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 9, Issue 2, 2011
Policy and Program Analysis
The Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta is in a state of inevitable transition. Physical and financial pressures are likely to transform parts of the Delta into open water within the next 100 years. Because flooded islands have different habitat, water quality, and hydrodynamic implications depending on location, depth, orientation, and other physical factors, the state may decide to intentionally flood one or more Delta islands in an effort to better manage the Delta’s ecosystem and valuable water supplies. This paper outlines three sets of near term actions the state would have to take to begin transitioning towards intentional island flooding, and discusses legal and political challenges to those actions. Several key findings include the following: (1) amendments to California’s water code and revisions to the Delta Land Use and Resource Management Plan may help the state ensure the legal authority to differentiate levee policies within the Delta; (2) permits for a first, experimental flooded island will likely require the State Water Resources Control Board to revise the Delta Water Quality Control Plan to allow for more short-term flexibility and deal with conflicting ecosystem and water supply uses; and (3) the state may want to prepare mitigation plans for private landowners on neighboring islands whose levees could face new threats of erosion and/or seepage from a nearby flooded island in order to avoid inverse condemnation lawsuits. If the state decides to shift its levee policies in the Delta, serious consideration will need to be given these and additional common, regulatory, statutory, and constitutional laws.
Strategies for Restoring Native Riparian Understory Plants Along the Sacramento River: Timing, Shade, Non-Native Control, and Planting Method
Restorationists commonly plant overstory and understory species simultaneously at the outset of restoration, but a mature forest canopy may be necessary to facilitate survival of light-intolerant understory species. We conducted two experiments in riparian forest restoration sites along the Sacramento River to determine whether: (1) introducing understory species is more successful at the beginning of restoration or after the canopy has developed; (2) canopy cover directly (via reduced light) or indirectly (by reducing non-native competition) facilitates survival of native understory species; and (3) seeding or planting seedlings of understory species is most effective. Seven native understory species were introduced as both seeds and seedlings into an experiment that manipulated canopy cover (open or canopy) and non-native grass competition (control or grass-specific herbicide). We conducted another experiment using shade cloth to directly test the effect of different light levels on seedling survival and growth of three species. Both experiments showed that four species (Aristolochia californica, Carex barbarae, Clematis ligusticifolia, and Vitis californica) had higher survival under low-light conditions (canopy or shade cloth). In contrast, three species (Artemisia douglasiana, Euthamia occidentalis and Rubus californica) had similar survival across open and canopy conditions. Cover of unplanted understory vegetation (mostly non-native) was much lower under the canopy than in open plots treated with grass-specific herbicide. Establishment from seed was generally low and highly variable. Our results suggest that to restore understory species in riparian forests in north–central California: light-intolerant understory species should be planted after canopy closure; canopy cover is more effective than grass-specific herbicide at reducing non-native understory cover; and planting seedlings is more successful than direct seeding.
While there is substantial information about the upstream migration of commercially and recreationally important fishes, relatively little is known about the upstream migration of small-bodied species, particularly through estuaries. In the San Francisco Estuary, there is a major need to understand the behavior of delta smelt Hypomesus transpacificus, a small pelagic fish listed under the state and federal endangered species acts. The spawning migration period may be critical as upstream movements can result in entrainment in water diversions. In general, delta smelt live in the low-salinity zone of the estuary and migrate upstream for spawning. During the fall pre-migration period, delta smelt remain primarily within the low-salinity zone in the western Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta and Suisun Bay. There were no significant upstream shifts of fish into fresher water during late fall, suggesting that delta smelt do not show pre-migration staging behavior. Following winter “first flush” flow events that appear to trigger migration, upstream movement rates are relatively rapid, averaging 3.6 km/d, a finding consistent with results from particle-tracking simulations, laboratory studies, and other fishes. Like some other native fishes, delta smelt apparently “hold” in upstream areas following migration; most do not spawn immediately. Overall, delta smelt fit the pattern of a diadromous species that is a seasonal reproductive migrant. Emerging data suggest that there is variability in the migration behavior of delta smelt, a pattern contrary to the reigning viewpoint that all smelt migrate in winter.
Climate warming is likely to challenge many current conceptions and regulatory policies, particularly for water management. A warmer climate is likely to hinder flood operations in California’s Sacramento Valley by decreasing snowpack storage and increasing the rain fraction of major storms. This work examines how a warmer climate would change flood peaks and volumes for nine major historical floods entering Shasta, Oroville, and New Bullards Bar reservoirs, using current flood flow forecast models and current flood operating rules. Shasta and Oroville have dynamic flood operation curves that accommodate many climate-warming scenarios. New Bullards Bar’s more static operating rule performs poorly for these conditions. Revisiting flood operating rules is an important adaptation for climate warming.
Economic Costs and Adaptations for Alternative Regulations of California's Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta
Water exports from California’s Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta are an environmental concern because they reduce net outflows of fresh water from the Delta, and can entrain fish and disrupt flows within the Delta. If exports were no longer pumped from within the Delta, the regulatory issue becomes one of maintaining appropriate flows into and out of the Delta. This paper presents the results of two sets of hydro-economic optimization modeling runs, which were developed to represent a range of modified Delta operations and their economic and operational effects on California’s water supply system. The first set of runs represents decreasing export capacity from the Delta. The second set increases minimum net Delta outflow (MNDO) requirements. The hydro-economic model seeks the least–cost statewide water management scheme for water supply, including a wide range of resources and water management options. Results show that reducing exports or increasing MNDO requirements increase annual average statewide water scarcity, scarcity costs, and operating costs (from greater use of desalination, wastewater recycling, water treatment, and pumping). Effects of reduced exports are especially concentrated in agricultural communities in the southern Central Valley because of their loss of access to overall water supply exports and their ability to transfer remaining water to southern California. Increased outflow requirements increase water scarcity and associated costs throughout California. For an equivalent amount of average Delta outflows, statewide costs increase more rapidly when exports alone are reduced than when minimum outflow requirements are increased and effects are more widely distributed statewide.