Delta Smelt Summer 2018

After catching over 800 Delta smelt in 2011 (Figure 1) and near 30 in 2017 (Figure 2), the Summer Townet Survey captured only 3 in 2018 (Figure 3). The pattern is consistent with the spring 20-mm Survey collections

The only option now other than extinction is stocking hatchery smelt in large numbers in their primary summer-fall habitat, the Low Salinity Zone of the Bay-Delta. Release should be near the 2 ppt (3800 EC) location, commonly referred to as X2, which recently has been moving tidally back and forth between Collinsville and Sherman Island in the Sacramento River channel just downstream of the Emmaton gage (Figures 4 and 5). The X2 location has optimum salinity, water temperatures (<70oF), turbidity, and food for Delta smelt.

Figure 1. Summer Townet collections of Delta smelt 2011.

Figure 2. Summer Townet collections of Delta smelt 2017.

Figure 3. Summer Townet collections of Delta smelt 2018.

Figure 4. Water temperature at Emmaton late August 2018. High tide X2 water is 68-69oF.

Figure 5. Salinity (EC) at Emmaton late August 2018. High tide water is near X2 salinity (3800 EC).

Would WaterFix Tunnel Intakes be Protective of North Delta Fish? You Judge!

The Department of Water Resources’ consultant on in the WaterFix tunnels hearing testified:

“But for those Smelts that are occurring in that area, the North Delta diversions will be designed to fish agency protective standards”… “That opening, based on analyses, would prevent entrainment of Smelts that are greater than about 21 to 22 millimeters.”1

“In the EIR/EIS, the only significant and unavoidable impact that we found was for Striped Bass and American Shad. This is because of entrainment of early life stages at the North Delta diversions. These are species that spawn upstream of the North Delta diversions, in large part…..2

For American Shad, studies suggest that many American Shad were upstream of the Delta and, therefore, when they’re coming down into the Delta, they would be sufficiently large to be screened by the North Delta diversions.”

Delta Smelt

Delta smelt spawn in the north Delta in late winter and early spring. Their juveniles occur through summer. Their young would be highly susceptible to entrainment throughout spring (Figure 1).

White Sturgeon

Sturgeon, both green and white, spawn above the Delta in the lower Sacramento River in early spring. Their larvae and early juvenile stages reach the Delta in spring at a size highly vulnerable to entrainment (Figure 2).

American Shad

American shad spawn in the lower Sacramento River and tributaries in late spring and summer. Their larvae and early juveniles are prevalent in the north Delta in late spring and would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (Figure 3).

Striped Bass

Striped bass spawn predominantly in the lower Sacramento River in spring. Their larvae reach the north Delta in May and June, and would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (Figure 4).

Splittail

Splittail spawn in the lower Sacramento River floodplain in spring. Their early juveniles reach the north Delta usually in May and would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (Figure 5).

Prickly Sculpin

Prickly sculpin, an abundant native Delta fish, spawn in the lower Sacramento River in late winter and their larvae are found in the north Delta in early spring and would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (Figure 6).

Sacramento Sucker

Sacramento sucker spawn in Valley rivers in spring. Their larvae and early juveniles are present in the north Delta throughout spring and would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (Figure 7).

Threadfin Shad

Non-native threadfin shad, the most abundant forage fish in the Delta, spawn from late spring into summer throughout the Delta and lower rivers. Their larvae and early juveniles are prevalent in the north Delta in late spring and early summer, and would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (Figure 8).

Summary and Conclusions

Larval and early juvenile lifestages of many Delta fishes would be highly vulnerable to entrainment through the screens of the proposed WaterFix north Delta intakes. Juvenile/fry of these and other species (salmon3) would be highly vulnerable to impingement and predation at the screens.

Figure 1. Length frequency of Delta smelt captured in the California Department Fish and Wildlife’s annual Delta-wide 20-mm Survey. For each sub-graph within this figure and each of the following figures, the x-axis shows the length in millimeters of captured fish, and y-axis shows the number of captured fish of each length. Note that most of the early spring post-spawn larvae and juveniles are of a size highly vulnerable to entrainment (<20 mm).

