Ongoing CRAM Development Projects

CRAM Development Oversite

In 2008, the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup (CWMW) was endorsed as a subcommittee of the California Water Quality Monitoring Council (SB 1070 Council). The CWMW includes both Federal and State agencies with responsibility for wetland management as well as non-governmental organizations. The intent of the CWMW is to effectively function as the forum for statewide coordination of wetland and riparian monitoring and assessment. Ongoing coordination of activities occurs through the various subcommittees of the CWMW operating under the Monitoring Council’s overall guidance and approval.

To ensure that CRAM and other “EPA Level 2” (Rapid) assessment tools continue to be supported and improved, the CWMW established a Level 2 (L2) Committee, headed by the SWRCB, to orchestrate the development of additional Level 2 assesment tools and their consistent use for state wetland management.  The Level 2 Committee is tasked with overseeing the development of additional wetland assessment tools including CRAM for additional wetland classes, creation of ambient assessment data and reference site inventories for use in evaluating CRAM results, ongoing Quality Assurance, and training.   

Members of the Level 2-Rapid Assessment Committee at a bar-built estuary in southern California in 2011

CCWG plays an active role in the L2 Committee and is working closely with its members in developing CRAM modules for additional wetland types including bar built estuaries, wet meadoes, arid streams, vernal pools, seasonal ponds and perennial depressions. Please see the following sections for more information on the CRAM development projects CCWG has been involved in recently.

Standardization of CRAM training tools

The main goal of this multi-year project is to further the development of a common set of tools and state infrastructure to implement a comprehensive monitoring and assessment program through partnerships of regional experts and resource managers, and provide leadership for the development of a statewide wetlands monitoring program. With these tools in use throughout the state for riverine, estuarine, and vernal pool/depressional wetlands, the Central Coast Wetlands Group is implementing a process to update, standardize, and refine the California Rapid Assessment Method for all validated modules. Please see the CRAM website for the most up-to-date versions of the CRAM Manual and field books.

Major products include:

  • Updated CRAM manual independent of the field books
  • Annual revisions to the CRAM manual, field books, and eCRAM
  • Revised descriptions and definitions of CRAM metrics to reflect input from CRAM reviews
  • Standardized set of CRAM training materials with annual updates to reflect changes in the manual and field books
  • 36 audits sites located around the state for training and wetland tracking purposes
  • New training materials to assist in the identification of plants and physical features useful for CRAM assessments
  • Biannual meetings of the expanding CRAM PI team to address updates and revisions existing CRAM modules
  • Support for the development of the L2 Committee within the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup

Bar-Built Estuarine CRAM Module

In collaboration with the State and USEPA, California regional teams have developed analytical tools and assessment methodology that provide important statewide data for aquatic resource management.  Until now, these tools have been targeted at riverine and estuarine systems.  On the Central Coast of California, creek mouths and bar-built estuaries (a.k.a. lagoons) provide unique and valuable services to freshwater and marine species and are uniquely susceptible to adjacent land use impacts and pollution.  

This project seeks to address four priority tasks: 1) Create a classification system and complete an inventory of bar-built estuaries throughout California (initial tally includes over 200 such systems on the central coast alone); 2) Verify and validate the California Rapid Assessment Method (compare results with Level 3 data) for lagoons; 3) Test the Level 3 sampling protocols recommended within the conclusion of the Santa Cruz County Comparative Lagoon Ecological Assessment Project; 4) Conduct an ambient assessment of Central Coast lagoon condition throughout the State.

As a result of this grant, CCWG has expanded its research on these systems.  Please see the Bar-Built Estuary Research page for more information.

Ross, Kevin and Sarah at Jalama County Park in 2011 during the development of the BBE CRAM module

Depressional Wetland CRAM Module

The purpose of this effort is to develop a “verification version” of the Depressional Wetland CRAM module, and test it on a number of sites during the summer of 2012.

The major tasks involved in this development process are:

  • Establish a statewide depressional wetland CRAM team to review and advise the core team on the conceptual models, study design and recommended module revisions.
  • Develop conceptual models of key module metrics and explain their expected response to gradients in hydroperiod.
  • Revise the existing Depression CRAM Module to include recommended updates made by the L2 Committee.
  • Compile depressional wetland CRAM data from 40 sites across a gradient of hydroperiod within key ecoregions across California.

Analyses of the statewide CRAM results will be based on the relationship between CRAM scores and expected condition (stress) across a range of hydroperiod. The results will be analyzed in terms of the ability of a metric, the attributes, and the overall index score to differentiate between good, medium, and low quality sites.  Recommendations to modify the module based on the performance analyses will be vetted with the Depressional Team and, once approved, will be brought to the statewide L2 Committee for final review.  

