In fall 2011, a large-scale investigation (fall low-salinity habitat investigation) was implemented by the Bureau of Reclamation in cooperation with the Interagency Ecological Program to explore hypotheses about the ecological role of low-salinity habitat in the San Francisco Estuary—specifically, hypotheses about the importance of fall low-salinity habitat to the biology of delta smelt Hypomesus transpacificus, a species endemic to the San Francisco Estuary and listed as threatened or endangered under federal and state endangered species legislation.
The Interagency Ecological Program is a consortium of 10 agencies that work together to develop a better understanding of the ecology of the Estuary and the effects of the State Water Project and Federal Central Valley Project operations on the physical, chemical, and biological conditions of the San Francisco Estuary.
The fall low-salinity habitat investigation constitutes one of the actions stipulated in the Reasonable and Prudent Alternative issued with the 2008 Biological Opinion of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, which called for adaptive management of fall Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta outflow following “wet” and “above normal” water years to alleviate jeopardy to delta smelt and adverse modification of delta smelt critical habitat.
The basic hypothesis of the adaptive management of fall low-salinity habitat is that greater outflows move the low-salinity zone (salinity 1–6), an important component of delta smelt habitat, westward and that moving the low-salinity zone westward of its position in the fall of recent years will benefit delta smelt, although the specific mechanisms providing such benefit are uncertain. An adaptive management plan was prepared to guide implementation of the adaptive management of fall low-salinity habitat and to reduce uncertainty.
This report has three major objectives:
•To provide a summary of the results from the first year of coordinated fall low-salinity habitat studies and monitoring.
•To provide a synthesis of the results of the fall low-salinity habitat studies and other ongoing research and monitoring, to determine if the available information supports the hypotheses behind the adaptive management of fall low-salinity habitat as set forth in the adaptive management plan.
•To begin to put the results from the fall low-salinity habitat studies into context within the larger body of knowledge regarding the San Francisco Estuary and, in particular, the upper San Francisco Estuary, including the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, Suisun Bay, and associated embayments.