Goal 5: Safeguard Environmental Health

Protect and enhance environmental conditions by improving watershed, floodplain, and aquatic condition and processes

Objectives

  • Practice, promote, improve, and expand environmental stewardship
  • Maintain and increase watershed protection through conservation activities and investments
  • Protect aquatic, floodplain, and riparian biotic communities

 

Indicators with this Goal

  • Relative abundance trend of key indicator species at different life stages (i.e. Delta smelt, Longfin smelt, juvenile striped bass, Chinook salmon, all salmonid populations).
  • Relative abundance trend of key non-native species, for example Brazilian waterweed (Egeria densa) and water hyacinth (Eichhornia crassipes), and harmful invasive species such as Microcystis aeruginosa and other harmful algal blooms (HAB).
  • Tons of industrial pollutants released and disposed of by watershed/region. Industrial waste may be released into waterways, soils, and the atmosphere. This may introduce chemicals into ecosystems, the air we breathe and the water we drink.
  • Aquatic fragmentation in a watershed or hydrologic region. When streams are crossed by roads or dams, the portions above and below the potential barrier are separated from each other in a process called fragmentation. This can interfere with physical processes and movement of aquatic organisms.
  • Artificial alteration of channel sides and/or bottom. Artificially armoring banks, lining channels with concrete, and fixing channels in place can all affect both aquatic and riparian/floodplain ecosystems.</
  • Diversity of species and functional groups and richness (number) of species are useful information fro understanding ecosystem stability. Narrower measures of diversity, for example within one zone or ecosystem type or for one taxonomic group (e.g., birds) could provide more interpretable information than measuring the entire diversity of an area. Rocky intertidal areas are probably the most feasible place to collect data for this indicator, though this system type is also subject to dramatic natural and artificial disturbances.
  • Commercial fishing contributes to local communities' economies. Metrics or this activity includes number of individual vessels, number of trips, and total landings per fish species (weight per species and size class). Other important information includes economic and social activity indirectly triggered by fishing in coastal communities. <p> Focal species: nearshore rockfish, Dungeness crab, California halibut, and red sea urchin
  • Recreational fishing contributes to local communities' economies. Metrics or this activity includes number of individual vessels, number of trips, number of clients, and total landings per fish species (weight per species and size class). Other important information includes economic and social activity indirectly triggered by fishing in coastal communities. <p> Focal species: Rockfish, lingcod, and California halibut
  • Early life stages of fish species are more sensitive to disturbance than adult forms. They are also critically important to maintaining and increasing fish populations. These early stages may live in habitat types different from the adult forms and are thus subject to different natural and artificial pressures. Abundance of various early stages of individual species provides important information about those species, Diversity of early forms in a particular habitat type or location may point to the important nursery role of that habitat.
  • Populations of annual breeding success of many seabirds fluctuates annually in response to prey availability and quality. Hence, seabirds are frequently used as indicators of food web changes in marine ecosystems. Cassin's auklet is a small diving seabird that feeds primarily on krill, mysids, and some larval fish. There is an existing historical record for this species, including average number of offspring per year from each breeding pair. The large-scale dispersal of this bird species means that range-wide and regional assessment of trend and condition can be made. Pigeon guillemots are found along rocky shores and in inshore waters. They dive and feed on sculpins, sand lance, and smelt. While nesting, pigeon guillemots are sensitive to local disturbance. Prey availability and nest disturbance may be reflected in breeding success for many seabirds (fledging rate). <p> Focal species: Cassin's auklet, pigeon guillemot, Brandt's cormorant, pelagic cormorant, and common murre
  • In marine and estuarine ecosystems, many invertebrates play key roles as herbivores, detritivores, and predators and are often termed "strong ecological interactors". Abundance of individual species can provide information about the ability of the ecosystem to capture and cycle nutrients and primary production to other trophic levels. <p> Focal species for rocky systems: purple sea urchin, red sea urchin, red abalone, black abalone, giant/owl limpet, and various sea stars. <p> Focal species for soft-bottom systems: Dungeness crab, sand crabs, razor clams, and sea stars.
  • Harbor seals are an important apex predator, feeding on a diverse range of fish and invertebrates in nearshore waters including herrings, sardines, hake, flounder, sole, octopus, squid and crabs. Harbor seals spend about half of their time hauled out resting, sunning, reproduction, and interacting socially. Haul-outs can be in any coastal habitat and are locations suitable for assessing seal populations and role of local and regional disturbance in seal abundance.
  • Planktivorous fish (fish that eat plankton) abundance and size structure are indicative of the ability of the ecosystem to capture nutrients provided by the influx of plankton. These could b species that specialize in plankton, or juvenile stages of other species that eat plankton. <p> Focus species: Blue rockfish
  • The presence and increased abundance of predators indicates well-being in other trophic levels. Within kelp ecosystems, piscivorous fish may also play key ecological roles in moderating food web structure through top-down control. Certain fish are targeted by recreational and commercial anglers and well-being of populations of these species will provide social and economic benefits to coastal communities. Abundance and population structure (size classes) are important metrics for this indicator. <p> Focal species include: Various rockfish, lingcod, cabezon, bocaccio, leopard shark, and bat ray
