Annual Watershed Health Indicator and Data Science Symposium


Friday, June 30, 2017

2nd Annual - June 29 and 30, 2017 CalEPA-Byron Sher Auditorium

The focus of Day 2 of the symposium is on programs aimed to manage runoff and flow to support healthy streams and waterbodies. Hydrology is a critical determinant of environmental health. Water Board programs and data support efforts to understand the connection between hydrology and ecosystem condition and to inform management actions aimed at improving the physical, chemical, and biological condition of water bodies.

9:10-10:30 – Managing urban runoff informed by monitoring program data (20 min talks) Moderator- Eric Stein (Bio)

  • Gary Conley, 2nd NaturePragmatic model design and BMP field verification for improved stormwater management tracking (Video l PowerPoint l Abstract)
  • Amanda Aprahamian, Orange County and Monobina Mukherjee, Moutlon Niguel Water DistrictThe Urban Drool Tool: Investigating unnatural water balance and flow in Orange County (Video l PowerPoint l Abstract)

  • Environmental flows – lots of tools, lots of decision (15 min talks + panel discussion) Moderator- Erin Ragazzi

  • Julie Zimmerman, The Nature Conservancy A coordinated approach for developing statewide environmental flow regulations in California (Video l PowerPoint l Abstract)
  • Sarah Yarnell, UC Davis Developing Tier 1 Environmental Flow Targets using a Functional Flows Approach (Video l PowerPoint l Abstract)

10:30-10:45 – Networking Break

10:45-12:30 – Environmental flows – lots of tools, lots of decision (continued)

  • Eric Stein, SCCWRP Development of Recommended Flow Targets to Support Biological Integrity Based on Regional Flow-ecology Relationships for Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Southern California Streams ( Video | PowerPoint | Abstract | Bio )
  • Robert Holmes, CDFW Question-Driven Flow Criteria: Overview of Regional and Site-Specific Approaches for Assessing Instream Flow Needs for Fish and Wildlife in California ( Video | PowerPoint | Abstract | Bio )
  • Will Hagan, Moss Landing Marine Labs Quality Assurance Tools for Instream Flow ( Video | PowerPoint | Abstract | Bio )
  • Greg Reis, The Bay Institute Tracking fates of Central Valley freshwater flows (data visualization) ( Video | PowerPoint | Abstract )
  • Panel discussion – speakers from the Environmental Flows session will discuss ongoing issues with the audience including:
    • how to select the right environmental flows tool?
    • Data needs and data products associated with different tools and approaches?
    • Ways to share and disseminate flow data.
    • Representativeness of sites can be an Achilles heel for any environmental study.
    • How to approach repetitiveness and data availability issues.
    • Important aspects to consider in assessing and managing environmental flows.

12:30 – 1:30 – LUNCH

1:30 – 2:45 – The Water Quality Status Report

  • Lori Webber and Greg Gearheart, SWRCB 2:45 – 3:00 – Wrap up, Next Events, Adjourn


2nd Annual - June 29 and 30, 2017 CalEPA-Byron Sher Auditorium

Pragmatic model design and BMP field verification for improved stormwater management tracking

GARY CONLEY (2nd Nature)

Stormwater managers are increasingly being required to quantify effectiveness of projects to satisfy  MS4 permit requirements or obtain funding. The temporal variability of urban runoff, spatial distribution of BMPs, and variable performance condition of BMPs (which is rarely quantified) create severe limitations for directly measuring overall stormwater program effectiveness throughout an MS4. Cost- effective, user-oriented models can fill monitoring data gaps and provide information on timeframes relevant to stormwater decision making needs.  We present an example application of the BMP module of the web-based, spatially distributed Stormwater Tool to Estimate Load Reductions ( that is integrated with supporting assessment tools to quantify structural BMP performance (BMP RAM and non-structural BMP implementation (Parcel RAM ) to prioritize urban catchments for action and quantify stormwater and pollutant load reductions. The model represents the MS4 landscape with a set of interconnected drainages that route water between catchments and ultimately to receiving waters, integrating stormwater impacts and mitigation benefits to downstream flows. Structural and non-structural BMPs are represented with  a combination of lumped and spatially explicit quantification to account for the benefits of each BMP type as water is routed through catchments. Non-structural BMPs such as disconnection of impervious surfaces or street sweeping are represented by reduction of runoff or pollutant generation potential from parcels and roads.  All upstream runoff and pollutant load reductions are incorporated  to  estimates of stormwater delivered to downstream centralized structural BMPs where a hydrograph separation technique is applied to a set of event-based flows designed to characterize 30-year flow distributions. BMP-type specific performance decay curves are used to scale estimated benefits over time based on laboratory and field experiments that define relationships pollutant loading rates, maintenance intervals, and infiltration rates. BMP performance condition is specified based on BMP  field verification using a set of standard protocols that can improve modeled loading estimates, fulfill reporting MS4 requirements, and be used to prioritize maintenance activities to maximize stormwater program benefits.

