Coastal water quality impact of stormwater runoff from an urban watershed in southern California

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Journal: Environ Sci Technol 2005/09/22
Published: 2005
Authors: Ahn, J. H.;Grant, S. B.;Surbeck, C. Q.;DiGiacomo, P. M.;Nezlin, N. P.;Jiang, S.
Address: Department of Chemical Engineering and Materials Science, Henry Samueli School of Engineering, University of California, Irvine, California 92697, USA.

Field studies were conducted to assess the coastal water quality impact of stormwater runoff from the Santa Ana River, which drains a large urban watershed located in southern California. Stormwater runoff from the river leads to very poor surf zone water quality, with fecal indicator bacteria concentrations exceeding California ocean bathing water standards by up to 500%. However, cross-shore currents (e.g., rip cells) dilute contaminated surf zone water with cleaner water from offshore, such that surf zone contamination is generally confined to < 5 km around the river outlet. Offshore of the surf zone, stormwater runoff ejected from the mouth of the river spreads out over a very large area, in some cases exceeding 100 km2 on the basis of satellite observations. Fecal indicator bacteria concentrations in these large stormwater plumes generally do not exceed California ocean bathing water standards, even in cases where offshore samples test positive for human pathogenic viruses (human adenoviruses and enteroviruses) and fecal indicator viruses (F+ coliphage). Multiple lines of evidence indicate that bacteria and viruses in the offshore stormwater plumes are either associated with relatively small particles (< 53 microm) or not particle-associated. Collectively, these results demonstrate that stormwater runoff from the Santa Ana River negatively impacts coastal water quality, both in the surf zone and offshore. However, the extent of this impact, and its human health significance, is influenced by numerous factors, including prevailing ocean currents, within-plume processing of particles and pathogens, and the timing, magnitude, and nature of runoff discharged from river outlets over the course of a storm.

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