In a June 2 post I wrote about protecting Sacramento River salmon and sturgeon in spring 2017. The topic shifts to summer in this post. Summer (July-September) river conditions are also important for sustaining salmon and sturgeon. There are numerous sensitive summer life-history stages with well recognized tolerance limits:
- Adult holding and spawning winter-run salmon. (July-August 60oF)
- Eggs and embryo winter-run salmon. (July-Sept 56oF)
- Rearing fry and fingerling winter-run salmon. (July-Sept 60oF)
- Rearing fingerling and pre-smolt late fall-run salmon. (July-Sept 60oF)
- Over-summering and migrating spring-run and fall-run salmon smolts and juvenile sturgeon. (July-Sept 65oF)
- Migrating pre-spawning adult spring-run and fall-run salmon. (July-Sept 68oF)
- Holding pre-spawning adult spring-run and fall-run salmon. (July-Sept 60oF)
- Spawning adult spring-run salmon. (Aug-Sept 56oF)
State water right orders, federal salmon biological opinions, and the Sacramento River Basin Plan all recognize these uses and tolerances by setting summer water temperature targets of 56oF for the Red Bluff (river mile 243) reach and 68oF at Wilkins Slough (river mile 125). Further conditions are set upstream as far as Keswick Dam (river mile 300).
In this post, I focus on the summer spawning run of fall-run salmon of the Sacramento River. Fall-run make up the vast majority of Sacramento River salmon, as well as the Central Valley salmon population. Better summer conditions in 2017, especially with a record-high water supply, should help produce more salmon and bring about a recovery of the depressed ocean and river fisheries.
Adult fall-run migrate from the ocean through the Bay-Delta and begin spawning in the upper river (river mile 200-300) in September continuing through December. Summer river conditions during their upriver spawning run, pre-spawn holding, and spawning are important factors in the ultimate success of the spawning run (i.e., smolt production and future runs).1
To protect the spawning run we should focus on two key objectives:
- Maintain water temperature below 60oF in the spawning reach to protect holding adult salmon.
- Maintain water temperature below 68oF in the migrating corridor to protect migrating adult salmon.
Spawning Reach Summer Protection
The fall-run spawning reach is from Hamilton City upstream to Keswick Dam: river mile 200 to 300 (Figure 1). Spawning winter-run are protected with a 56oF daily-average limit above Balls Ferry (RM 276). With potentially over half the fall-run spawning below Balls Ferry, a 60oF limit is needed down to Hamilton City (RM 200). Historical water temperatures at Red Bluff (RM 243) show that the Basin Plan 56oF target at Red Bluff was rarely achieved, but that the 60oF limit was achieved except in some critically dry years (Figure 2). Allowing for a 2-degree leeway to maintain the 60oF limit downstream 40 miles to Hamilton City, a 58oF limit was not achieved except in some wetter years. Maintaining a 60oF limit at Hamilton City would take flows of 10,000 cfs or more at Red Bluff (Figure 3).
Migrating Reach Summer Protection
The fall-run migration reach to the spawning grounds above Hamilton City (RM 200) is approximately 100 miles above the mouth of the Feather River at Verona. Historical water temperature data from the Wilkins Slough gage (RM 125) show that the 68oF daily average objective was often not met, especially in critically dry years (Figure 4). Maintaining a 68oF limit near Wilkins Slough in the lower Sacramento River would take flows of 7,000 cfs or more at the Wilkins Slough gage (Figure 5). Maintaining a 68oF limit at Verona below the mouth of the Feather River would take up to 15,000 cfs at the Verona gage (Figure 6).
Conclusions and Recommendations
- Maintain summer water temperature at Red Bluff below a daily-average limit of 58oF with flows from 10,000 to 12,000 cfs as necessary, to protect holding pre-spawn and early spawning adult fall-run salmon.
- Maintain summer water temperature at Wilkins Slough on the lower Sacramento River below a daily-average limit of 68oF with flows from 7000 to 8000 cfs as necessary, to protect migrating adult fall-run salmon.
- Maintain summer water temperature at Verona on the lower Sacramento River below a daily-average limit of 68oF with flows from 10,000 to 15,000 cfs (including Feather River flows) as necessary, to protect migrating adult fall-run salmon.
These recommendations are consistent with Basin Plan objectives for Sacramento River water temperature.