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Fish Bulletin 151. Migrations of Adult King Salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha In The San Joaquin Delta As Demonstrated by the Use of Sonic Tags


Each fall, king salmon, Oncorhynchus tshawytscha, bound for the Sacramento and San Joaquin River systems, pass through the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. Starting in 1961, salmon runs of the San Joaquin, but not of the Sacramento, suffered a disastrous collapse, probably due to water conditions in the San Joaquin part of the Delta. A partial recovery started in 1964. An annually recurring oxygen block caused by pollution in the south-eastern part of the Delta, plus reversal of direction of flow in all three major north-south channels of the San Joaquin (southern) part of the Delta, were believed responsible for the collapse. In the eastern channel, flow reversal which lasts into the salmon migration period occurs only in exceptionally dry falls such as 1961; in the other channels it occurs annually. Reversal is caused by operation of a 4,600 cfs capacity pumping plant which pulls Sacramento River water south through channels that normally carry San Joaquin water north. From 1964 through 1967, salmon tagged with sonic tags were released in the central part of the Delta to determine their reaction to low oxygen levels and reversed flows. Electronic equipment enabled us to follow tags by boat and to record their movement past fixed points. Salmon avoided water with less than 5 ppm dissolved oxygen by staying farther downstream until the oxygen block cleared. Temperatures over 66° F. had a similar but less sharply defined effect. In 1964, pumped water and partial closure of one major west-flowing channel were used to force extra water through the polluted area and break up the oxygen block. At present pumping rates, this method is practical in dry years, but is not needed in normal or wet years. Relatively few fish used either of two western channels which had reversed flows but would have led them to their destination. The pattern of salmon movement is complicated by a large flow of Sacramento River water which diverts through the Delta Cross Channel and Georgiana Slough and flows successively through the Mokelumne and San Joaquin Rivers and back into the Sacramento. Some Sacramento salmon go upstream by this route. A second large pumping plant (10,000 cfs capacity) has recently been completed, and will greatly increase flow reversal problems until a closed canal system (such as the proposed Peripheral Canal) is used to conduct Sacramento River water to the two large pumping plants.

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