Many contaminants in the California Bay-Delta exceed regulatory standards, impact aquatic species, and potentially affect human health. Recent studies provide evidence that contaminants impact species of concern in the Bay-Delta (e.g., the decline of several important fish species referred to as the “Pelagic Organism Decline”). Multiple chemicals impair processes at cellular and physiological levels (measured as growth, development, and behavior abnormalities), ultimately affecting populations.
As an important example, the population decline of the endangered delta smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) is significantly associated with multiple stressors, including insecticide use. New analyses presented in this paper show significant correlations between pyrethroid (an insecticide) use and declining abundance of POD fish species.
Water sampled from the Bay-Delta causes multiple harmful effects in fish and delta smelt. Fish prey items are also impacted by contaminants; this may have an indirect effect on their populations. Co-occurrence with thermal changes or disease can worsen contaminant effects.
Contaminants also pose threats to human health via consumption of fish, drinking water, and contact recreation, in particular, mercury, toxins, disinfection byproducts, pesticides, pharmaceuticals, and personal care products. The role of contaminants in the decline of Bay-Delta species is difficult to accurately assess in a complex, dynamic system. However, tools and approaches are available to evaluate contaminant impacts on Bay-Delta species, and separate the effects of multiple stressors. Integrated monitoring and focused mechanistic studies are instrumental for addressing management needs. Impact and risk assessments should be conducted for different species across multiple life stages, with emphasis on early life stages of high-priority Bay-Delta species.