SFEWS: Volume 19, Issue 3
In our September issue new research and commentary provide insights on several topics: how to integrate zooplankton science to inform estuary management; how simulated fishing can avoid missed fish and detect gear bias in the water; why juvenile Chinook Salmon length-at-date criteria don't match genetic run assignments; whether declines in breeding waterfowl population relate to wetland habitat and salinity; and what kinds of food web support can be achieved by use of a managed flow pulse.
Photo: Forster’s Terns at Crown Beach, public domain. Attribution: © Ingrid Taylar, Creative Commons 2.0 Generic license.
Catch as Catch Can
"Catchability" refers to the relationship between catch rate and the true population. Ecological monitoring programs use catch per unit of effort (CPUE) to standardize catch and monitor changes in fish populations; however, CPUE is proportional to the portion of the population that is vulnerable to the type of gear used in sampling, which is not necessarily the entire population. Tobais' simulation combines a module for sampling conditions with a module for individual fish behavior to estimate the proportion of available fish that would escape from the sample. The method is applied to the case study of the well monitored fish species Delta Smelt (Hypomesus transpacificus) in the San Francisco Estuary, where it has been hypothesized that changing water clarity may affect catchability for long-term monitoring studies.
Waterfowl Reproductive Success Depends on High Water, Low Salt
Availability of wetlands with low salinities during the breeding season can influence waterfowl reproductive success and population recruitment. Salinities as low as 2 ppt (3.6 mS/cm) can impair duckling growth and influence behavior, with mortality occurring above 9 ppt (14.8 mS/cm). Schacter et al. used satellite imagery to quantify the amount of available water, and sampled surface water salinity at Grizzly Island, in the brackish Suisun Marsh, at three time-periods during waterfowl breeding (April, May, July) over 4 years (2016–2019). Among their findings was during peak duckling production in May, 81%–95% of available water had salinity above 2 ppt, and 5%–21% was above 9 ppt. Local waterfowl populations would benefit from management practices that provide fresher water during peak duckling production in May and retain more water through July.
Deep Dives Among Waterbird Populations in South SF Bay
In south San Francisco Bay, former salt ponds now managed as wildlife habitat support large populations of breeding waterbirds. In 2006, the South Bay Salt Pond Restoration Project began the process of converting 50% to 90% of these managed pond habitats into tidal marsh. Hartman et al. compared waterbird populations in south San Francisco Bay before (2001) and after (2019) approximately 1,300 ha of managed ponds were breached to tidal action to begin tidal marsh restoration. Study results showed average annual nest abundance declined during 2017–2019 by 53%, 71%, and 36%, for American Avocets, Back-necked Stilts, and Forster’s Terns, respectively. All three species established nesting colonies on newly constructed islands within remaining managed ponds; however, these new colonies did not make up for the steep declines observed at other historical nesting sites. For future wetland restoration, retaining more managed ponds that contain islands suitable for nesting may help to limit further declines in breeding waterbird populations.
Managed Pulse Flows as Food Web Support
While freshwater inflow has been a major focus of resource management in estuaries, including the upper San Francisco Estuary, there is a growing interest in using focused flow actions to maximize benefits for specific regions, habitats, and species. To test this concept, in summer 2016, Frantzich et al. used a managed flow pulse to target an ecologically important region: a freshwater tidal slough called the Cache Slough Complex. Their goal was to improve estuarine habitat by increasing net flows through CSC to enhance downstream transport of lower trophic-level resources, an important driver for fishes such as the endangered Delta Smelt. Simulations using a 3-D hydrodynamic model (UnTRIM) indicated that the managed flow pulse had a large effect on the net flow of water through Yolo Bypass, and between the CSC and further downstream. The managed flow pulse resulted in increased densities of zooplankton (copepods, cladocerans) demonstrating potential advection from upper floodplain channels into the target CSC and Sacramento River regions. Though conducted during a single year, this study may provide an instructive example of how a relatively modest change in net flows can generate measurable changes in ecologically relevant metrics, and how an adaptive management action can help inform resource management.
Length-at-Date Criteria and Genetic Run Assignments
Four distinct runs of Central Valley Chinook Salmon are named after their primary adult return times: fall, late-fall, winter, and spring run. Estimating the run-specific composition of juveniles entering and leaving the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta is crucial for assessing population status and processes that affect juvenile survival through the Delta. Historically, the run of juvenile Chinook Salmon captured in the field has been determined using a length-at-date criteria (LDC); however, LDC run assignments may be inaccurate if there is high overlap in the run-specific timing and size of juveniles entering and leaving the Delta. In this study, Brandes et al. use genetic run assignments to assess the accuracy of LDC at two trawl locations in the Sacramento River (Delta entry) and at Chipps Island (Delta exit).Across years, there was extensive overlap among the distributions of run-specific fork lengths of genetically identified juveniles, indicating that run compositions based on LDC assignments would tend to underestimate fall-run and especially late-fall-run compositions at both trawl locations, and greatly overestimate spring-run compositions (both locations) and winter-run compositions (Chipps Island). We therefore strongly support ongoing efforts to include tissue sampling and genetic run identification of juvenile Chinook Salmon at key monitoring locations in the Sacramento–San Joaquin River system.
