Volunteer Water Quality Monitoring
Since 2012, the Alpine Watershed Group has recruited and trained volunteers to conduct environmental health monitoring in the watersheds of Alpine County. Our monitoring programs aid in creating an important baseline dataset that measures the health of Alpine County’s watersheds. The collected monitoring data is then used to assess and continuously evaluate watershed restoration projects. Here is a list of 303(d) impaired water bodies in Alpine County. We strive as a watershed group to monitor water quality and to compare our findings to the listed impaired water bodies.
Ambient Water Quality and Stream Walk Monitoring
Volunteers who conduct ambient monitoring collect samples four times a year. Once a year they also conduct a stream walk survey, which includes photo monitoring and visual surveys of riparian habitat. Each sampling takes approximately three hours, while the stream walk takes two hours for a total of an eighteen hour commitment per year, including training time.
The parameters sampled for during ambient monitoring are considered vital signs of stream health. These parameters include: water temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, conductivity, and turbidity. These water quality measures and physical attributes of streams give very specific information on the health of waters systems and their ability to support wildlife and vegetation. Your efforts could help identify pollution sources and assess widespread problems.
Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) Monitoring
In coordination with the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board, AWG began a Harmful Algal Bloom (HAB) monitoring program to more closely track the water quality in some of Alpine County’s most popular summer recreation reservoirs. AWG began these monitoring efforts in late June of 2019 at Red Lake, Indian Creek, and Wet Meadow reservoirs.
Cyanobacteria, commonly referred to as blue-green algae, are naturally present in waterbodies and are an integral part of our ecosystems. When provided with the right conditions, cyanobacteria can develop into a HAB from excessive growth. Blooms, if stimulated enough, can decrease water quality but are only considered an immediate threat to human and animal health if emitting toxins. Not all cyanobacteria produce harmful toxins, but in rare cases, toxin levels may be concentrated enough to cause rashes, diarrhea, or vomiting. If you see signs of a HAB, such as discolored, pea-green water, surface scum, or floating algae, stay out of the water, and do not allow your pets to enter or drink the water. For more information on cyanobacteria, please see the Resources section on the State Water Board’s California Harmful Algal Blooms Portal.
AWG staff and volunteers record water quality parameters (water/air temperature, dissolved oxygen, pH, and conductivity) and collect water samples for lab analyses on nutrients, pigments (chlorophyll-a and phycocyanin), and cyanobacteria and their associated toxins at each reservoir once a month, June through October. We are currently monitoring four sites at Red Lake, one site at Indian Creek Reservoir, and one site at Wet Meadow Reservoir. We aim to better understand each reservoir’s water quality journey from fresh spring melt waters to warm decreased summer flows, hoping to identify the drivers of the reoccurring HABs.
To stay apprised of these reservoirs’ current safety statuses, please check the Public Health Briefs under the Departments pulldown menu on the www.alpinecountyca.gov webpage (under Health & Human Services), or you can contact Dr. Johnson directly at email@example.com if you would like to subscribe to his distribution list for Public Health Briefs.
If this project interests you, please contact Watershed Coordinator Mo Loden at firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved as a HAB Monitoring volunteer.
PPCP and CEC Monitoring
In 2018, Alpine Watershed Group began monitoring Harvey Place Reservoir for the presence/absence of Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs) and Contaminants of Emerging Concern (CECs). Currently, South Tahoe Public Utility District (STPUD) treats wastewater from South Lake Tahoe and pumps advanced secondary treated effluent over Luther Pass and above Harvey Place Reservoir in Alpine County. From there, the water moves though a cement energy dissipater before discharging into a drainage ditch. The water meanders through the marsh/meadow and eventually drains into the reservoir. This water is periodically released from the reservoir to irrigate farmland in California approaching the Nevada border. The goal of this study is to assess the presence of PPCPs and CECs that represent human bio-indicators within STPUD wastewater and Harvey Place Reservoir and determine the impacts that these contaminants may have on downstream aquatic organisms and agriculture.
So far, Alpine Watershed Group has conducted sampling and testing for PPCPs and CECs in Harvey Place Reservoir in April, July, and October of 2018 and April and July of 2019 to track the presence of these contaminants over time. Laboratory analysis has found the presence of Ibuprofen, TCPP (tris(2-chloroisopropyl)phosphate), nonylphenol, nonylphenol monoethoxylate, sulfamethoxazole, naproxen, meprobamate, DEET (N,N-Diethyl-meta-toluamide), caffeine, and iohexol. AWG will conduct the next monitoring in October 2019 to continue to track these contaminants.
Photo point monitoring consists of repeated photography of an area of interest over time. It is an effective way to monitor vegetation and ecosystem changes. In Hope Valley, photo monitoring is used to track the change resulting from the restoration projects of 2015 and 2016 on the West Fork Carson River. Twelve photo points are used to track restoration activity. Over time photos are compiled to provide a visual record of project success. Going forward, volunteers and staff will periodically replicate the photos to gauge long-term effectiveness of restoration projects. Photos are taken about four times a year to capture seasonal changes in water level. Each round of monitoring takes 3-4 hours.
Carson River Snapshot Day
Snapshot day is organized and run by River Wranglers. Alpine Watershed Group participates as a data collector. Snapshot Day offers students, parents, and educators the chance to experience the river first-hand and interact with resource experts. Snapshot Day data is collected from multiple sites throughout the entire Carson River watershed at the same time on the same day, documenting an annual “snapshot” of the river. The primary purpose is to document and study riparian habitat, measure water quality, and increase understanding about our precious watershed.
With volunteer guidance in Alpine County, student monitoring teams conduct field tests for dissolved oxygen, conductivity, pH, and temperature, and other water “grab” samples are collected for laboratory analysis of nutrients, turbidity, and bacteria. Student monitoring teams also complete a habitat assessment of their site, which includes visual observations and photo documentation of vegetation and stream conditions.
Bioassessments are conducted to assess a stream’s ability to support its dependent ecologies. Surveys include collecting aquatic insects (macroinvertebrates), stream discharge measurements, and assessing bank cover and in-stream habitat characteristics. Certain macroinvertebrate species are intolerant of poor water quality conditions. Their scarcity can indicate water quality issues. This ratio of tolerant to non-tolerant macroinvertebrates is known as the Benthic Macroinvertebrate Index (BMI) and can correlate to stream impacts.
Here is our latest data summary on bioassessment CSCI scores.
Hope Valley Meadow Stewards Program
Alpine Watershed Group, with support from American Rivers, is managing a multi-year study to develop a hydrologic model for the headwaters of the West Fork of the Carson River, chiefly Hope Valley. Project volunteers collect stream discharge data at four study sites to quantify seasonal variation. That data is correlated with stage data loggers to develop water quantity models.
Click here to view an update on 2017-2018 Hope Valley flow.