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Influence of Variable Precipitation on Coastal Water Quality in Southern California

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To examine the consequences of changing precipitation levels on southern California's recreational coastal water quality, and compare the responses of watersheds with differing levels of urban development.

The geo-temporal relationship for six years (2000‐2005) of precipitation levels, discharge rates for the ten primary waterways, and coastal water bacteria concentrations at seventy-eight southern California beaches were examined.

Precipitation levels, river-creek discharge rates, and coastal water bacteria concentrations were significantly correlated (p < 0.01) for all ten watersheds investigated. Water bacteria concentrations significantly increased with higher levels of precipitation across 95% of the seventy-eight beaches investigated. A heavily developed watershed had significantly higher median bacteria concentrations (186 cfu) in the adjoining coastal waters compared to an undeveloped watershed (10 cfu) of similar size.

Precipitation and ensuing runoff strongly control the rate of polluted water delivered to most beaches in southern California. Variable precipitation generates a greater response in coastal water bacteria concentrations in developed watersheds compared to undeveloped areas. Projected declines in regional precipitation as a consequence of climate change may result in less contaminated water delivered to coastal waters, thus decreasing risk of water associated illnesses during winter months.

Keywords: climate change; coastal water quality; indicator bacteria; precipitation; recreational marine bathing; urban runoff

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: 2011-12-01

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  • Water Environment Research® (WER®) publishes peer-reviewed research papers, research notes, state-of-the-art and critical reviews on original, fundamental and applied research in all scientific and technical areas related to water quality, pollution control, and management. An annual Literature Review provides a review of published books and articles on water quality topics from the previous year.

    Published as: Sewage Works Journal, 1928 - 1949; Sewage and Industrial Wastes, 1950 - 1959; Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, 1959 - Oct 1989; Research Journal Water Pollution Control Federation, Nov 1989 - 1991; Water Environment Research, 1992 - present.
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