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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Reconsidering the Estimation of Salmon Mortality Caused by the State and Federal Water Export Facilities in the Sacramento–San Joaquin Delta, San Francisco Estuary


Combined water exports from Old River in the south end of California’s San Francisco Estuary (estuary) by state and federal pumping facilities entrain small fishes, including out-migrating juvenile salmon. Both export projects have fish salvage facilities that use behavioral barriers (louvers) in combination with screens to guide fish into collection areas from which they are trucked to release points in the western Delta. Sacramento River-origin Chinook Salmon are regularly taken in the projects’ fish salvage operations. Survival has been estimated within the boundaries of both intake structures, but not in Old River. Prevailing methods for estimating fish losses are based on studies of louver efficiency, near-field survival at the state facility, and assumed survival at the federal facility. The efficiency of the fish salvage operations is affected by several factors, including intake velocity, debris build-up on the louvers and trash racks, and by the omnipresence of predators in front of and within the fish guidance structures. Analysis of existing data suggests that under average conditions, juvenile salmon survive entrainment into the forebay of the state facility at a rate of less than 10%. There is no evidence for better survival at the federal facility. We found no data on predation outside of either the state’s forebay or the federal trash boom, structures which are separated by an approximately 2-km reach of Old River where predation on small fish is thought to be intense. We suggest an improvement to the existing loss estimation, and discuss some features of the studies needed to increase its accuracy and precision.


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