Volunteers to Sample Coastal Waters for Snapshot Day

On May 2, volunteers in California again will gather water samples from streams, lakes, and the Pacific Ocean for temperature, pH, conductivity, turbidity, and dissolved oxygen, and analyze them for nutrient and bacteria content.

The annual water monitoring event relies on volunteers who work with coastal monitoring coordinators.

This year, Assure Controls’ biosensor technology will be used to identify potentially toxic locations. The QwikLite 200 rapid toxicity test provides results in 24 hours or less (per ASTM Standard E1924 “Standard Guide for Conducting Toxicity Tests with Bioluminescent Dinoflagellates”). This live species test method uses sensitive plankton as an indicator of harmful levels of contaminants and provides a critical tool for waterbody screening and baseline assessments. If contaminants are present, bioluminescence is reduced (as toxicity increases, light decreases).

“We will literally be performing hundreds of toxicity tests on samples collected by thousands of volunteers,” stated Mickele Hughes, product marketing manager. “Until recently, a live species toxicity test was neither timely nor affordable. Rapid toxicity assessments have never been done on this scale.”

The $100 per site cost is about one-tenth the cost of traditional tests that must be performed in a specialized laboratory. Consequently, more testing is possible, and actionable data is available sooner.

This event is aligned with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's initiative, “Healthy Watersheds” which emphasizes protection and conservation of aquatic ecosystems. More than 40,000 rivers or bodies of water in the United States are listed as exceeding toxicity limits for contaminants. Due to the vigilance and stewardship of citizen monitoring groups, toxicity from nonpoint source contaminants can now be assessed and monitored.

Some test results from the 2008 Snapshot Day have been reported by Orange County Coastkeeper.

At last year's event, the report notes that about 50 volunteers collected 32 samples from 28 sites on 8 streams, 2 estuaries, 3 lakes, and 10 marine sites.

Quality controlled testing was done using meters, colorimeters and color comparators following state accepted standard methods. Data show that while ocean water quality was good, water quality in most of the county’s coastal streams and some city park lakes was poor on the testing date, May 3, 2008, the report notes.

Snapshot Day started in 1999 as a local event on the central California coast, involving the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network, the Coastal Watershed Council, and local communities. This effort, repeated in 2000, 2001, and 2002, demonstrated the value of getting many volunteers to test water quality simultaneously. In 2003, EPA provided $180,000 in funding to expand Snapshot Day to California’s entire coastline, including the EPA-funded National Estuary Programs at San Francisco Bay, Santa Monica Bay, and Morro Bay. These programs used their existing volunteer monitoring groups.

The 2003 event involved 637 trained volunteers sampling 300 rivers and streams at 550 sites. It was the first to cover California's entire coastline, providing public agencies with a "snapshot" of coastal water quality. Results in 2004 showed that 27 percent of the samples failed to meet water quality standards for bacteria, 24 percent failed to meet standards for oxygen-depleting nutrients, and 18 percent failed for turbidity. The year-to-year data will help agencies decide where to focus efforts to reduce pollution.