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Open Access Publications from the University of California


SFEWS provides credible scientific information on California's complex water issues, linking new science to policy with great effect. SFEWS retains a regional focus on the San Francisco Bay and the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, also known as the Bay–Delta watershed. At the heart of open access from the California Digital Library, SFEWS's scholarly output ranks #1 for the UC Davis Institute  of the Environment and ranks #3 campus wide.

Volume 10, Issue 4, 2012

Issue cover

Research Article

Downscaling Future Climate Projections to the Watershed Scale: A North San Francisco Bay Case Study

We modeled the hydrology of basins draining into the northern portion of the San Francisco Bay Estuary (North San Pablo Bay) using a regional water balance model (Basin Characterization Model; BCM) to estimate potential effects of climate change at the watershed scale. The BCM calculates water balance components, including runoff, recharge, evapotranspiration, soil moisture, and stream flow, based on climate, topography, soils and underlying geology, and the solar-driven energy balance. We downscaled historical and projected precipitation and air temperature values derived from weather stations and global General Circulation Models (GCMs) to a spatial scale of 270 m. We then used the BCM to estimate hydrologic response to climate change for four scenarios spanning this century (2000–2100). Historical climate patterns show that Marin’s coastal regions are typically on the order of 2 °C cooler and receive five percent more precipitation compared to the inland valleys of Sonoma and Napa because of marine influences and local topography. By the last 30 years of this century, North Bay scenarios project average minimum temperatures to increase by 1.0 °C to 3.1 °C and average maximum temperatures to increase by 2.1 °C to 3.4 °C (in comparison to conditions experienced over the last 30 years, 1981–2010). Precipitation projections for the 21st century vary between GCMs (ranging from 2 to 15% wetter than the 20th-century average). Temperature forcing increases the variability of modeled runoff, recharge, and stream discharge, and shifts hydrologic cycle timing. For both high- and low-rainfall scenarios, by the close of this century warming is projected to amplify late-season climatic water deficit (a measure of drought stress on soils) by 8% to 21%. Hydrologic variability within a single river basin demonstrated at the scale of subwatersheds may prove an important consideration for water managers in the face of climate change. Our results suggest that in arid environments characterized by high topo-climatic variability, land and water managers need indicators of local watershed hydrology response to complement regional temperature and precipitation estimates. Our results also suggest that temperature forcing may generate greater drought stress affecting soils and stream flows than can be estimated by variability in precipitation alone.


Delta Flow Factors Influencing Stray Rate of Escaping Adult San Joaquin River Fall-Run Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha)

Adult salmon that stray when they escape into non-natal streams to spawn is a natural phenomenon that promotes population growth and genetic diversity, but excessive stray rates impede adult abundance restoration efforts. Adult San Joaquin River (SJR) Basin fall-run Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) that return to freshwater to spawn migrate through the San Francisco Bay and Sacramento–San Joaquin River Delta (Delta). The Delta has been heavily affected by land development and water diversion. During the fall time-period for the years 1979 to 2007 Delta pumping facilities diverted on average 340% of the total inflow volume that entered the Delta from the SJR. The hypothesis tested in this paper is that river flow and Delta exports are not significantly correlated with SJR salmon stray rates. Adult coded-wire-tagged salmon recoveries from Central Valley rivers were used to estimate the percentage of SJR Basin salmon that strayed to the Sacramento River Basin. SJR salmon stray rates were negatively correlated (P = 0.05) with the average magnitude of pulse flows (e.g., 10 d) in mid- to late-October and positively correlated (P = 0.10) with mean Delta export rates. It was not possible to differentiate between the effects of pulse flows in October and mean flows in October and November on stray rates because of the co-linearity between these two variables. Whether SJR-reduced pulse flow or elevated exports causes increased stray rates is unclear. Statistically speaking the results indicate that flow is the primary factor. However empirical data indicates that little if any pulse flow leaves the Delta when south Delta exports are elevated, so exports in combination with pulse flows may explain the elevated stray rates. For management purposes, we developed two statistical models that predict SJR salmon stray rate: (1) flow and export as co-independent variables; and (2) south Delta Export (E) and SJR inflow (I) in the form of an E:I ratio.


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Pre-Screen Loss and Fish Facility Efficiency for Delta Smelt at the South Delta's State Water Project, California

Water exports have been implicated in the decline of fish populations in the upper San Francisco Estuary, California. We evaluated the relation between delta smelt salvage at the John E. Skinner Delta Fish Protective Facility (SFF) and underlying entrainment losses at the State Water Project (SWP, south Delta). We used cultured delta smelt in mark–recapture experiments in February and March 2009 (adults) and June 2009 (juveniles) to estimate: (1) the percent of fish recaptured at the SFF of the total released at the entrance of the SFF (fish facility efficiency), (2) the percent of fish recaptured at the SFF of the total released in Clifton Court Forebay (CCF), a reservoir for SWP exports, and (3) the fish losses in CCF and before the SFF (pre-screen loss). Mean fish facility efficiency was lower in successive releases: February (53.2%), March (44.0%) and June (24.0%). The mean percent recapture of fish released at the CCF entrance was also lower over time: February (3.01%); March (0.41%) and June (0.03%). Correspondingly higher mean pre-screen losses occurred over time: February (94.3%); March (99.1%) and June (99.9%). We concluded that: (1) entrainment losses of delta smelt could be higher at times, compared to other species previously studied at the SWP; (2) pre-screen loss was the largest source of mortality for delta smelt; (3) increased release distance from the SFF and residence time in CCF—and decreased exports—resulted in a lower percentage of recaptured fish at the SFF; and (4) salvage of delta smelt at the SWP does not seem to be a consistent index of entrainment.

Policy and Program Analysis

Managing California’s Water: Insights from Interviews with Water Policy Experts

This paper presents insights from interviews with over 100 California water policy experts, who answered open-ended questions regarding California’s long-term water policy challenges and potential solutions. Interviews were conducted in the spring and summer of 2010, and interviewees were selected from a range of sectors and regions within California. Top long-term policy problems cited include management of the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, dysfunctional institutions and water governance, unsustainable water supplies and flood management, poor environmental protection, and problems with water rights and valuing water. In addition to a range of specific management solutions, respondents emphasized the importance of public education, incentivized cooperation, more holistic water management, local innovation, and removal of regulatory obstacles as primary solutions to California’s long-term water challenges. There was little emphasis on new surface storage projects, except from politicians. Other respondents preferred local and regional approaches to improve water supply, such as conservation, groundwater banking, recycling, or stormwater management. Despite differences in opinion on the problems with implementation of the Endangered Species Act, there was broad agreement that environmental management approaches need to shift away from single-species, piecemeal approaches toward ecosystem-based, multi-species approaches.