Spring-run Chinook salmon are particularly vulnerable to climate change because adults over-summer in freshwater streams before spawning in autumn. In this study, the authors examined streamflow and water temperature regimes that could lead to long-term reductions in spring-run Chinook salmon (SRCS) in a California stream and evaluated management adaptations to ameliorate these impacts.

A California Chinook Salmon Jumps into a waterfall during spawning season. Photo: Getty Images / Supercaliphotolistic

The paper uses a Water Evaluation and Planning (WEAP) model to simulate weekly mean streamflow and water temperature in Butte Creek, California, which was then used as input to SALMOD, a spatially explicit and size/stage structured model of salmon population dynamics in freshwater systems. For all climate scenarios and model combinations, WEAP yielded lower summer base flows and higher water temperatures relative to historical conditions, while SALMOD yielded increased adult summer thermal mortality and population declines.

Of the management adaptations tested, only ceasing water diversion for power production from the summer holding reach resulted in cooler water temperatures, more adults surviving to spawn, and extended population survival time, albeit with a significant loss of power production. The most important conclusion of this work is that long-term survival of SRCS in Butte Creek is unlikely in the face of climate change and that simple changes to water operations are not likely to dramatically change vulnerability to extinction.