Benthic Invertebrate and Deposited Sediment TMDL Guidance for the Pajaro River Watershed
R. Bruce Medhurst, David B. Herbst, Ian D. Bell | March 1st, 2016
The Pajaro River and its tributaries are exposed to sediments from a variety of sources. To establish limits for regulating this pollutant, it is necessary to understand how and where deposition of sediments impact biological health. Benthic, or bottom-dwelling, invertebrates offer a direct way to assess the impacts of deposited sediment on the integrity of stream ecosystems. The channel bed is where sediments accumulate and persist, so benthic macroinvertebrates that live in this ha bitat provide a responsive indicator of the effect of these sediments. Previous criteria for bedded sediment fines in spawning gravels have been established for salmonids, but these may not be appropriate to all stream segments, are not typically measured in stream assessments, and are confounded by other factors limiting steelhead vitality. Instead, the effects of sediment cover can be evaluated using benthic macroinvertebrates (BMIs) as indicators of stream condition to assess any stream segment and can be related to the bioassessment and stream habitat surveys of the Surface Water Ambient Monitoring Program (SWAMP) . The approach taken in this study was to select 25 sites throughout the perennial Pajaro watershed and in the adjacent upper Coyote Creek watershed that represented a cross-section of land uses, above and below reservoirs (unregulated/regulated flows), and in varied geographic settings that would permit examining source area influences on sediment deposition.
Rather than define conventional TMDL estimates for daily loads of sediment, a more relevant survey of the cover of deposited fine and sand (FS) sediments on the stream bed was used here to find the level at which BMIs lost integrity of species c omposition and diversity. BMI responses we re-examined at the reach scale (50-meter channel length ) and at local patch scales (30×3 0 cm) of varied FS sedim ent cover . The data were used to define target levels at which sediment impairs stream bed habitat quality. Reaches of varied sediment cover were compared to conditions at relatively undisturbed reference streams of the Central Coast region to evaluate sediment impacts.
Significant loss of species diversity and altered community type occurred above a sediment cover range of 40% FS at both reach and local-patch scales. In a range of 20-40% FS , BMI diversity declined, showing incipient losses of biological integrity . Richness of mayfly, stonefly and caddisfly taxa richness (EPT) was used as an indicator of biological effects of sediment, and reduced diversity associated with sediment increase corresponded to declines below the criterion 10th percentile of reference site EPT found in other central coast streams . Because of multiple stressors, some streams may not achieve these sediment or EPT targets just by improving the local sediment condition . For example, streams that are regulated (below reservoirs) or in arid regions may be influenced by temperature, dissolved minerals and/or elevated pH , in addition to sediment .
Rankings of streams surveyed were based either on sediment cover within the wetted stream width or the entire bankfull channel profile, accounting for both current habitat conditions and recent environmental exposure . Although the design of this study examined sediment deposition at different spatial scales and used a variety of sediment measures, the results are compatible with habitat and bioassessment surveys using standard SWAMP protocols. Only three to five of the 25 streams surveyed in the Pajaro region showed sediment and diversity levels indicating likely sediment deposition impacts. Results from this study can be used to identify streams where sediment degradation to biological integrity is likely (at >40% FS) , and those in a warning range (20-40% FS) that should be flagged for further assessment.