SYRCL Volunteers Complete 15th Year of River Monitoring Program

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River Monitoring Field Training Day at Bridgeport

SYRCL’s citizen-science driven River Monitoring program has finished its 15th year of monitoring! The River Monitoring program has been connecting community members to the river since 2000 with a total of 321 river monitors trained and sent out across the watershed to collect data. This year, 47 active volunteer river monitors collected valuable, scientifically credible information at almost 40 adopted sites throughout the watershed.  Our volunteer River Monitors donated over 1500 hours to the effort of collecting data on the health of the watershed! Volunteers Jeanne Scarmon, George Scarmon, Ali Cramer, Nathan Hoxie, Terry Armstrong, and Jane Theobald were honored during our appreciation party in September for their commitment to SYRCL’s River Monitoring Program.

Each month we collect baseline data across the watershed which includes water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, turbidity, conductivity, and the presence of invasive and sensitive species. In addition, volunteers helped with SYRCL’s Safe to Swim study to understand E. coli levels at popular swimming spots, with temperature monitoring, salinity and nitrate sampling, and Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog sampling.

Bacteria Sampling: E. Coli 

2015 E. Coli data from five popular swimming holes
2015 E. Coli data from five popular swimming holes

After six years of monitoring, the State Water Resources Control Board completed a study of E. coli concentrations in the Yuba watershed in 2014 (see below for the full report). E. coli is of concern for swimmers as contaminated waters can make people sick if the water is ingested. SYRCL has continued to monitor popular swimming holes to ensure that our favorite spots are “Safe to Swim.”  The results show that Bridgeport, Purdon Crossing, Edwards Crossing, and Highway 49 Bridge met EPA standards for recreational contact (<235 MPN/100mL). In 2015 the only sample that showed elevated E. coli levels was taken at Oregon Creek Swimming Hole in the month of July. Follow-up sampling suggests that the elevated sample was a one-time occurrence, but acts as a reminder to all of us that sanitation, such as picking up after your dog, is a river issue for which we should all take personal responsibility. See SYRCL’s article about 2015 E. coli sampling here.

Temperature Monitoring

Volunteer River Monitors also assisted in deploying 32 temperature loggers throughout the watershed collecting hourly data on water temperature from May through November. These temperature loggers are strategically placed to monitor temperatures above and below dams to document impacts and benefits of FERC licenses (Federal Energy Regulatory Commission), address questions about whether climate change is impacting water temperatures, how tributaries impact temperatures and whether current temperature conditions can support a diverse assemblage of fish. Temperature loggers are being removed even as you read this article, results will be available on before January 1st. Click here for 2014 results.

Upper South Yuba: Salt and Sand

Every year since 2013 SYRCL has been collecting salinity and turbidity samples along the Upper South Yuba River as it runs along Interstate 80. Cal Trans applies de-icers to I-80 during the winter months to maintain safe driving conditions. Unfortunately, 11 miles of the South Yuba run along the I-80 and the impacts of de-icing material have been shown to decrease aquatic insect and fish biodiversity. In areas like Lake Tahoe, total maximum daily loads (TMDL) have been established by the state to reduce the amount of sediment that ends up in Lake Tahoe, we hope to establish limits like this for the Upper South Yuba River.

Mercury Sampling

Karl Ronning with volunteers Carrie Lery and Leslie Stager storm sampling at Spring Creek
Karl Ronning with volunteers Carrie Lery and Leslie Stager storm sampling at Spring Creek

Nevada County was known as one of the most popular destinations for gold miners during the Gold Rush.  These mining operations quickly turned to hydraulic mining, which resulted in massive amounts of sediment being washed downstream altering the course of the river. During the winter months, SYRCL’s volunteers assist in monitoring mine-impacted streams from the San Juan Ridge Mine. Our mine land monitoring consists of using a variety of hydrologic equipment and EPA Method 1669 Clean Hands/Dirty Hands technique for sampling trace metals and Total Suspended Solids (TSS). With this data, a relationship is built to determine the amount of mercury and sediment passing down these streams throughout the season. This winter SYRCL will begin monitoring Scotchman Creek and the impacts Omega Mine has on the South Yuba River.

Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog

Volunteers, specifically amphibian expert Tom Van Wagner, helped to collect population data on Foothill Yellow-Legged Frog (FYLF) on a one-mile reach of Shady Creek. This effort is part of a multi-year study on Spring and Shady Creeks to investigate mercury and sediment concerns and to understand habitat for the near threatened species that could be jeopardized with a potential reopening of the San Juan Ridge Mine. Save the Date: Tom Van Wagner will be speaking on his amphibian work on Shady Creek at 6:30pm on December 8th at Sierra College.

Nitrates in the Watershed

We are now testing for concentrations of nitrates at our water quality monitoring locations. We are specifically concerned about the impacts of cannabis cultivation, septic leaks, and other development. Nitrate (and phosphorus) levels act like fertilizers within our rivers and streams, which increases the abundance of aquatic plants, ultimately changing the available food for and assemblage of insects and fish. Volunteers collect samples every month that are tested for elevated levels of nitrates.

What to Expect in the Coming Months

Dan Chaplin completing his dissolved oxygen titration

All of the water quality data will be analyzed over the next couple months and assembled in the 2015 Quality Assurance Report. Before we begin our 16th River Monitoring year we will be looking for volunteers to help with storm sampling- we are looking for folks who are ready and able to scramble down (and back up again) steep slopes while braving the rain, early mornings, and freezing temperatures. Keep your eyes out on the River Monitoring web page, join our email list-serve (email and upcoming e-news posts. SYRCL is excited for the next 15 years of monitoring water quality in the Yuba watershed. If you are interested in getting involved and volunteering get in touch with our new AmeriCorps River Monitoring Coordinator, Mo Loden, 530-265-5961 ext. 213. We couldn’t do this without your continued support!

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