Climate warming, water storage, and Chinook salmon in California’s Sacramento Valley

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Yates, David, Galbraith, Hector, Purkey, D., Huber-Lee, A., Sieber, J., West, J. Herrod-Julius, S., Joyce, B.

The Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) spawns and rears in the cold, freshwater rivers and tributaries of California’s Central Valley, with four separate seasonal runs including fall and late-fall runs, a winter run, and a spring run. Dams and reservoirs have blocked access to most of the Chinook’s ancestral spawning areas in the upper reaches and tributaries. Consequently, the fish rely on the mainstem of the Sacramento River for spawning habitat. Future climatic warming could lead to alterations of the river’s temperature regime, which could further reduce the already fragmented Chinook habitat. Specifically, increased water temperatures could result in spawning and rearing temperature exceedences, thereby jeopardizing productivity, particularly in drought years. Paradoxically, water management plays a key role in potential adaptation options by maintaining spawning and rearing habitat now and in the future, as reservoirs such as Shasta provide a cold water supply that will be increasingly needed to counter the effects of climate change. Results suggest that the available cold pool behind Shasta could be maintained throughout the summer assuming median projections of mid-21st century warming of 2°C, but the maintenance of the cold pool with warming on the order of 4°C could be very challenging. The winter and spring runs are shown to be most at risk because of the timing of their reproduction.


Yates, D., H. Galbraith, D. Purkey, A. Huber-Lee, J. Sieber, J. West, S. Herrod-Julius, and B. Joyce. 2008. Climate warming, water storage, and Chinook salmon in California’s Sacramento Valley. Climatic Change 91:335-350. doi: 10.1007/s10584-008-9427-8.