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My Water Quality: Aquatic Ecosystem Health - Streams, Rivers & Lakes

California Streams, Rivers and Lakes

WHAT IS BEING DONE TO MAKE OUR WATERS HEALTHIER?

What is being done to protect stream, river and lake habitats?

Protecting and Restoring Wetlands

Development of lands in and adjacent to wetlands, riparian areas, and headwaters for roads, housing, agriculture, and other uses can reduce the amount of wetland habitat that remains and can reduce the health of adjacent wetlands. To reduce or mitigate adverse impacts on wetland habitats, activities that occur within wetlands are subject to permitting requirements under Section 404 of the Clean Water Act and certification under Section 401. These programs are designed to ensure that overall wetland habitat is not lost or degraded. Upstream development can alter the amount and timing of stormwater flows, a process called "hydromodification."

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Restoring Bay-Delta Ecosystems

The Ecosystem Restoration Program (ERP)  is a multi-agency effort designed to maintain, improve and increase aquatic and terrestrial habitats and improve ecological function in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary and its tributaries in order to support sustainable populations of diverse and valuable plant and animal species. The ERP has executed a wide range of actions through a competitive grant program and directed actions using a science-based adaptive management framework. These actions include:

  • Large-scale restoration projects
  • Habitat protection through acquisition of land and/or easements
  • Efforts to improve fish passage (e.g., fish screens and ladders, dam removals)
  • Implementation of an invasive species program
  • Focused scientific studies to address key uncertainties
  • Environmental education and watershed stewardship
  • Assisting existing agency programs to improve water quality 

ERP is implemented by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and National Marine Fisheries Service.


California Department of Fish and Wildlife U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service Logo NOAA Logo

Grants for Restoring Fisheries

In response to rapidly declining populations of wild salmon and steelhead trout and deteriorating fish habitat in California, the Fisheries Restoration Grant Program was established in 1981. This competitive grant program has invested over $180 million to support a diverse array of projects including riparian and instream habitat restoration, sediment reduction, barrier removal or modification for fish passage, fish ladders, fish screening of diversions, and watershed education throughout coastal California. Contributing partners include the Department of Fish and Wildlife, federal and local governments, tribes, water districts, fisheries organizations, watershed restoration groups, the California Conservation Corps, AmeriCorps, and private landowners.

 

Protecting Fish and Wildlife from Stream and Lake Alteration

The California Department of Fish and Wildlife is responsible for conserving, protecting, and managing California's fish, wildlife, and native plant resources. To meet this responsibility, the Fish and Game Code requires an entity to notify CDFW of any proposed activity that may substantially modify a river, stream, or lake.  If CDFW determines that the activity may substantially adversely affect fish and wildlife resources, a Lake or Streambed Alteration Agreement will be prepared. The Agreement includes reasonable conditions necessary to protect those resources and must comply with the California Environmental Quality Act (CEQA). The entity may proceed with the activity in accordance with the final Agreement.

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Managing Stormwater

Increased runoff from developed areas can introduce pollutants and scour stream channels, damaging habitats. Low Impact Development (LID) is an approach to construction and development that employs techniques to reduce runoff in ways that reduce the impact of built areas and promote the natural movement of water within an ecosystem or watershed.  LID site designs reduce impervious surfaces, filter contaminants out of stormwater, and/or retain stormwater for infiltration into the subsurface, recharging our groundwater resources.

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Restoring Impaired Surface Waters

When a body of water is found to violate applicable water quality standards, one or more beneficial uses of that stream, river, or lake (swimming, fishing, protection of aquatic life) are likely to be "impaired."  The federal Clean Water Act requires California to periodically update its list of impaired waters and to develop programs to restore those impaired uses known as Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDLs).  A TMDL is a regulation designed to improve water quality by controlling the amount of a pollutant entering a water body to the degree that water quality standards are once again met.

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Developing Policy to Protect Wetlands and Riparian Areas

A new Wetland and Riparian Area Protection Policy (WRAPP) is being developed by the State Water Board to provide additional protection to waters and wetlands in California. Implementation of this policy will help reverse historical trends in wetland loss, mitigate future risks to aquatic resources, and produce measurable improvement in the abundance, diversity and health of the state’s wetland and riparian resource.

