UCI Samueli School researchers to study wetlands impact on coastal water quality

Irvine, Calif., Aug. 13, 2002 -- A team of Southern California researchers led by Stanley B. Grant, an environmental engineer in The Henry Samueli School of Engineering at UC Irvine, has been awarded a $640,000 grant from the UC Office of the President to study how coastal wetlands affect the levels of fecal pollution along the Southern California coast.

Working with Grant on the project are UCI environmental engineer Brett Sanders, oceanographer Clinton Winant and biological oceanographer Lisa Levin of the Scripps Institution of Oceanography in La Jolla, and marine ecologist Richard Ambrose of UCLA. The group will study the Tijuana Estuary, San Diego Bay, Mission Bay, San Dieguito Lagoon, Upper/Lower Newport Bay, the Santa Ana River sloughs, the Ballona wetlands and the Mugu Lagoon.

Researchers are motivated by an alarming increase in the number of beaches in California that are posted as unfit for swimming because of high levels of fecal pollution. The UCI-led study will help resolve a growing controversy over whether coastal wetlands filter out fecal pollution from urban sources or generate it.

"We've known for some time that coastal wetlands are a critical habitat for rare and endangered species," Grant said. "The issue is whether animal feces released from coastal wetlands are contributing to beach closings in Southern California."

Traditional thought is it that wetlands are highly desirable both for the habitat they provide and because they act like nature's filter removing nutrients, heavy metals and pathogens from contaminated surface water.

"The problem is that virtually everything we know about wetland treatment is based on studies of freshwater systems, not the tidal saltwater marshes found along the Southern California coast," Ambrose said.

"A key issue is the amount of time water spends in the wetland," Levin said. "Longer water residence time will enhance deposition of contaminants and allow bacteria to

Contact: Nicole Knight
University of California - Irvine

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