Water Quality Monitoring: Areas of Investigation

Since 2000, the River Monitoring Program has expanded its investigation areas to include a variety of different sites across the Yuba River. Below is the breakdown of each investigation area and the types of data collected in each category. 

1. Long-Term Monitoring

Every year, from March to November, SYRCL’s trained citizen-scientists visit 35 sites in the Yuba River Watershed, testing for temperature, conductivity, pH, dissolved oxygen, and turbidity. In addition to these 35 sites, SYRCL has 25 locations on the Yuba River where continuous water temperature monitoring equipment is installed.

Why do we collect this data? Baseline water quality conditions in the Yuba River watershed may change over time, from season to season, and between locations. Understanding these differences is important in order to work effectively as stewards and advocates of a healthy watershed.

DO at Plavada

2. Mine Land Streams

Abandoned mine lands are sources of contamination that degrade water quality and surrounding habitats. The Yuba River Watershed contains hundreds of abandoned mines, which conspicuously impact adjacent streams. These streams tend to receive discharge and run-off from abandoned mine features, such as tunnels, shafts or from mine-impacted landscapes.

When do we collect data on these waterways? Typically during storm events, in order to identify hot spots of contamination. We collect flow measurements, test for metals, take soil samples, and complete frog & benthic macroinvertebrate (BMI) surveys. 

3. Dam-Affected Reaches

Dams and diversions in the Yuba River watershed alter downstream water quality and habitat conditions. More specifically, they affect the magnitude of streamflow and the timing of water released. In addition, dams impair the passage of sediment and organic material and aquatic organisms, which are critical components of the waterway.

What do we measure at dam-affected reaches? We measure above and below dams, in addition to the consistency and fluctuation of water temperature, pH, and dissolved oxygen. We also record whether aquatic species at all stage of life are present and algae biomass. 

Dam Affected Reaches (2)

4. Restoration-Success Monitoring

As restoration or remediation projects are implemented, it is critical to document whether or not the project has met its stated goals (for example improved water temperatures, improved water flow, decreased turbidity etc.). SYRCL is committed to quantifying these outcomes, as we continue to learn from each project. 

What do we monitor after a restoration project is complete? Depending on the project, we may monitor stream gauges or groundwater well networks. We may also collect specific water quality parameters to determine a certain project’s success. 

5. Development Impacts (Upper South Yuba River)

The Upper South Yuba River is a sensitive, high-elevation environment with multiple sources that can impact downstream water quality and habitat. Potential sources for these impacts include Interstate 80, ski resorts, the transcontinental railroad, the trans-Sierra Nevada Fuel Pipeline, small impoundments, discharge from septic systems or discharge from the local wastewater treatment facility. Impacts to the headwaters have the potential to alter the entire South Yuba River, which deems this region a high priority. 

How do we measure development impacts? A variety of methods are utilized to quantify impacts of development in the Upper South Yuba River, including algal monitoring, BMI sampling, fish surveys, chloride sampling (for baseline and spring run-off events), discharge and temperature sampling.

6. Bacterial Contamination of Recreational Waters

Is the Yuba Safe to swim and play in? We monitor to assess health risks to people and animals that come in contact with the river. If waters are contaminated with bacteria that is beyond state and federal standards, we take immediate action. Our protocol includes alerting the public, advocating for more testing, and intensifying the investigation, if necessary.  Our remediation of the pollution source includes both the Regional Water Quality Board and the California Department of Health and Safety.

What do we test for? We complete basic testing for total coliform, E.coli, and other contaminants at popular swimming sites.  

7. Nutrient and Chemical Run-Off

Nutrient and chemical inputs from a variety of anthropogenic sources often contribute to water quality issues. We monitor to identify the sources of nutrient or chemical loading and the respective consequences to the watershed. Under these circumstances, we perform basic testing for nitrates, monitor algal biomass, and directly sample at locations of chemical concern. 

What are the consequences? Run-off can cause algal blooms, low oxygen levels, and toxicity. These effects can be especially harmful to sensitive plants and animals and can further eradicate keystone species. 

8. Invasive and Sensitive Species

In our watershed, the spread of invasive species and the decline of sensitive species are occurring at unknown rates. Without an understanding of these changing conditions, we are not equipped to effectively protect and restore our watershed’s health.

How do we collect this data? We observe and document sites showing increased or declining species. We document the distribution and spread of the species, sometimes taking management actions (ie: weed removal, road closures, and public advisories). 

Which species do we monitor? The red-legged frog, foothill yellow-legged frog, cutthroat trout, willow flycatcher, Sierra Nevada mountain beaver, western pond turtle, salmon, osprey, etc.