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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Effects of Drought and the Emergency Drought Barrier on the Ecosystem of the California Delta


In 2015, the fourth year of the recent drought, the California Department of Water Resources installed a rock barrier across False River west of Franks Tract to limit salt intrusion into the Delta at minimal cost in freshwater. This Barrier blocked flow in False River, greatly reducing landward salt transport by decreasing tidal dispersion in Franks Tract. We investigated some ecological consequences of the Barrier, examining its effects on water circulation and exchange, on distributions of submerged aquatic vegetation (SAV) and bivalves, and on phytoplankton and zooplankton. The Barrier allowed SAV to spread to areas of Franks Tract that previously had been clear. The distributions of bivalves (Potamocorbula and Corbicula) responded to the changes in salinity at time–scales of months for newly settled individuals, to 1 or more years for adults, but the Barrier’s effect was confounded with that of the drought. Nutrients, phytoplankton biomass, and a Microcystis abundance index showed little response to the Barrier. Transport of copepods — determined using output from a particle-tracking model — indicated some intermediate-scale reduction with the Barrier in place, but monitoring data did not show a larger-scale response in abundance. These studies were conducted separately and synthesized after the fact, and relied on reference conditions that were not always suitable for identifying the Barrier’s effects. If barriers are considered in the future, we rcommend a modest program of investigation to replicate study elements, and to ensure suitable reference conditions are available to allow barrier effects to be distinguished unambiguously from other sources of variability.

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