This project is a task within a much larger grant funded by the Coastal Impact Assisstance Program. CCWG is working as a subcontracter through the San Francisco Estuary Institute.

Cara and Kevin, along with two collaborators on Upper Bear Creek in northern California in 2012

Episodic/Arid Stream CRAM Module

The Southern California Coastal Water Research Project (SCCWRP), with the Central Coast Wetlands Group will develop the conceptual assessment framework for episodic streams in California. More than two-thirds of California’s streams are characterized by episodic flow, and therefore excluded from current ambient surveys because of the lack of appropriate assessment tools. Activities will include development of new tools and/or modification of existing tools for assessment of episodic stream types in California. The objectives are to evaluate necessary changes to existing methods, such as the California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM), to accommodate episodic stream types.   Potential assessment areas that will be addressed include changes to the assessment area determination, field indicators, metrics, and reference standard criteria.  This project will leverage off and contribute to existing State goals to develop appropriate assessment tools for all waterbody types in California by supporting assessment of a currently under-represented waterbody type.   All activities will be coordinated through the existing interagency workgroups, including the California Wetland Monitoring Workgroup (CWMW).

This project is funded by a USEPA Region 9 Wetland Program Development grant.

Wet Meadow CRAM Development

Cara Clark of CCWG is the co-lead on a project to develop a CRAM module for wet meadows. CCWG is partnering with SFEI and the Lahontan Regional Water Quality Control Board in this process. Wet meadows depend on groundwater rising into the root zone long enough to create hydric sediment conditions that favor wetland vegetation.  The most common functions of wet meadows include flood control, water supply, climate change mitigation, water quality control, groundwater recharge, erosion control, fish and wildlife support, recreation, and grazing.

Wet Meadow

Wet Meadow

Wet Meadows in Yosemite National Park

Support for Biological Objectives for Riverine Wetlands

The goal of this project is to develop an approach for multi-indicator assessment of ecosystem condition of riverine/riparian wetlands (streams) in California.  This project will develop an approach for integrating existing biological assessment tools, such as benthic macroinvertebrate and benthic algal indices of biotic integrity (IBI), physical habitat assessment (PHAB), and the California Rapid Assessment Method (CRAM), to provide an overall assessment of ecosystem condition for riverine wetlands.  In addition, this project will begin to develop a stressor index that ultimately could be used to inform management decisions aimed at improving ecological condition.  The main product will be a preliminary multi-indicator biological index (or indices) that can be used to assess overall condition of entire riverine wetland ecosystems, independent of jurisdictional or agency boundaries (i.e. the index will holistically assess the streambed, adjacent wetlands and associated riparian habitats).  The project will build upon existing efforts such as the State of California’s Reference Condition Monitoring Program (RCMP) and Perennial Stream Assessment (PSA).   

In summer 2010 CCWG worked as a subcontractor to the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to assess reference sites in central California using the California Rapid Assessment Method at sites assessed earlier in the year using the Perennial Stream Assessment Methodology.

California Wetland Reference Network

The goal of this project was to develop a network of wetland reference sites for the state of California. Grant activities focused in southern California (South Coast), Central Coast, Sacramento-San Joaquin Bay Delta (Central Valley), Northern California (San Francisco Bay; North Coast as a subset of the Klamath bioregion), and the Sierra bioregions. This included reference sites for riverine, estuarine, depressional and vernal pool wetland types. The sites selected will be used for training and calibration of CRAM practitioners. Packets for each reference site will be posted online including detailed site information and rationale for CRAM scores.

CCWG worked as a subcontractor to the Southern California Coastal Water Research Project to establish the reference sites on the Central and North Coasts.

Morro Bay Level 1-2-3 Pilot Study

Aquatic resource management depends on a comprehensive understanding of watershed condition.  Unfortunately most monitoring and assessment is based on a single objective (e.g. regulatory compliance) or a single indicator (e.g. benthic macroinvertebrates).  To remedy this, the USEPA has proposed a three-level framework for wetland monitoring.  Level 1 consists of habitat inventories and landscape-scape assessment; Level 2 consists of rapid assessment; and Level 3 consists of intensive assessment.  This integrated assessment approach was demonstrated in the Morro Bay Watershed, near San Luis Obispo, California using a series of wetland assessment tools developed by the state over the past five years.  Demonstration of the three-tiered assessment in the watershed achieved three goals: 1) A synopsis of the extent and geographic distribution of the riverine wetlands and their associated riparian areas, 2) a probability-based survey of the ambient condition of the riverine wetlands and their associated riparian areas, and 3) an assessment of the status of a set of riverine restoration projects relative to the watershed ambient picture. Click here to download the final report.

Request more information about this project.