The Urban Drool Tool: Investigating unnatural water balance and flow in Orange County

AMANDA APRAHAMIAN, Monobina Mukherjee, Grant Sharp, Patrick Atwater, Leigh Phan, Drew Atwater, Kelvin Liu, Justin Grewal, Christopher Tull

Orange County Public Works ("OCPW") has teamed up with the Moulton Niguel Water District ("MNWD") and OC Code Lab to launch a new pilot California Data Collaborative ("CaDC") stormwater project. Our aim for this collaboration is to gain insight on surface water drainage areas where altered dry weather water balance or flow regimes have been identified. Many of these stream reaches are impacted by unnatural, unpermitted, non-exempted dry weather flows (Urban Drool).
The ability to quantify and visualize the amount of Urban Drool contributing to discharges at storm drain outfalls can help to determine the most appropriate and effective actions to restore natural water balance. The ongoing drought conditions in California have fostered the collaboration of multiple agencies and focused on the nexus of water resources as both a supply and environmental issue. Addressing systemic water overuse during the drought requires a critical investigation into Urban Drool's role in water supply, balance and quality.
There are two final products: a public facing web application and an internal facing application. The public facing web app allows a user to type in their address and be plotted on a map. Then they are given personalized information based on their address, such as average overuse of water in their neighborhood, records of water saving improvements, rebate programs, and storm drain outfall information. This will encourage water use within budget, improve watershed education, and distribute rebate and competition information.
An internal facing web app will allow a user to see a map of the OCPW outfalls within the MNWD Service Area. The outfall icons will indicate the two scores that outfall received regarding flow (OCPW's composite score) and water inefficiency (MNWD). Clicking on an icon leads the user to a closer look map that shows detailed historical information for the drainage catchment, including inefficient water use, smart meter information, flow studies, and Best Management Practices employed. This tool will inform watershed management decisions, help employ targeted water conservation strategies, and be instrumental in addressing unnatural water balance in Orange County.

A coordinated approach for developing statewide environmental flow regulations in California

JULIE ZIMMERMAN (The Nature Conservancy), Eric Stein (Southern California Coastal Water Research Project). Sarah Yarnell (UC Davis). Sam Sandoval (UC Davis). Belize Lane (UC Davis). Jeanette Howard (The Nature Conservancy). Ted Grantham (UC Berkeley). Larry Brown (USGS).

Establishing environmental flow targets is a priority for numerous programs in California. Although methods vary, each effort aims to determine flow conditions necessary to protect ecological integrity in light of competing water uses. Methods vary based on the ecological endpoint of management concern (e.g. fish, macroinvertebrates, habitat), stream type, and preferences of the implementing agency, and include a variety of established methods. Unfortunately, lack of coordination among programs and efforts leads to inefficiencies, difficulty in comparing approaches, inability to share outputs, and creates potential for competing recommendations. An ad-hoc statewide technical workgroup consisting of UC Davis, Southern California Coastal Water Research Project, The Nature Conservancy, UC Berkeley, and the US Geological Survey has convened to develop a framework for organizing environmental flow analyses across California and providing consistent science-based recommendations for applying appropriate methods to inform setting and managing of environmental flows. We propose a tiered approach that promotes consistency and coordination in establishing, maintaining, and monitoring in- stream flow requirements for California. The overall goal of this effort is to support various regulatory and management agencies in developing and implementing local, regional, and statewide in-stream flow targets to protect aquatic life beneficial uses. A tiered approach allows for rapid development of statewide environmental flow recommendations based on natural variability of ecologically-relevant flow metrics (Tier 1), and guidance on appropriate methods for developing more refined and site- specific flow targets depending on stream class, management context, and desired ecological outcomes (Tier 2). We propose to use case studies to demonstrate implementation of the framework in different stream classes, spatial scales, and management contexts, and to compare flow recommendations using the rapid functional flows approach and other, more site-specific and detailed approaches.

