From Frank Emerson, Carmel River Steelhead Association:
The storm water spill samples were analyzed for volatile organic compounds, which turned out not to be present. The next attempt to find out what as in the spill is to test for synthetic organic compounds. If we get results we will let everyone know. It is quite possible we will never find out what it was.
The system of storms that came late in our winter were not enough to recharge the aquifer. Over pumping in the dry months draws down the water table so far it takes over 10 inches of rain just to get the river flowing all the way to the Ocean. This did not happen this year. That means a "year class" will be lost. No adults can come into the river to spawn and smolts cannot migrate downriver to the Sea. Smolts are about 8 to 10 inches and will feed over the next 2 to 3 years, growing into mature adults. With two very dry years prior to this one it is likely we will have even more declines in the Steelhead population.
The good news is that San Clemente Dam is being removed and that a new water project can substitute Carmel River water with desal water and alleviate a significant amount of over pumping. And none too soon!
The test results for titanium - a constituent of titanium dioxide(TiO2), which is a compound used in paint, sunscreen, and polarized glasses - showed 120 micrograms per liter (or 120 parts per billion or ppb) in the water sample taken after the spill went into the river.
Information on titanium levels in seawater or freshwater and its
effect on salmonids is difficult to find, but according to the
Lenntech web site (a company based in the Netherlands), sea water contains 1 ppb and river water contains 3 ppb of titanium.
Since the sample was diluted by overnight runoff from the shopping center near Highway 1, it's likely that the level of titanium in the original contaminant material was much greater, which would lead to the conclusion that the spilled substance was likely paint
Thanks to Brian LeNeve, President of the Carmel River Steelhead
Association, for suggesting that titanium dioxide is used in paint pigment.
Titanium is considered a metal of medium toxicity by NOAA Fisheries. Very few studies in fish have examined the uptake and partitioning of TiO2 nanoparticles. However, because salmonids can bioaccumulate metals and the lagoon can be closed for extended periods, we really don't want this type of material getting into the river environment or out into the ocean.
Although most people locally are well aware of the sensitivity of the river environment and Carmel Bay, I'd like to suggest that representatives of Monterey County RMA, CDFW, and MPWMD get together and work on identifying the drainage system where the spill came from, properties that contribute to the system and develop an outreach plan to the property owners and their tenants. Also, this is a good opportunity to set up a protocol for responding to any future spills(i.e., identify which agencies should be contacted, what resources are available to respond, and what precautions people should take in responding).
Larry Hampson, District Engineer
Monterey Peninsula Water Management District
P.O. Box 85, Monterey CA 93942