Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

Investigating Particle Transport and Fate in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta Using a Particle-Tracking Model


Movements of pelagic organisms in the tidal freshwater regions of estuaries are sensitive to the movements of water. In the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta—the tidal freshwater reach of the San Francisco Estuary—such movements are key to losses of fish and other organisms to entrainment in large water-export facilities. We used the Delta Simulation Model-2 hydrodynamic model and its particle tracking model to examine the principal determinants of entrainment losses to the export facilities and how movement of fish through the Delta may be influenced by flow. We modeled 936 scenarios for 74 different conditions of flow, diversions, tides, and removable barriers to address seven questions regarding hydrodynamics and entrainment risk in the Delta. Tide had relatively small effects on fate and residence time of particles. Release location and hydrology interacted to control particle fate and residence time. The ratio of flow into the export facilities to freshwater flow into the Delta (export:inflow or EI ratio) was a useful predictor of entrainment probability if the model were allowed to run long enough to resolve particles’ ultimate fate. Agricultural diversions within the Delta increased total entrainment losses and altered local movement patterns. Removable barriers in channels of the southern Delta and gates in the Delta Cross Channel in the northern Delta had minor effects on particles released in the rivers above these channels. A simulation of losses of larval delta smelt showed substantial cumulative losses depending on both inflow and export flow. A simulation mimicking mark–recapture experiments on Chinook salmon smolts suggested that both inflow and export flow may be important factors determining survival of salmon in the upper estuary. To the extent that fish behave passively, this model is probably suitable for describing Delta-wide movement, but it is less suitable for smaller scales or alternative configurations of the Delta.

Main Content
For improved accessibility of PDF content, download the file to your device.
Current View