  • Resident and migratory birds forage in soft-sediment and rocky-intertidal ecosystems on a wide range of fish and invertebrate species. Populations of these birds can vary with climatic and oceanographic conditions as well as availability of prey in intertidal systems. Diversity of species and abundance of species are both important metrics. <p> Focal species: black oystercatchers, Brandt's cormorant, pelagic cormorant, pigeon guillemot, and common murre
  • As in many ecosystems, in soft-bottom habitats, predators may play an important role in structuring animal communities. The density and size structure of focal predator species can indicate health of other trophic levels. The benthic invertebrates referred to here are those with a strong association with the substrate and may be subject to fishing pressure. <p> Focal species: Dungeness crab and sea star
  • Predators can play an important role in structuring community composition within ecosystems. Abundance and size structure of a range of fish species can provide information about the health of multiple trophic levels. Demersal fish are those with a strong association with the substrate. Many of these species may be subject to strong fishing pressure. <p> Focal species: California halibut, starry flounder, and sanddab
  • Fish species vary in their reproductive strategies, from live birthing (e.g., certain sharks) to targeted release of gametes (e.g., salmon). Most larval fish stages must feed by the time their yolk is depleted. Availability of prey, climatic/oceanographic conditions, predation, stranding, pollution, and various natural & artificial disturbance can affect larval stages and thus recruitment of young into the juvenile-adult population. Although recruitment rates will naturally vary, measuring trends in rate for individual or many species across years or decades will provide important information about coastal ecosystem health.
  • Marine invertebrates vary in their reproductive strategies, from brooding until settlement to broadcast spawning of gametes and from direct developing (non-feeding) forms to long-lived larval stages. Regardless of strategy, recruitment rates into existing or new habitat can determine survival of a species and adaptation to new conditions. Recruitment can be measured as successful settling or juvenile stages into appropriate habitat for the juvenile and/or adult form.
  • Near-shore shallow-water habitats are home to a range of fish species, including juveniles that seek refuge from predators in open water as well as resident species that forage in the surf zone on fish and invertebrate prey. Surfperch play a major link in trophic transfer in the near-shore: their diet consists of isopods, amphipods, copepods, molluscs, and polychaete worms. They in turn are prey for larger fish, such as kelp bass, California halibut, sturgeon, rockfish and salmon, as well as harbor seals and birds. Surfperch and surf smelt are both subject to fishing pressure and surfperch may be in decline in California. <p> Focal species: Surfperch and surf smelt
  • Suspension feeders play an important role in ecosystems, converting phytoplankton to biomass and, as prey, providing energy available to higher trophic levels. Presence of sand crabs indicates a beach with sufficient nutrient inputs and size of the beach populations may be related to near-shore richness. Sand crab populations are generally robust and may vary with climatic and oceanographic conditions. Razor clams are one of thelongest-lived organisms in the sandy intertidal so they may integrate ecosystem conditions over long time-frames. <p> Focal species: sand crabs and razor clams
  • In temperate marine ecosystems, loss of biogenic habitat (i.e., habitat formed by the growth and architecture of particular species) has contributed to declines in fish and invertebrate popilations and loss of species diversity. In estuarine ecosystems, habitat provisioning by eelgrass (Zostero marina) is critical to maintaining the ecological roles played by these estuaries as nursery and foraging habitats. In rocky-bottom ecosystems, canopy-forming kelp species (Macrocystis pyrifera and Mereocystis leutkeana) are primary producers and provide habitat by serving as surface area for sessile organisms and refuges for young fish. <p> Extent and structure (stem density and size structure) of these habitats are important metrics. These can cycle with environmental conditions and herbivore pressure.
  • In the presence of naturally varying tides and storm conditions, intertidal organisms occupy certain ranges, or zones, within intertidal areas. These zones vary in width and location depending on local topography and wave/tide reach. As sea levels change and storm conditions intensify with climate change, these zones will be altered in location, with some organisms occupying new territory and others potentially being excluded from certain areas due to lack of habitat. The intertidal monitoring program LIMPETS is tracking occupied zones over time, comparing their new records (collected by high school students) with records collected over the last 30+ years by Dr. John Pearse of UC Santa Cruz.
  • The completion of restoration recommendations and key actions during the implementation phase of the process.
  • Number of conservation and restoration projects. The presence of these types of projects may indicate both social commitment to the environment and changing environmental quality.
  • The Ecological Footprint (EF) is a measure of the amount of biological productive land and sea area are required to meet the consumption and waste production patterns of a population or human process.
  • Rate of fertilizer applied per unit area (kg/ha). Fertilizer contains chemicals (e.g., forms of nitrate) that can harm aquatic ecosystems and degrade drinking water quality.
  • Extent of floodplain restoration and connection between channel and floodplain. Both the absolute amount of protection and restoration and the proportion of the historic area are informative.
  • Flow pattern variability / alteration (both important seasonally and annually). Ecosystems depend on natural flow patterns and variability. High flows are needed to move sediment and re-work riparian and floodplain areas.
