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Renewing Urban Streams with Recycled Water: Evaluating the Effects of Tertiary Treated Wastewater on Freshwater Biodiversity

Renewing Urban Streams with Recycled Water: Evaluating the Effects of Tertiary Treated Wastewater on Freshwater Biodiversity

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Janet Hsiao. Originally submitted for Senior Thesis Research Proposal at University of California, Berkeley, with lecturer John Battles in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards (International Programme) Competition by Janet Hsiao. Originally submitted for Senior Thesis Research Proposal at University of California, Berkeley, with lecturer John Battles in the category of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 31, 2012
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Methods in Environmental Science May 11, 2012ES 100
Final Thesis ProposalTitle
Renewing Urban Streams with Recycled Water: Evaluating the Effects of Tertiary TreatedWastewater on Freshwater Biodiversity
This study investigates the effects of treated wastewater discharge on its surroundingecosystems, specifically focusing on Calera Creek Water Recycling Plant, in Pacifica, California.The facility was established in 2000, and has been discharging treated wastewater into CaleraCreek intended for habitat enhancement. The project will examine the benthic macroinvertebratecommunities as biological indicators of water quality. These collections will be done at the samesampling sites where long-term, water-quality measurements are being taken quarterly. Standardmetrics of ecological structure and function based on the macroinvertebrate community data willbe used to quantify potential impacts to freshwater biodiversity achieved by the discharge, andthey will be examined in the light of the accompanying water-quality data that is available.
Mediterranean climates are characterized by wet winters and dry summers and many streams inthis region experience seasonal dryness (Lawrence et al. 2010). Many freshwater organismshave life cycles that are adapted to seasonal dryness, such as dormancy during dry period of theyear (Karr 1981, Merritt and Cummins 1984). Within a river system, there are natural flowtrends that are observed and associated with certain ecological settings. As one flowsdownstream, species traits (e.g., physical characteristics, behavior, feeding mechanism, etc)fluctuate in relation with hydrological variability (Poff 1995) as well as substrate material(Sarriquet 2007). Considering the relationships between organisms and their environment, onecan make inferences about the quality of a freshwater habitat by surveying the composition of itsinhabitants.Amongst freshwater organisms, benthic macroinvertebrates (BMI) are conventionally referencedfor assessment of water quality. BMI are appropriate biological indicators because they areubiquitous, with large number of species and spectrum of responses to disturbances (Resh 1996).Specifically, three orders of BMI are particularly sensitive (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera,andTrichoptera) which has led to the establishment of the EPT
index −a metrics for interpreting
water quality (Resh 1996). Composition of BMI taxa, based on various tolerance levels andrelationships to sediment, is a standardized metric that is supported by extensive literature(Cummins 1964, Merritt and Cummins 1984).Stream conditions in urban areas are exacerbated by human land-use practices and climatechange, such as urban infrastructure development, water withdrawals, and rising temperatures.River restoration efforts are made to reinstate flows to improve instream conditions. However,many of these attempts are primarily focused on the site physiology (e.g., stream width, bank depth, flow velocity, etc) rather than the water source (Hultine and Bush 2011, Jun and Kim
2011). Recycled wastewater from treatment facilities are often used for irrigation (Laurenson etal. 2012), but rarely with the specific goal of stream restoration identified.Water that is highly treated offers a largely unexamined opportunity for water reuse to benefitstream ecosystems. Although wastewater discharges have had negative impacts on some suchecosystems in the past, the discharge was 1) typically not treated to a high standard and 2)ecosystem renewal was not the intention. However, some water utilities are starting to considerthis as a management option (Glassmeyer et al. 2005, Daigger 2007). The City of Pacifica inNorthern California has modified its operations from discharging directly into the ocean toproviding high-quality, recycled water to a local stream called Calera Creek. The operation wasdone in an effort to construct potential habitat for several threatened species, specifically the SanFrancisco garter snakes and California red-legged frogs. This project studies Calera Creek toevaluate the proposed benefits of wastewater discharge on freshwater ecosystem by using BMIas an indicator of water quality and aquatic biodiversity.
Objectives, questions, and hypotheses
The study sets out to investigate the relationship between treated wastewater discharges and BMIabundance and composition. Specifically, this study will quantify
…, in order to
evaluatepotential ecosystem benefits. The specific hypotheses for this project are that:1)
taxa richness will increase as an indicator of greater biodiversity in response to thewastewater discharge,2)
the proportion of filter-feeding organisms will increase as a result of the greatersuspension of organic matter from increased streamflows, and3)
the percent composition of EPT will increase as a result of improved water quality.
Research approach/methods
My study system is located in Pacifica, California. The Calera Creek Water Recycling Plantdischarges its treated wastewater into Calera Creek approximately half a mile from the coast(Figure 1). The creek runs through the local neighborhood, limestone deposits, and dischargesinto the Pacific Ocean. I intend to investigate the effects that the waste water has on benthicmacroinvertebrate (BMI) communities in order to assess its value as a habitat enhancementeffort.I will be working with Dave Gromm, the facility manager at the Calera Creek Water RecyclingPlant, who has been affiliated with the site since its planning phase in the 90s. Not only does Mr.Gromm serve as a historical source, in an effort to support this project, he will also provide thefacility's annual compliance monitoring reports and their quarterly water sampling data. Thewater samples are taken at a site above the treatment plant, one at the discharge, and two separatepoints downstream (Figure 1). The laboratory crews measure the fecal coliform, temperature,dissolved oxygen, pH, and concentration of various chemicals. It has been done consistentlysince 1999 and continues to be monitored today. I plan to take BMI samples at the samelocations these data are being collected in order to draw valid comparisons.
Field Sampling
The BMI are collected using a 0.5mm D-frame net. This is done through disturbance of thesubstrate by kicking on the stream bed. The net opening faces upstream, allowing the naturalwater flow to direct organisms into the mesh. Kicks are timed at 1 minute intervals to standardizesampling effort across locations. The samples are preserved in 75% ethanol to be brought back tothe laboratory for sorting and identification of the individual organisms.
 Lab Analysis
The identifications are done using Merrit et al. (2008)'s taxonomic key to the family. Mypreliminary analysis will focus on the identified FFG composition, EPT index, and specierichness. Depending on what trends are observed from said investigation, the research will takeany direction as needed to shed light on other relevant significance.Since our BMI samples are taken at the same points as the facility's water sampling data, I wouldcorrespond the information for each site and assess how the insect communities trend changealong the gradient. Take the following data, for example:Table 1.
Calera Creek Water Quality Data − Water samples taken on 9/15/2009
Site #1 300 14.9 5.8 6.36 0.1 0.016 0.1 0.19 0.026Site #2 23 26.2 8.1 7.05 0.47 1.5 1.9 1.9 0.1Site #3 130 25 8 7.52 0.12 2.3 1.5 1.8 0.023Site #4 1600 25 7.3 7.4 0.12 2.4 1.2 1.8 0.023
Site #1 being the point above discharge, and #2 as the point at the discharge, the change indirection of each of these sampling data are noticeable. Standard metrics of ecological structureand function based on the macroinvertebrate community data will be used to quantify potentialbenefits to freshwater biodiversity achieved by the discharge, and they will be examined in thelight of the accompanying water-quality data that is available.

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