Santa Monica Bay to cause the public in the Los Angeles area to spend the funds necessary to develop and implement a total maximum daily load (TMDL) to control the input of the constituent to the Bay. The focus of this control program will be on urban area and highway stormwater runoff associated constituents.
There is an urgent need for the Santa Monica Bay Restoration Program to reliably define what, if any, real water quality use impairments are occurring in Santa Monica Bay associated with the constituents that the Los Angeles Regional Board has listed as causing the Bay to be a 303 (d) listed water quality limited waterbody for which TMDLs have to be developed. Failure to address this issue could cause the people of the Los Angeles area to spend billions of dollars treating urban area and highway stormwater runoff that will have little or no impact on the beneficial uses of Santa Monica Bay. I have discussed the inappropriate approaches that some regional boards, such as the Los Angeles Regional Board staff, used in developing the 303 (d) list in Dr. Anne Jones-Lee and my Stormwater Runoff Science/Engineering Newsletter. This Newsletter is available from our web site.
If you or others have questions or comments on these comments, please contact me. If there is any way I can be of assistance in helping to formulate a more appropriate research program for Santa Monica Bay water quality management than has been conducted so far, please let me know.
Lee, G. F., "Comments on `The Santa Monica Bay Restoration Plan, April 1994' for Stormwater Runoff Water Quality Management," Report of G. Fred Lee & Associates, El Macero, CA, June (1994).
G. Fred Lee, PhD, DEE
Reference as: "Lee, G.F., 'Santa Monica Bay Stormwater Runoff Water Quality impact Research Needs,' letter to H.J. Dorsey, LA Dept. Public Works, Los Angeles, CA, February (1999)."
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