Figure 2. Length frequency of white sturgeon captured in the 20-mm Survey . Note larval sturgeon were captured soon after their spawning period in spring at a highly vulnerable size to entrainment. Many larvae of the main lower Sacramento River population of white sturgeon would pass the proposed WaterFix intakes.

Figure 3. Length frequency of American shad captured in the 20-mm Survey . Note that most of the shad would have to pass the proposed north Delta intakes in spring at a size highly vulnerable to entrainment (<20 mm).

Figure 4. Length frequency of striped bass captured in the 20-mm Survey . Note that most of these striped bass larvae would have had to pass the area of the proposed north Delta WaterFix intakes at a size would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (<20 mm).

Figure 5. Length frequency of splittail captured in the 20-mm Survey Note that many splittail spawn in the Sacramento Valley floodplain just upstream of the proposed north Delta WaterFix intakes, and that many of the juvenile splittail emigrating back to the Delta would pass the proposed WaterFix intakes at a size vulnerable to entrainment (<20 mm).

Figure 6. Length frequency of prickly sculpin captured in the 20-mm Survey . Note that the larvae of winter-spring spawning sculpin would be highly vulnerable to entrainment (<20 mm).

Figure 7. Length frequency of native Sacramento sucker captured in the 20-mm Survey . Note that the juveniles of late winter-early spring river spawning suckers return to the Delta at a size vulnerable to entrainment (<20 mm).

Figure 8. Length frequency of threadfin shad captured in the 20-mm Survey . Note the late spring-early summer spawning threadfin shad are highly vulnerable to entrainment (<20 mm).

  1. WaterFix hearing transcript, 2/23/18, Page 124, line 2:  Dr. Greenwood testimony at State Board WaterFix hearing.
  2. Id., Page 156, line 6.  Note that many shad and striped bass spawn their buoyant eggs in the area of the proposed intakes and immediately upstream, as well as in the lower Feather, Sacramento, and American rivers.  Nearly all the eggs and newly hatched larvae would pass the proposed CWF intakes.
  3. Much of the wild salmon production from the American and Feather rivers’ fall-run populations comes from fry (30-50 mm) leaving these rivers in winter.  Winter is the peak period of proposed north Delta diversions of the WaterFix project.  These fry would not be protected by the proposed WaterFix screens.

Sacramento River Low Flows and High Water Temperatures Violate State Standards for lower Sac River and Delta - Lethal for Salmon and Smelt

Low flows in the lower Sacramento River above the Feather River and warm flows from the Feather River are compromising the summer habitat of smelt and salmon in the lower Sacramento River and the Delta, violating state and federal water quality standards.

Lower Sacramento River at Wilkins Slough

The Sacramento River at Wilkins Slough at river mile 118, 63 miles upstream of the Sacramento Delta, has low flows and high water temperatures (Figure 1).  The high water temperatures are a violation of the 68oF (average daily) water quality standard and are stressful to migrating salmon.

Lower Sacramento River at Verona below mouth of Feather River

The lower Sacramento River 50 miles downstream of Wilkins Slough at Verona, just downstream of the mouth of the Feather River, has near lethal water temperatures, far above the water quality standard (Figure 2).  The high temperatures are likely due in part to recent increased releases from Oroville Reservoir to lower water levels for the spillway repair project.

Lower Sacramento River in Delta

The lower Sacramento River at Freeport in the north Delta, 25 miles downstream of Verona, has near lethal water temperatures for Delta smelt (Figure 3).   The high temperatures are likely due in part to recent increased releases from Oroville Reservoir to lower water levels for the spillway repair project.  The north Delta water temperatures are also high in part due to lower than normal net river flow (as measured at Rio Vista 20 miles downstream of Freeport – Figure 4).  The low flows have also led to encroaching salinity at Emmaton several miles downstream of Rio Vista (Figure 5), also in violation of water quality standards.

Figure 1. Sacramento River at Wilkins Slough flow and water temperature in May-June 2018. The water temperature standard for the lower Sacramento River is 20°C (68°F).

