Program Background and Regional Information


The Lahontan Region has more than 3,000 miles of streams and more than 700 lakes, including two designated Outstanding National Resource Waters—Lake Tahoe and Mono Lake—and numerous other high-quality water bodies that are eligible for the same status. The Lahontan Region is the second largest region in California, spanning 33,000 square miles of eastern California from the Oregon border in the north to the Mojave Desert, San Bernardino Mountains and eastern Los Angeles County in the south. The region is nearly 600 miles long and includes the highest and lowest points in the contiguous United States (Mount Whitney at 14,494 feet and Badwater, Death Valley at -282 feet, respectively). The region is also unique in that waters do not drain to coastal areas, but instead drain to internal sinks, playas, or inland surface waters.

Background Information

SWAMP is a statewide monitoring effort designed to assess the conditions of surface waters throughout the State of California. The SWAMP program was first established in year 2000 by the State Water Resources Control Board.

For the purposes of SWAMP, “ambient” monitoring refers to any activity in which information about the status of the physical, chemical, and/or biological characteristics of the environment is collected to answer specific questions about the status and trends in water quality and/or beneficial uses of water.

The primary objectives of ambient surface water monitoring at the Lahontan Region are:

  • to determine (to the extent to which funding is available) whether ambient water quality at selected sites is in compliance with the chemical and physical water quality objectives contained in the Water Quality Control Plan for the Lahontan Region (Basin Plan) and the “California Toxics Rule.”
  • to determine (to the extent to which funding is available) whether water flowing from California into the State of Nevada meets Nevada’s water quality objectives.
  • to develop and implement (to the extent to which funding is available) tools to assess the biological integrity of the Region's streams and rivers based on instream benthic macroinvertebrate and algae assemblages.

The SWAMP Program Fact Sheet provides more information on the Goals, Accomplishments, and Performance Targets.

  For more information about the statewide SWAMP, see the State Water Board's SWAMP website.

Currently available SWAMP reports, data, protocols, and staff contact information for the Lahontan Region are summarized below.

SWAMP - Mission

The SWAMP mission is to provide resource managers, decision makers, and the public with timely, high-quality information to evaluate the condition of all waters throughout California. SWAMP accomplishes this through carefully designed, externally reviewed monitoring programs, and by assisting other entities state-wide in the generation of comparable data that can be brought together in integrated assessments that provide answers to current management questions.

SWAMP prioritizes its activities based on the following assumptions:

  • Monitoring at both statewide and regional levels is necessary to protect water quality in California.
  • Monitoring is designed to support a network of information users that include state and local agencies, the regulated community, the interested public, and their elected representatives.
  • Monitoring efforts are prioritized.
  • SWAMP seeks to make the most efficient use of data collected by all Water Board programs, as well as the large amount of data collected by local agencies and the regulated community.
  • SWAMP monitoring evaluates the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of the State’s waters.

Assessment Questions

Regardless of scope, all effective monitoring programs are designed to answer specific assessment questions asked by resource managers. SWAMP statewide and Regional monitoring programs are each designed to address one or more of the following assessment questions for defined water body types and beneficial uses:

  • Status: What is the overall quality of California’s surface waters?
  • Trends: What is the pace and direction of change in surface water quality over time?
  • Problem Identification: Which water bodies have water quality problems and which areas are at risk?
  • Diagnostic: What are the causes of water quality problems and where are the sources of those stressors?
  • Evaluation: How effective are clean water projects and programs?

SWAMP - History

The Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP) was created in 2000 in response to Assembly Bill 982 (Ducheny, Statutes of 1999). The SWAMP program fulfills this State legislative mandate for a unifying program that coordinates all water quality monitoring conducted by the State and Regional Water Boards. In order to protect our public water resources, SWAMP monitoring helps assess attainment of all core beneficial uses (swimming, fishing, etc.) in all waterbody types, such as our streams, lakes, wetlands and estuaries.

