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Nov. 3, 2008

Anna Holden-Martz
Sarah Marquis

Volunteers Monitor Contaminants in Season's "First Flush" of Storm Water Runoff into NOAA'S Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary

During the season’s first rains, citizens in nine central coast cities sampled storm water flowing into NOAA’s Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary on Nov. 3 as part of the “First Flush” volunteer water quality monitoring program. The storm water runoff carried with it months of accumulated litter, oil, chemicals and other pollutants that were washed off city streets and flushed through storm drains directly into the sanctuary.

First Flush volunteers collected water samples from 23 storm drains in the cities of Pajaro, Seaside, Monterey, Pacific Grove and Carmel-by-the-Sea. The water samples collected will be analyzed in a laboratory for metals, nutrients, bacteria, urea and suspended sediment.  Storm water runoff is one of the largest sources of pollution in the sanctuary.

“First Flush monitoring helps us pick out problem areas to target for upstream source tracking of pollutants,” said Anna Holden-Martz, Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network coordinator. “We work with cities to find solutions and implement best management practices to curb urban pollution in storm water.”

Volunteers received training for First Flush in September and conducted a preliminary test Sept. 20 to measure the concentrations of pollutants in the runoff prior to the rain. On Oct. 4, San Mateo and Santa Cruz counties received enough rain to mobilize 51 volunteers, who collected storm samples from 15 different locations in Montara, San Gregorio, Santa Cruz and Capitola.

During the sixth months of dry weather along the central coast, urban pollutants accumulate on streets and in storm drains. Storm water runoff in coastal urban areas has been known to have toxic effects on marine life, causing reproductive failure, deformities, and mortality. The results from First Flush can help marine resource managers learn more about what contaminants are entering the sanctuary via runoff.

This is the ninth year for the First Flush monitoring event and it continues to grow each year. This year, the sanctuary expanded the program by partnering with the San Mateo Resource Conservation District to add six new sites flowing into an area of special biological significance. Previous years of First Flush monitoring have revealed high concentrations of metals at several of the outfalls. Orthophosphate and bacteria concentrations have also been high, while nitrate has been low at most urban locations.

Copies of previous First Flush reports are available online.

The First Flush monitoring program is sponsored by the Stormwater and Education Alliance in partnership with the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network, Coastal Watershed Council, Monterey Bay Aquarium, San Mateo Resource Conservation District, Watsonville Wetlands Watch and the Monterey Bay Sanctuary Foundation.

The Monterey Bay Sanctuary Citizen Watershed Monitoring Network, established in 1997, is a consortium of citizen monitoring groups that monitor the health of the Monterey Bay National Marine Sanctuary. The Coastal Watershed Council is a Santa Cruz-based nonprofit organization committed to the preservation, protection and management of coastal watersheds.

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