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SFEWS provides credible scientific information on California's complex water issues, linking new science to policy with great effect. SFEWS retains a regional focus on the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, also known as the Bay–Delta watershed. At the heart of open access from the California Digital Library, SFEWS's scholarly output ranks #1 for the UC Davis Institute  of the Environment and ranks #3 campus wide.

Volume 5, Issue 2, 2007

Research Article

Organic Carbon and Disinfection Byproduct Precursor Loads from a Constructed, Non-Tidal Wetland in California's Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

Wetland restoration on peat islands in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will change the quality of island drainage waters entering the Delta, a primary source of drinking water in California. Peat island drainage waters contain high concentrations of dissolved and particulate organic carbon (DOC and POC) and organic precursors to drinking water disinfection byproducts, such as trihalomethanes (THMs). We quantified the net loads of DOC, POC, and THM-precursors from a constructed subsidence mitigation wetland on Twitchell Island in the Delta to determine the change in drainage water quality that may be caused by conversion of agricultural land on peat islands to permanently flooded, non-tidal wetlands. Creation of permanently flooded wetlands halts oxidative loss of the peat soils and thereby may mitigate the extensive land-surface subsidence of the islands that threatens levee stability in the Delta. Net loads from the wetland were dominated by DOC flushed from the oxidized shallow peat soil layer by seepage flow out of the wetland. The permanently flooded conditions in the overlying wetland resulted in a gradual evolution to anaerobic conditions in the shallow soil layer and a concomitant decrease in the flow could be minimized by reducing the hydraulic gradient between the wetland and the adjacent drainage ditch. Estimates of net loads from the wetland assuming efflux of surface water only were comparable in magnitude to net loads from nearby agricultural fields, but the wetland and agricultural net loads had opposite seasonal variations. Wetland surface water net loads of DOC, POC, and THM-precursors were lower during the winter months when the greatest amounts of water are available for diversion from the Delta to drinking water reservoirs.

Processes Affecting Agricultural Drainwater Quality and Organic Carbon Loads in California's Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

From 2000 to 2003 we quantified drain flow, drain-and ground-water chemistry and hydrogeologic conditions on Twitchell Island in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The primary objective was to quantify processes affecting organic carbon concentrations and loads in agricultural drainage water. We collected physical and chemical data in southern and northern areas: TN and TS, respectively. Corn grew in both areas during the spring and summer. The peat soils in the TN area are more decomposed than those in the TS area. Results elucidate processes affecting drain flow and concentrations under varying hydrologic conditions. During May through November, groundwater flows from the permanently saturated zone to drainage ditches, and the resulting average drainage-water quality and dissolved organic carbon (DOC) concentration was similar to the groundwater; the median DOC loads in the TN and TS study areas ranged from 9 to 27 g C/ha-day. The major ion chemistry and stable isotope data confirmed that groundwater was the primary source of drainflow. In contrast, during December through April the drainwater is supplied from the shallow, variably saturated soil-zone. The DOC concentrations, major-ion chemistry, and stable isotope data indicate that the shallow-zone water is partially evaporated and oxidized. Higher flows and DOC concentrations during these months result in higher median DOC loads, which ranged from 84 to 280 g C/ha-day.

During December through April, increasing groundwater levels in the shallow peat layers and mobilization of organic carbon result in high drain flow and increased trihalomethane precursor concentrations and loads. On a per mass DOC basis, drain water collected during high flow periods is less likely to form THMs than during low flow periods. However, the high flows and subsequent high concentrations contribute to substantially higher trihalomethane precursor and DOC loads.

Comparisons of Organic Carbon Analyzers and Related Importance to Water Quality Assessments

This study tested whether analyzers using different methods were equally capable of measuring organic carbon in diverse environmental water samples from California’s Sacramento/San Joaquin Delta and its watersheds. The study also evaluated whether the different instruments might provide differing organic carbon concentration measurements, which could in turn trigger (or not) a regulatory requirement for enhanced coagulation at a water treatment plant. In Phase 1, samples were collected in eight monthly events at five stations associated with California’s State Water Project and analyzed using three high temperature combustion and three chemical oxidation instruments. Significant differences between instruments occurred in only 20% of the analyses. However, 80% of the observed differences were attributed to one combustion instrument that reported higher values compared to the other instruments. In Phase 2, four certified standards were analyzed with nine instruments. Results suggested that the main contributor of the observed differences was some instruments’ inability to remove inorganic carbon, an important step in the analytical process. There were no significant differences in the frequencies at which different instruments would have prescribed enhanced coagulation at a water treatment plant. We concluded that properly operating instruments using any of the standard methods were equally capable of analyzing the diverse concentration levels of organic carbon in the Delta.

Shallow-Water Piscivore-Prey Dynamics in California's Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta

Predation is one mechanism that could lead to low native fish abundance in macrophyte dominated shallow-water habitats in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. We used beach seine and gill net sampling to identify and compare the distribution and feeding ecology of three piscivores (striped bass, Morone saxatilis, largemouth bass, Micropterus salmoides, and Sacramento pikeminnow, Ptychocheilus grandis) at five nearshore sites in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Sampling was conducted March-October 2001 and 2003. We addressed the following questions. What are the spatial and temporal distributions of age-1 and older striped bass, largemouth bass, and Sacramento pikeminnow? What prey are eaten by these predators? What is the relative importance of predator size versus seasonal prey availability on incidence of piscivory for these predators? What is the likely per capita impact of each piscivore on prey fishes, particularly native fishes? All 76 of our individual station visits yielded at least one of the three species, suggesting that piscivorous fishes frequently occur in Delta shallow-water habitats. All three piscivores had diverse diets.There were noticeable seasonal shifts in prey fish for each of the three piscivores. In general, most native fish were consumed during spring (March-May) and the highest prey species richness occurred during summer (June-August). Largemouth bass likely have the highest per capita impact on nearshore fishes, including native fishes. Largemouth bass preyed on a greater diversity of native fishes than the other two piscivores and consumed native fishes farther into the season (July versus May). Based on binomial generalized additive models, incidence of piscivory was predominantly a function of size for largemouth bass and Sacramento pikeminnow. Largemouth bass became predominantly piscivorous at smaller sizes than Sacramento pikeminnow; about 115 mm versus about 190 mm respectively. In contrast, incidence of piscivory was predominantly a function of season for striped bass. Striped bass were typically most piscivorous during summer and fall regardless of size. We conclude that shallow-water piscivores are widespread in the Delta and generally respond in a density-dependent manner to seasonal changes in prey availability.