  • Sufficient flows and timing of flows for maintaining historically-present native fish. Native fish, including anadromous species, need sufficient in-stream water to complete life-cycles, forage, disperse, seek thermal refuge, and escape predation.
  • Forest land conversion: Total acreage over time. When forests are converted to housing and other developments, many environmental qualities will be negatively impacted.
  • Proportion of watershed covered by impenetrable materials such as roads, parking lots, and buildings preventing water from leaching directly into the soil. The greater the proportion of watershed with impervious surfaces, the greater the likelihood of geomorphic processes and conditions being degraded due primarily to modifications of stormwater runoff dynamics.
  • Proportion of watershed covered by impenetrable materials such as roads, parking lots, and buildings preventing water from leaching directly into the soil. Water quality is affected by impervious surface development in watersheds. The more impervious surfaces are developed, the greater the chance that water quality will be degraded.
  • An index of biotic community composition and structure, which respond to disturbance. This is a composite of several indicators of condition and can be applied using metrics for fish, algae, and benthic macroinvertebrates communities.
  • Inter-annual variability measures the variation in water supply between years. This indicator was used by the World Resources Institute in the Aqueduct 2.0 project.
  • Magnitude and timing of managed system flows suitable for native riparian habitats and geomorphic processes. Healthy aquatic, riparian, and floodplain ecosystems require periodic high flow events, not just minimum flows.
  • Mercury in fish tissue is an important measure of water and sediment quality. for mercury to increase in concentration in fish tissue, it must be available in the environment (water and/or sediment) and methylated, usually by bacteria in hypoxic/anoxic conditions.
  • Ratio of observed to expected native fish species in a waterbody or watershed. Fish indicators have been widely used and recognized as important tools to evaluate watershed and stream ecosystem health.
  • Sufficient and adequate direction of flows for maintaining historically-present native fish. Native fish are often adapted to certain hydrologic regimes and may not tolerate modified flow patterns or quantities.
  • The amount and extent of cover of algae attached to the benthos and other underwater surfaces. Excess algae can harm aquatic ecosystems and reflects a combination of effects of land and water use on aquatic ecosystems.
  • The Plant Growth Index (PGI) is a measure of long-term changes in plant community condition, based on satellite measurement of the peak annual Normalized Difference Vegetation Index. You can click on "Map Layers" items to the right of the map view to display them in the map. It is possible to turn on more than one map at a time. See more detail below the map view.
  • An index composed of indicators of chemical and bacterial pollution. Indices lack the precision of individual component indicators, but can provide evidence of overall condition.
  • Acres of preservation of existing natural habitats and restoration of degraded habitats. Protection and restoration of natural habitats has the co-benefits of support of terrestrial habitat and aquatic ecosystem processes and condition.
  • Naturally-occurring or artificial band of riparian vegetation along streams or rivers. This habitat type provides habitat for generalist and specialized species, protects banks against excessive erosion, provides woody material to streams, and shades streams, keeping them cool.
  • Species richness (birds, fish, invertebrates), for example, the benthic macroinvertebrate community. Species richness can be reduced by stream, riparian, and watershed degradation in response to land-use. Species richness also fluctuates with natural disturbance.
  • Stream bank stability. Stream banks may become less stable due to watershed disturbance, or more stable with reductions in flow and armoring.
  • This is a biological index, composed of indicators & metrics representing the condition of the benthic invertebrate communities living in streams and rivers. The presence and abundance of aquatic plants and animals can provide an indication of waterway and landscape disturbance, geomorphic conditions, appropriate water availability, and water quality. Comparing the measured presence (observed) of native species or groups to the expected presence of these species or groups is one way of measuring watershed and waterway conditions.
  • Threatened amphibians measures the percentage of amphibian species classified by IUCN as threatened. The World Resources Institute used this indicator in the Aqueduct 2.0 project.
  • Trophic state index is a measure of how eutrophic conditions are in a water-body. Excess algal growth can indicate eutrophic conditions and is the basis of the index.
  • Ecosystems and species at serious risk from unnatural fire regimes. In California, suppression of fires has lead to long intervals between fires, which can affect natural processes. These processes can recover once fire regimes are restored.
  • Upstream protected land measures the percentage of total water supply that originates from protected ecosystems. Modified land use can affect the health of freshwater ecosystems and have severe downstream impacts on both water quality and quantity. The World Resources Institute used this indicator in the Aqueduct 2.0 project.
  • Increase measurable benefit in in-stream flows from water recycling and conservation. Re-using and conserving water has the desired outcome of directly benefiting aquatic ecosystems.
  • Water scarcity is a function of water availability and water use. This index is used by the global Environmental Protection Index and represents the over-use of water in a region.
  • Water stress index is typically defined as the relationship between total water use and water availability. The closer water use is to water supply, the more likely stress will occur in natural and human systems. This indicator has been used by the United Nations and others.