The SWAMP monitoring strategy (SWAMP, 2005) was based on the USEPA's (2003) 'Elements of a State Water Monitoring and Assessment Program' and the National Water Quality Monitoring Council framework. The Program is guided by a Roundtable of experienced State and Regional Water Board monitoring coordinators. SWAMP has continuing access to university and State and Federal agency experts in chemistry, toxicology, ecology, and hydrology, and has undergone two formal scientific reviews by external national and international experts. In 2006, there was a comprehensive program evaluation by the expert Scientific Planning and Review Committee (SPARC). The SPARC comments were incorporated into SWAMP planning for all future water quality monitoring.

The first few years of the SWAMP program were dedicated primarily to supporting Regional Water Board programs. In this endeavor, SWAMP developed the monitoring infrastructure and tools necessary to enhance data comparability and data sharing (SWAMP Standard Operating Procedures, Quality Assurance Program, and Data Management Program).

The SPARC Report (2006) commended SWAMP's monitoring infrastructure and Regional Water Board program support. In addition, this review applauded the Regional Water Boards' entrepreneurial spirit and their ability to leverage efforts. However, it also recommended to SWAMP that it expand its efforts to develop robust statewide water quality assessments, as well as a statewide framework to provide information to a diversity of users for multiple purposes. To meet these goals, the SWAMP needed to design and implement probability-based statewide surveys. SWAMP also prioritizes its monitoring efforts to address declining budgets and simultaneously seeks to maximize the utility of water quality data collected by various Water Board programs.

In response to the SPARC (2006) review, SWAMP has also shifted its strategy toward greater collaboration with a wide array of partners. This includes greater integration of SWAMP monitoring and assessment activities with other Water Board programs and a diversity of other partners. SWAMP initiated efforts on many statewide and regional fronts to align sites and schedules with partners who monitor similar waterbody types and beneficial uses. These partners include stormwater agencies, municipal wastewater dischargers, and irrigated lands regulatory programs. SWAMP is continuing its outreach and coordination with these groups.

The California Water Quality Monitoring Council (CWQMC) was convened in 2008 as a result of Senate Bill 1070 (Kehoe), enacted in 2006. The CWQMC is tasked with improving the efficiency and effectiveness of water quality and related ecosystem monitoring, assessment, and reporting efforts throughout California through enhanced coordination. The Council's goal is to improve the delivery of water quality and related ecosystem health information to decision makers and the public.

In June 2010, SWAMP and the CWQMC held a joint meeting to align their respective strategies. It was agreed that the SWAMP would focus its limited funds for statewide assessments on two overarching questions: "Is it safe to eat the fish?" and "Are ecosystems protected in freshwater streams, rivers, and lakes?" Monitoring of other beneficial uses and in other waters would be coordinated through other Monitoring Council workgroups. By working with partners and within the CWQMC framework, these coordinated strategies seek to address the maximum number of water quality management needs for as many of our state waters as possible. Currently, SWAMP's Bioaccumulation Monitoring Program evaluates whether fish caught in popular fishing spots throughout the state are safe to eat; and SWAMP's Bioassessment and Stream Pollution Trends Monitoring Programs assess ecosystem health in freshwater streams. SWAMP's newest statewide program, the Freshwater Harmful Algal Bloom program, evaluates threats to recreational and drinking water beneficial uses posed by algal toxins.

In addition, when CWQMC and SWAMP aligned strategies, it was agreed that SWAMP would continue to expand use of its infrastructure and tools through collaborative efforts with other Water Board programs and diverse external partners. SWAMP provides a suite of monitoring and assessment, data quality assurance, and data management tools to help other programs produce comparable data. This effort to enhance data comparability and data sharing through increased coordination is outlined in the 2010 SWAMP Strategy (which also serves as Appendix 5 to the CWQMC's comprehensive monitoring program strategy for California). This component of SWAMP is overseen by the SWAMP Information Quality (SWAMP IQ) group at the State Water Board.