California Water Science Center

Prepared in cooperation with the
City of Palo Alto, California

U.S. Geological Survey
Open-File Report 2008-1180
version 1.0

Near-Field Receiving Water Monitoring of Trace Metals and a Benthic Community Near the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant in South San Francisco Bay, California: 2007

By Allison H. Lorenzi, Daniel J. Cain, Francis Parchaso, Janet K. Thompson, Samuel N. Luoma, Michelle I. Hornberger, and Jessica L. Dyke


photo of creek meandering through pickleweed to the bay


Results reported herein include trace element concentrations in sediment and in the clam Macoma petalum (formerly reported as Macoma balthica (Cohen and Carlton 1995)), clam reproductive activity, and benthic macroinvertebrate community structure for a mudflat one kilometer south of the discharge of the Palo Alto Regional Water Quality Control Plant in South San Francisco Bay. This report includes data collected for the period January 2007 to December 2007, and extends a critical long-term biogeochemical record dating back to 1974. These data serve as the basis for the City of Palo Alto’s Near-Field Receiving Water Monitoring Program, initiated in 1994.

Metal concentrations in both sediments and clam tissue during 2007 remained consistent with results observed since 1990. Most notably, copper and silver concentrations in sediment and clam tissue are elevated for the second consecutive year, but the values remain well within the range of past findings. Other metals such as chromium, nickel, vanadium, and zinc remained relatively constant throughout the year except for maximum values that generally occur in winter months (January-March). Mercury levels in sediment and clam tissue were some of the lowest seen on record. Last year’s elevated selenium levels appear to be transient, and selenium concentrations have returned to background levels. Overall, metal concentrations in sediments and tissue remain within past findings.

Analyses of the benthic-community structure of a mudflat in South San Francisco Bay over a 31-year period show that changes in the community have occurred concurrent with reduced concentrations of metals in the sediment and in the tissues of the biosentinel clam, M. petalum, from the same area. Analysis of the reproductive activity of M. petalum shows increases in reproductive activity concurrent with the decline in metal concentrations in the tissues of this organism. Reproductive activity is presently stable, with almost all animals initiating reproduction in the fall and spawning the following spring of most years. The community has shifted from being dominated by several opportunistic species to a community where the species are more similar in abundance, a pattern that suggests a more stable community that is subjected to less stress. In addition, two of the opportunistic species (Ampelisca abdita and Streblospio benedicti) that brood their young and live on the surface of the sediment in tubes, have shown a continual decline in dominance coincident with the decline in metals. Heteromastus filiformis, a subsurface polychaete worm that lives in the sediment, consumes sediment and organic particles residing in the sediment, and reproduces by laying their eggs on or in the sediment, has shown a concurrent increase in dominance and is now showing signs of population stability. These changes in species dominance reflect a change in the community from one dominated by surface dwelling, brooding species to one with species with varying life history characteristics.

Download the text of report as a 127-page PDF file (of2008-1180.pdf; 2.2 MB). This file contains links to the appendixes also given below.

For questions about the content of this report, contact Allison Lorenzi or Samuel Luoma

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