California Department of Fish and Wildlife

Ecosystem Monitoring

Why is Ecosystem Monitoring Important?

boats in the delta

A critical component of adaptive management is to monitor the implementation of restoration actions and other relation activities to gauge how the environment responds to those actions. The monitoring activities should be question-driven and explicitly designed to inform decision-making pertinent to the adaptive management process. Monitoring provides the data necessary for tracking ecosystem health, for evaluating progress towards restoration goals and objectives (i.e., performance measures), and for evaluating and updating problem statements, goals and objectives, conceptual models, and restoration actions.

There are several efforts underway to develop tools and frameworks that support better coordinated monitoring activities in the Delta and upstream watersheds. Efforts to enhance integration and comparability among existing and potential future monitoring and assessment programs are critical given the magnitude of the issues being addressed, the diverse array of entities involved, and resource (e.g., staffing, financial) constraints. Of key importance is improving our ability to integrate data from multiple studies to develop valid information for decision-making. Examples of a few representative efforts are included below:

  • The Interagency Ecological Program (IEP) for the San Francisco Bay / Sacramento-San Joaquin Estuary consists of ten member agencies, three State (Department of Water Resources, CDFW, and State Water Resources Control Board), six Federal (Fish and Wildlife Service, Bureau of Reclamation, Geological Survey, Army Corps of Engineers, National Marine Fisheries Service, and Environmental Protection Agency), and one non-government organization (The San Francisco Estuary Institute). These ten program partners work together to develop a better understanding of the estuary's ecology and the effects of the State Water Project (SWP) and Federal Central Valley Project (CVP) operations on the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary.
  • Unified Monitoring, Assessment and Reporting Program (PDF) (UMARP, Luoma et al. 2011) represents an on-going effort to develop a coordinated monitoring framework designed to support and unify data from multiple monitoring programs, provide a common focus across programs, and provide regular assessments of how the system is changing in response to changes in infrastructure and water management actions, ecosystem restoration activities, exogenous factors such as climate change, and human activities such as population growth and changes in land use.
  • California Water Quality Monitoring Council (CWQMC) - Under the overarching guidance of the CWQMC, theme-specific workgroups (e.g., California Estuary Monitoring Workgroup) evaluate relevant existing monitoring, assessment, and reporting efforts and work to enhance those efforts so as to improve the delivery of water quality and ecosystem health information to the user, in the form of theme-based internet portals. There are currently three workgroups associated with aquatic ecosystem health that are particularly relevant to ERP’s activities. These are the California Estuaries Monitoring Workgroup, California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup, and Healthy Streams Workgroup.
  • Central Valley Chinook Salmon In-River Escapement Monitoring Plan (PDF) (Bergman et al. 2012) – This is a science-based collaborative approach to improve monitoring of adult Chinook salmon returning from the ocean to spawn in Central Valley streams (escapement) and harvested in freshwater. Accurate estimates of escapement are critical to sound management of ocean and inland harvest and monitoring the recovery of listed stocks. Sampling designs were reviewed and recommendations were made for improvement of the field and analytical methods used in the existing programs. The most appropriate survey/monitoring technique (i.e., mark-recapture carcass surveys, redd surveys, snorkel surveys, and fish device counters) was identified for each watershed. To improve data management and reporting, an online database was reorganized and updated to provide a centralized location for sharing Central Valley Chinook salmon escapement estimates and annual monitoring reports.
  • A Comprehensive Monitoring Plan for Steelhead in the California Central Valley (PDF) (Eilers et al. 2010) – The goal of this monitoring plan is to provide the data necessary to assess the restoration and recovery of steelhead populations by determining the distribution, abundance, and population trends if California Central Valley steelhead. The objectives of the plan include: estimate steelhead population abundance with levels of precision; examine trends in steelhead abundance; and identify the current spatial distribution and assess changes. The plan includes recommendations for the development of a centralized database and a coordinated reporting system to be utilized by all Central Valley steelhead monitoring programs.
  • Wetland and Riparian Area Monitoring Program (WRAMP, CWMW 2010) – The WRAMP consists of coordinated, comparable regional and statewide efforts that use standardized methods to monitor and assess the effects of natural processes, climate change, government policies, and management actions on the distribution, abundance, and condition of wetlands and riparian areas at a variety of spatial scales (e.g., watershed, statewide). The standardized methods will include definitions for wetlands and riparian areas, a statewide classification system, mapping and delineation protocols, condition assessment protocols, data transfer protocols and data quality control procedures, and analytical and reporting methods. The program is modeled after the USEPA’s Level 1-2-3 framework for monitoring and assessment of wetland resources. The fundamental elements of this framework are:
  • Delta Regional Monitoring Program (Delta RMP) – The Central Valley Regional Water Quality Control Board has initiated an effort to develop a comprehensive monitoring and assessment program for contaminants in the Delta. The proposed goal of the Delta RMP is to collect, coordinate, integrate, and synthesize data and communicate information about water quality in the Delta to support management decisions. The program is intended to address several needs that are presently unmet, including filling existing data gaps on contaminants, comprehensive assessment and regular reporting, comprehensive assessment to support performance measures, and coordinated monitoring (Jabusch and Bernstein 2010).