Discharge‐Mediated Temperature Management in a Large, Regulated River, With Implications for Management of Endangered Fish
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Discharge‐Mediated Temperature Management in a Large, Regulated River, With Implications for Management of Endangered Fish

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  • Journal Title:
    Water Resources Research
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    For large, regulated rivers, operators can impact abiotic conditions for the benefit of the ecosystem, primarily by controlling the volume of discharge from upstream reservoirs. Understanding the decision space around discharge is necessary for evaluating tradeoffs between environmental and other objectives. As a result of climate change, warming water temperatures are increasingly becoming a concern for thermally‐sensitive fauna. In California's largest river, the Sacramento, extinction risk of salmon populations is linked to high water temperatures. Yet, little is known about how much water temperature in lower reaches can be affected by reservoir discharge operations, and the potential benefits to salmon. We used a process‐based water temperature model to estimate the ability of reservoir discharge to mediate river temperature heating processes impacting downstream locations (discharge‐mediated temperature management). To bound this analysis, we used historical forcings over a recent 29‐year span. Results indicate reservoir discharge increases of up to 340 cms over the historical record could have decreased water temperature in the lower reaches by up to 3.6°C. Salmon require water below 20°C during most stages of their lifecycle, and we found that normative water operations could ensure 20°C was rarely exceeded for two potential management seasons, in late‐spring and early‐fall. These periods coincide with important rearing and migratory periods for salmon, during which they frequently experience excessive temperatures under the management status‐quo. This analysis provides stakeholders tools to manage conditions for native fauna in the face of a warming climate, and a framework for developing similar tools in other large, regulated rivers.
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    Water Resources Research, 59(9)
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    CC BY
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