Pelagic fish in the San Francisco Estuary are harder to catch in recent decades. Over the past thirty years, Delta Smelt catch in the Fall Midwater Trawl Survey has declined by 99%, Longfin Smelt catch has declined by over 95%, and even the notoriously hardy Striped Bass have declined by over 75%. To manage the system and reverse these declines, we need a better understanding of the “bottom-up” processes that exert control on these populations—we need to study fish food. In other words, in addition to studying fish directly, we need to increase our understanding of what pelagic fish eat: zooplankton. In this essay, Hartman et al. break down not only what fish eat (zooplankton) and why they are important drivers of species abundance in higher trophic areas of the food web, but also how scientists and natural resources managers can communicate better to understand which zooplankton data can inform and develop management-relevant questions.
Volume 8, Issue 3, 2010
High variability in environmental conditions in both space and time once made the upper San Francisco Estuary (the Estuary) highly productive for native biota. Present conditions often discourage native species, providing a rationale for restoring estuarine variability and habitat complexity. Achieving a variable, more complex Estuary requires policies which: (1) establish internal Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta (the Delta) flows that create a tidally mixed, upstream–downstream gradient in water quality, with minimal cross-Delta flows; (2) create slough networks with more natural channel geometry and less diked, riprapped channel habitat; (3) increase inflows from the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers; (4) increase tidal marsh habitat, including shallow (1 to 2 m) subtidal areas, in both fresh and brackish zones of the Estuary; (5) create/allow large expanses of low salinity (1 to 4 ppt) open water habitat in the Delta; (6) create a hydrodynamic regime where salinities in the upper Estuary range from near-fresh to 8 to 10 ppt periodically, to discourage alien species and favor desirable species; (7) take species-specific actions that reduce abundance of non-native species and increase abundance of desirable species; (8) establish abundant annual floodplain habitat, with additional large areas that flood in less frequent wet years; (9) reduce inflow of agricultural and urban pollutants; and (10) improve the temperature regime in large areas of the Estuary so temperatures rarely exceed 20 °C during summer and fall months. These actions collectively provide a realistic if experimental approach to achieving flow and habitat objectives to benefit desirable species. Some of these goals are likely to be achieved without deliberate action as the result of sea level rise, climate change, and levee failures, but in the near term, habitat, flow restoration and export reduction projects can enhance a return to a more variable and more productive ecosystem.
Two multibeam sonar surveys of west-central San Francisco Bay, California, were conducted in 1997 and 2008. Bathymetric change analysis between the two surveys indicates a loss of 14.1 million cubic meters (-3.1 cm/yr) of sediment during this time period, representing an approximately three-fold acceleration of the rate that was observed from prior depth change analysis from 1947 to 1979 for all of Central Bay, using more spatially coarse National Ocean Service (NOS) soundings. The portions of the overlapping survey areas between 1997 and 2008 designated as aggregate mining lease sites lost sediment at five times the rate of the remainder of west-central San Francisco Bay. Despite covering only 28% of the analysis area, volume change within leasing areas accounted for 9.2 million cubic meters of sediment loss, while the rest of the area lost 4.9 million cubic meters of sediment. The uncertainty of this recent analysis is more tightly constrained due to more stringent controls on vertical and horizontal position via tightly coupled, inertially aided differential Global Positioning Systems (GPS) solutions for survey vessel trajectory that virtually eliminate inaccuracies from traditional tide modeling and vessel motion artifacts. Further, quantification of systematic depth measurement error can now be calculated through comparison of static surfaces (e.g., bedrock) between surveys using seafloor habitat maps based on acoustic backscatter measurements and ground-truthing with grab samples and underwater video. Sediment loss in the entire San Francisco Bay Coastal System during the last half-century, as estimated from a series of bathymetric change studies, is 240 million cubic meters, and most of this is believed to be coarse sediment (i.e., sand and gravel) from Central Bay and the San Francisco Bar, which is likely to limit the sand supply to adjacent, open-coast beaches. This hypothesis is supported by a calibrated numerical model in a related study that indicates that there is a potential net export of sand-sized sediment across the Golden Gate, suggesting that a reduction in the supply of sand-sized sediment within west-central San Francisco Bay will limit transport to the outer coast.
Land use is an ultimate driver of many of the stressors on the Upper San Francisco Estuary, but the magnitude and pattern of land use change has not been analyzed. This paper attempts to fill this knowledge gap through a screening-level risk assessment. Urban land use was compared within hydrodynamic subregions in 1990, 2000, and 2006. Ancillary data were then used to quantify secondary measures such as impervious cover, housing density, road density and road crossings. Despite the rapid growth of the Bay Area, Sacramento, and Stockton metropolitan areas, the percentage of urban area and rates of change in the subregions are generally low to moderate when compared to other estuaries in the United States. The spatial data sets used in this analysis have been posted online to a public repository to be used by other researchers.
Current and Long-Term Effects of Delta Water Quality on Drinking Water Treatment Costs from Disinfection Byproduct Formation
Sea level rise and the failure of subsided western islands are likely future conditions for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. This study explores the current and long-term effects of changes in the Delta’s water quality on drinking treatment costs for alternative disinfection and additional disinfection byproduct (DBP) precursor removal. Current and likely future Delta water qualities were investigated for electrical conductivity and the concentrations of bromide, and organic carbon. With roughly 1.5 million acre-feet (af) per year of Delta water used for urban water supplies, the drinking water treatment cost differences of taking water from the south Delta and the Sacramento River upstream could amount to $30 to $90 million per year currently, and could rise to $200 to $1000 million per year in the future, with lower water quality and urban use of Delta waters rising to 2 million af annually. From these results, waters drawn directly from the Delta will likely become more difficult and expensive to treat, making the Delta less desirable as a conventional water source.