Skip to main content
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 13, Issue 1, 2015

Issue cover
Cover Caption: Suisun Marsh Salinity Control Gates control salinity by restricting flow of higher salinity water from Grizzly Bay into Montezuma Slough during incoming tides and retaining lower salinity Sacramento River water from the previous ebb tide.

Policy and Program Analysis

Forecasting the Most Likely Status of Wild Salmon in the California Central Valley in 2100

Since the mid-1800s the Sacramento–San Joaquin river system in the California Central Valley has experienced a dramatic decline in the distribution and abundance of wild salmon, along with many extirpations. The causes of the decline are many, and have been well studied. Despite restoration efforts spanning decades and involving large expenditures, runs of wild salmon in the Central Valley continue to decline. Using the most probable policy and ecological scenarios (i.e., effects of continued harvest, continued stocking from hatcheries, changing climate, continued human population growth and associated demands for scarce water resources) and based on expert judgment, we assessed the most likely future of wild salmon runs in the Central Valley in 2100. We posed seven open-ended questions to senior salmon science and policy experts in federal and state agencies; local, regional, and national organizations; non-governmental organizations; and universities. With a promise of complete and permanent anonymity, these experts provided answers. Most experts concluded that by 2100 wild salmon in the Central Valley will be extirpated or minimally abundant if current trends continue.

Research Article

Three-Dimensional Modeling of Hydrodynamics and Salinity in the San Francisco Estuary: An Evaluation of Model Accuracy, X2, and the Low–Salinity Zone

The three-dimensional UnTRIM San Francisco Bay–Delta model was applied to simulate tidal hydrodynamics and salinity in the San Francisco Estuary (estuary) using an unstructured grid. We compared model predictions to observations of water level, tidal flow, current speed, and salinity collected at 137 locations throughout the estuary. A quantitative approach based on multiple model assessment metrics was used to evaluate the model's accuracy for each comparison. These comparisons demonstrate that the model accurately predicted water level, tidal flow, and salinity during a 3-year simulation period that spanned a large range of flow and salinity conditions. The model is therefore suitable for detailed investigation of circulation patterns and salinity distributions in the estuary.

The model was used to investigate the location, and spatial and temporal extent of the low-salinity zone (LSZ), defined by salinity between 0.5 and 6 psu. We calculated X2, the distance up the axis of the estuary to the daily-averaged 2-psu near-bed salinity, and the spatial extent of the LSZ for each day during the 3-year simulation. The location, area, volume, and average depth of the low-salinity zone varied with X2; however this variation was not monotonic and was largely controlled by the geometry of the estuary.

We used predicted daily X2 values and the corresponding daily Delta outflow for each day during the 3-year simulation to develop a new equation to relate X2 to Delta outflow. This equation provides a conceptual improvement over previous equations by allowing the time constant for daily changes in X2 to vary with flow conditions. This improvement resulted in a smaller average error in X2 prediction than previous equations. These analyses demonstrate that a well-calibrated three-dimensional (3-D) hydrodynamic model is a valuable tool for investigating the salinity distributions in the estuary, and their influence on the distribution and abundance of physical habitat.



  • 1 supplemental PDF

Modeling Tidal Freshwater Marsh Sustainability in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta Under a Broad Suite of Potential Future Scenarios

In this paper, we report on the adaptation and application of a one-dimensional marsh surface elevation model, the Wetland Accretion Rate Model of Ecosystem Resilience (WARMER), to explore the conditions that lead to sustainable tidal freshwater marshes in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta. We defined marsh accretion parameters to encapsulate the range of observed values over historic and modern time-scales based on measurements from four marshes in high and low energy fluvial environments as well as possible future trends in sediment supply and mean sea level. A sensitivity analysis of 450 simulations was conducted encompassing a range of porosity values, initial elevations, organic and inorganic matter accumulation rates, and sea-level rise rates. For the range of inputs considered, the magnitude of SLR over the next century was the primary driver of marsh surface elevation change. Sediment supply was the secondary control. More than 84% of the scenarios resulted in sustainable marshes with 88 cm of SLR by 2100, but only 32% and 11% of the scenarios resulted in surviving marshes when SLR was increased to 133 cm and 179 cm, respectively. Marshes situated in high-energy zones were marginally more resilient than those in low-energy zones because of their higher inorganic sediment supply. Overall, the results from this modeling exercise suggest that marshes at the upstream reaches of the Delta—where SLR may be attenuated—and high energy marshes along major channels with high inorganic sediment accumulation rates will be more resilient to global SLR in excess of 88 cm over the next century than their downstream and low-energy counterparts. However, considerable uncertainties exist in the projected rates of sea-level rise and sediment avail-ability. In addition, more research is needed to constrain future rates of aboveground and belowground plant productivity under increased CO2 concentrations and flooding.

  • 2 supplemental PDFs
  • 1 supplemental file