Developing Tier 1 Environmental Flow Targets using a Functional Flows Approach

SARAH M. YARNELL, Eric Stein, Sam Sandoval, Julie Zimmerman, Belize Lane, Ted Grantham, Larry Brown, Rob Lusardi, Jeanette Howard, Jay Lund

Establishing environmental flow targets is a priority for numerous programs in California. Building on previous environmental flow discussions and a growing recognition that hydrogeomorphic processes are inherent in the ecological functionality and biodiversity of rivers, we propose a functional-flows approach to rapidly develop statewide environmental flow recommendations. The approach focuses on retaining specific process-based components of the hydrograph, or functional flows, rather than attempting to mimic the full natural flow regime. Key functional components include wet-season initiation flows, peak magnitude flows, seasonal transition recession flows, dry-season low flows, and interannual variability. The method defines a set of quantitative flow metrics based on the reference or unimpaired hydrologic conditions for each of the California stream classes defined by Lane et al and Pyne et al. Using "dimensionless reference hydrographs", which are scalable representations of the statistical variability in unimpaired flows within a stream class, we calculate the range of values for specific flow metrics that represent components of the hydrograph associated with critical ecological or hydrogeomorphic functions. The values for each functional flow metric can then be appropriately scaled to a stream of interest and serve as initial Tier 1 flow management targets. Tier 1 flow targets can be further refined by additional site-specific analyses under Tier 2 approaches as defined in the California Environmental Flows Framework. We suggest this approach allows for the rapid development of flow regimes that encompass ecosystem processes alongside varied human needs and can be applied in an adaptive management framework allowing for changing conditions and needs.

Development of Recommended Flow Targets to Support Biological Integrity Based on Regional Flow- ecology Relationships for Benthic Macroinvertebrates in Southern California Streams

ERIC D. STEIN, Raphael Mazor, Ashmita Sengupta, Brian Bledsoe, Jason May

Changes to instream flow are known to be one of the major factors that affect the health of biological communities. Regulatory, monitoring, and management programs are increasingly using biological community composition, particularly benthic invertebrates, as one measure of instream conditions, stormwater project performance, or regulatory compliance with NPDES or other requirements and regulations. Understanding the relationship between changes in flow and changes in benthic invertebrate communities is, therefore, critical to informing decisions about ecosystem vulnerability, causes of stream and watershed degradation, and priorities for future watershed management. We applied to the Ecological Limits of Hydrologic Alteration (ELOHA) framework to develop regional flow- ecology relationships and targets based on responses in the benthic macroinvertebrate community. Our objectives were: 1) Develop a recommended set of flow targets for southern California streams that would maximize the likelihood of maintaining healthy biological communities as indicated by the California Stream Condition Index (CSCI) for benthic invertebrates. 2) Produce a set of tools that can be readily applied to future sites to estimate hydrologic alteration relative to biologically-define targets.
Development of the regional flow-ecology relationships relied on an ensemble of hydrologic models to estimate flow alteration at ungauged sites, and took advantage of a regional bioassessment data that allowed us to assess flow-ecology relationships at broad spatial scales. Our general approach involved developing a hydrologic classification for the entire State of California, calibrating and validating watershed models for the stream classes present in southern California, using the models to assess hydrologic change at 572 bioassessment sites, relating hydrologic change to biological responses, setting targets based on likelihood of biological response associated with changes in key flow metrics, applying the flow-ecology tools to assess regional hydrologic condition, and prioritizing sites for various management actions based on their response relative to the established flow targets.