State Water Resources Control Board

Sufficient Stream Flows for Fish and Wildlife

The Department of Fish and Wildlife's Instream Flow Program (IFP)  determines what instream flows are needed to maintain healthy conditions for fish and wildlife. The IFP develops information on the relationships between instream flow and available stream habitat to determine the adequacy of and prescribe appropriate instream flows. Flow criteria are developed for watercourses and streams throughout the state for which minimum flow levels need to be established to assure the continued viability of fish and wildlife as required by the Public Resources Code (§10000-10005) and Fish and Game Code §5937 mandates. The IFP provides instream flow recommendations for water acquisition, water rights, and statewide water planning processes .

California Department of Fish and Wildlife

What is being done to reduce impacts from waste discharges?

Wastes that enter our water ways from municipal wastewater treatment plants, industrial facilities, and agricultural and urban runoff can adversely affect the health of those waters and their usability for fishing, swimming, drinking water supply, and other beneficial uses.  A number of existing governmental programs relate those waste discharges to reduce or eliminate their impact on stream health and other beneficial uses of our water resources.

Direct Discharges from Municipal Wastewater Treatment Plants, Industrial Facilities, and Urban Stormwater Systems

Anyone who discharge waste to waters of the United States (navigable surface waters and their tributaries) from wastewater or stormwater infrastructure or other point sources (discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches) are required to meet specific treatment, control, monitoring and reporting requirements that are designed to protect the beneficial uses of those waters, including swimming, fishing, and protection of aquatic life. Under the federal Clean Water Act, each discharge is required to receive and to comply with a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit that regulates the location, timing, volume and quality of the waste discharge. Since its introduction in 1972, the NPDES Program has been responsible for significant improvements to our Nation's and State’s water quality. At the federal level, NPDES permits apply to both municipal and industrial treated wastewater and to municipal stormwater discharges. In California, NPDES permits are issued by the State and Regional Water Boards, under oversight of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (USEPA).


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Protections from Other Waste Discharges

In California, discharges of waste that have the potential to adversely affect the quality of "waters of the State" (nearly all surface waters and groundwater in California) are also required to obtain and to comply with Waste Discharge Requirements (WDRs) issued by the California Water Boards.  WDRs contain specific provisions limiting the location, amount, timing and quality of the waste discharge and requiring monitoring and reporting of compliance information to the State. These provisions are designed to protect the quality of the State's surface waters and groundwater from a wide variety of waste discharges.

NPDES permits (see above) that are issued by the California Water Boards are also WDRs.  In addition, WDRs are required for municipal sanitary and hazardous waste landfills, industrial surface impoundments, and other waste discharges, including mining, agricultural, septic systems, and other waste discharges that are not direct point-source discharges (discrete conveyances such as pipes or man-made ditches) to waters of the United States (navigable surface waters and their tributaries). Under certain circumstances, the issuance of WDRs can be waived by the Water Boards, if specific conditions are met. These "conditional waivers" contain specific provisions limiting how, where, when and what waste may be discharged for the waiver to continue.

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Pesticide Use

The sale of pesticides in California and the use of pesticides by homeowners, agriculture, and others are regulated to protect human health and the environment, including streams, rivers and lakes. The California Department of Pesticide Regulation is responsible for licensing pest control companies and products. They also monitor water quality for pesticide residues.


Department of Pesticide Regulation

Managing Polluted Runoff

A portion of stormwater can enter drainage networks and streams via overland flow or sheet flow.  As stormwater or snowmelt flows across landscapes subject to agriculture, mining, timber harvest, and other development activities, it can accumulate pollutants and contribute to declining stream health. Development activities in water, such as marinas and recreational boating, can also add pollutants.  Over time, governmental agencies have developed methods to lessen the impact of this diffuse or nonpoint source (NPS) pollution.


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How can I get involved?

Volunteers can become citizen scientists and work through a variety of organizations to monitor water quality in streams and rivers throughout the state. Activities can include collecting water quality data, evaluating fish habitat, counting birds, or making visual observations of stream health. Volunteers can be trained to use sophisticated scientific equipment to measure water quality and stream health. Community and resource managers use the monitoring information to better protect California’s waters.

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