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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Re-Examining Factors That Affect Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) Entrainment at the State Water Project and Central Valley Project in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta


Managing endangered species is challenging when increased rarity leads to an inability to detect their responses to environmental conditions. In the San Francisco Estuary, the state and federally listed Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) has declined to record low numbers, elevating concern over entrainment at the State Water Project (SWP) and Central Valley Project (CVP) water export facilities. The objective of this study was to: (1) revisit previous work on factors that affect adult Delta Smelt collected at the SWP and CVP fish collection facilities using updated conceptual models and a new statistical approach; and (2) to determine factors that affect salvage at time-scales of interest to management. Boosted Regression Tree (BRT) models were applied to salvage data at the SWP and CVP, aggregated into two response categories: a “first flush” response that represented daily salvage from the start of the entrainment window to the 50% midpoint of observed salvage, and a “seasonal” response that included daily salvage from the entire entrainment window. Precipitation, sub-adult abundance, Yolo Bypass flow, and exports best explained first flush salvage at both the SWP and CVP. The seasonal models included a similar set of influential variables, but the relative influence of precipitation was lower compared to the first flush models., Yolo Bypass flow was more influential for seasonal salvage at the SWP, compared to the CVP; Old and Middle River flow was more influential for seasonal salvage at the CVP. Although the rank of variable importance that explains salvage differed slightly between first flush and seasonal time-scales, this study suggests that salvage is most influenced by hydrodynamics, water quality, and population abundance. The application of BRT models to predict salvage is limited, because salvage has been low since federal protections were implemented in 2008. Forecast models that integrate real-time variables with fish behavior models may improve Delta Smelt management.

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