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Water Management Adaptations to Prevent Loss of Spring-Run Chinook Salmon in California under Climate Change

Journal of Water Resources Planning and Management 138(5), 465-478

Author(s): Thompson, L.C. ; Escobar, M. ; Purkey, D. ; Yates, D. ; Mosser, C.M.; Moyle, P.B.
Year: 2012

Spring-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) are particularly vulnerable to climate change because adults over-summer in freshwater streams before spawning in autumn.

In this study, the authors examined streamflow and water temperature regimes that could lead to long-term reductions in spring-run Chinook salmon (SRCS) in a California stream and evaluated management adaptations to ameliorate these impacts.

They used bias-corrected and spatially downscaled climate data from six General Circulation Models and two emission scenarios for the period 2010-2099, as input to two linked models: SEI's WEAP to simulate weekly mean streamflow and water temperature in Butte Creek, California that were used as input to SALMOD, a spatially explicit and size/stage structured model of salmon population dynamics in freshwater systems.

For all climate scenarios and model combinations, WEAP yielded lower summer base flows and higher water temperatures relative to historical conditions, while SALMOD yielded increased adult summer thermal mortality and population declines. Of management adaptations tested, only ceasing water diversion for power production from the summer holding reach resulted in cooler water temperatures, more adults surviving to spawn, and extended population survival time, albeit with a significant loss of power production.

The most important conclusions of this work are that long-term survival of SRCS in Butte Creek is unlikely in the face of climate change and that simple changes to water operations are not likely to dramatically change vulnerability to extinction.

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