Question-Driven Flow Criteria: Overview of Regional and Site-Specific Approaches for Assessing Instream Flow Needs for Fish and Wildlife in California


What comes first: selection of the flow assessment method or identification of the flow assessment question? With an emphasis on developing question-driven and scale-appropriate flow criteria, this presentation will provide an overview of the design and implementation of two types of study designs CDFW is implementing to assess flow needs for fish and wildlife and the habitats upon which they depend. Site-specific and regional study designs will each be discussed with a focus on selecting study- appropriate methods and models to address study questions. The goals of the studies range from developing data for use in regulatory hearings for water allocation and permitting decisions, to developing non-regulatory data intended to provide general information useful for planning, prioritization, and/or restoration activities among watersheds. The site-specific and regional study questions range from species- and lifestage-specific flow needs on a particular stream to study questions on instream flow health and habitat conditions in multiple streams and regions through time. Using the five riverine components of flow (i.e., biology, connectivity, geomorphology, hydrology, and water quality) as recognized by the Instream Flow Council, this presentation will provide an overview of how CDFW develops defensible instream flow criteria using question-driven study designs, a robust quality assurance system, and multiple instream flow methods (e.g., desktop, empirical, and hydraulic computational instream flow applications) commonly employed by CDFW and other Fish and Wildlife agencies across the U.S. and Canada. Also discussed will be the importance of selecting an appropriate site representation strategy consistent with study question(s), linking hydrological patterns with flow criteria/recommendations, using peer-reviewed and consistent/comparable flow methods, and study design review and approval prior to implementation.

Quality Assurance Tools for Instream Flow

WILLIAM HAGAN (Presenter), Beverly H. van Buuren, and Robert Holmes

Historically, the absence of established quality assurance (QA) systems left few mechanisms to assess if instream flow data were appropriate to support decisions pertaining to water allocation, fish and wildlife habitat, and Public Resources Code §10000-10005 (i.e., Stream Flow Protection Standards). Depending on the intended audience and data use, instream flow reports may be highly variable in their approaches to planning, study design, data collection, and reporting formats.
In 2011, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Water Branch's Instream Flow Program began a partnership with the QA Services group from the Marine Pollution Studies Laboratory (Moss Landing Marine Laboratories) to develop a QA system for instream flow measurements. To date, this partnership has produced standardized data collection procedures, technical guidance documents, in-person training courses, informational fact sheets, and templates for study plans and reports.
While this presentation will describe the minimum level of QA recommended for all instream flow studies in California, it will also include a case study to demonstrate the more rigorous QA systems appropriate for State Water Resources Control Board water allocation decisions and hearing environments.

Tracking fates of Central Valley freshwater flows

GREG REIS (The Bay Institute), Virgil Zetterlind (Anthropocene Institute), Jon Rosenfield (The Bay Institute)

Flow of fresh water into the San Francisco Estuary from Central Valley rivers drives many ecosystem processes and biological responses. Management of river flows is typically designed to maximize certain economic benefits. Information about Central Valley river flow management is generally not synthesized in a publicly accessible format that is easy to understand and available in near-real time. Using an automated data capture system that synchronizes with spreadsheets hosted on Google Documents, we provide daily updates of flow data synthesized from various agency sources. Data visualizations include unimpaired and actual estimates of Net Delta Outflow and percent of runoff diverted or stored. Users can choose to display current and historic data, toggle between different river gages and reservoirs, and can select among different visualization formats. Accompanying text informs the user of the importance of freshwater flows to the Bay-Delta ecosystem and implications of current management, and highlights noteworthy details about the currently-displayed visualization. This synthesis of publicly available water data into an informative and accessible format allows Californians and decision-makers to better understand the effects of current management.

The Water Quality Status Report

LORI WEBBER, Greg Gearheart

The Water Quality Status Report is an annual data-driven snapshot of the Water Board's water quality and environmental data. This Inaugural version of the report is organized around seven major themes, including harmful algal blooms, mercury in fish, and contaminants in stream sediment. Each theme- specific story includes a brief background, a data analysis summary, an overview of management actions, and access to the raw data.