Figure 2. Sacramento River at Verona water temperature 6/15-6/26, 2018. The water temperature standard for the lower Sacramento River is 20°C (68°F).

Figure 3. Sacramento River at Freeport water temperature 6/15-6/26, 2018. The water temperatures above 72°F are stressful to Delta smelt.

Figure 4. Rio Vista daily average historical and 2018 flow May-June.

Figure 5. Salinity (EC) at Emmaton near Rio Vista. The standard of 450 EC (uS/cm) was exceeded from 6/15 to 6/18, 2018. The standard is necessary to keep the low salinity zone, critical habitat for Delta smelt. west of the Delta.

Enhancing Pelagic Habitat Productivity in the North Delta Is it too late to save the Delta smelt?

The Bureau of Reclamation recently released an Environmental Assessment for the Sacramento Deep Water Ship Channel Nutrient Enrichment Project. The proposed project would directly release nitrogen nutrients into the Ship Channel, which runs from West Sacramento to Cache Slough, north of Rio Vista.  The project is designed to stimulate plankton blooms in the North Delta as part of the Delta Smelt Resilience Strategy, which describes the goal as follows:

The purpose is to determine if the addition of nitrogen can stimulate plankton (fish food organisms) production in a section of the ship channel, which is isolated from the Delta in terms of water flow.

Adding nitrogen to the ship channel will indeed stimulate plankton productivity.  Only a few miles away, regional governments have spent decades in removing nitrogen (most recently, ammonia) from the effluent of the Sacramento Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant to reduce production of blue-green algae in the Delta.  The City of West Sacramento already seasonally releases high nutrients, metals, and salts into the Ship Channel.  Adding more nitrogen could easily increase toxic blue-green algae problems in the Delta, similar to the bloom that recently led to the recreational closure of southern California’s Diamond Valley Reservoir, which receives Delta water.

There is higher plankton productivity in the Ship Channel than in nearby Delta channels because the Ship Channel has longer residence time, higher nutrients,  and higher water temperatures.  The broken gate on the Ship Channel’s northern entrance contributes to these conditions.  However, lack of circulation also leads to nitrogen depletion and declining plankton production, and there is limited seasonal replenishment of nitrogen.

The Delta Smelt Resilience Strategy is considering increasing flows into the north Delta from the Colusa Basin Drain, Fremont Weir, and the Ship Channel to stimulate Delta plankton blooms.  The biggest problem with these sources is high spring-through-fall water temperatures (Figures 1-3).  Water temperature is certainly the greatest limiting factor in the north Delta for Delta smelt; adding nitrogen will not fix this problem.

Fixing the gate at the north end and allowing cooler Sacramento River water (strong American River influence) into the channel (Figure 4) would reduce water temperatures in the Ship Channel.  Just a few degrees can be life or death for Delta smelt.  Increased entry into the Ship Channel of Sacramento River water would also introduce more nitrogen, potentially reducing the need to fertilize the Ship Channel with crop dusters.

Figure 1. Water temperature in the Yolo Bypass downstream of the entrance of the Colusa Basin Drain.

Figure 2. Water temperature in the Sacramento River Deep Water Ship Channel.

Figure 3. Water temperature in the lower Yolo Bypass toe drain canal near Liberty Island.

Figure 4. Water temperature in the Sacramento River near Freeport downstream of the entrance to the Sacramento River Deep Water Shipp Channel.

And then there were none…

ARE DELTA SMELT FINALLY EXTINCT? HAS THE CANARY SUNG ITS LAST SONG?

In late April and early May 2018, 20-mm Surveys collected no Delta smelt (Figure 1) in the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary. It’s a new low for Delta smelt since the survey began in 1995, worse even than the 2017 survey catch (Figure 2). The outlook for the population as indexed by the summer and fall surveys looks grim after record lows from 2012-2017. Despite good conditions in spring 2018, the number of adult spawners was too low, indicating a weak recovery potential.

Figure 1. Catch and lengths of Delta smelt collected in the 20-mm Survey in spring 2018. None were collected in surveys 4 and 5

Figure 2. Catch and lengths of Delta smelt collected in the 20-mm Survey in spring 2017.