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Abstract. Watershed-scale stream temperature models are often one-dimensional because they require fewer data and are more computationally efficient than two- or three-dimensional models. However, one-dimensional models assume completely mixed reaches and ignore small-scale spatial temperature variability, which may create temperature barriers or refugia for cold-water aquatic species. Fine spatial- and temporal-resolution stream temperature monitoring provides information to identify river features with increased thermal variability. We used distributed temperature sensing (DTS) to observe small-scale stream temperature variability, measured as a temperature range through space and time, within two 400 m reaches in summer 2015 in Nevada's East Walker and main stem Walker rivers. Thermal infrared (TIR) aerial imagery collected in summer 2012 quantified the spatial temperature variability throughout the Walker Basin. We coupled both types of high-resolution measured data with simulated stream temperatures to corroborate model results and estimate the spatial distribution of thermal refugia for Lahontan cutthroat trout and other cold-water species. Temperature model estimates were within the DTS-measured temperature ranges 21 % and 70 % of the time for the East Walker River and main stem Walker River, respectively, and within TIR-measured temperatures 17 %, 5 %, and 5 % of the time for the East Walker, West Walker, and main stem Walker rivers, respectively. DTS, TIR, and modeled stream temperatures in the main stem Walker River nearly always exceeded the 21 ∘C optimal temperature threshold for adult trout, usually exceeded the 24 ∘C stress threshold, and could exceed the 28 ∘C lethal threshold for Lahontan cutthroat trout. Measured stream temperature ranges bracketed ambient river temperatures by −10.1 to +2.3 ∘C in agricultural return flows, −1.2 to +4 ∘C at diversions, −5.1 to +2 ∘C in beaver dams, and −4.2 to 0 ∘C at seeps. To better understand the role of these river features on thermal refugia during warm time periods, the respective temperature ranges were added to simulated stream temperatures at each of the identified river features. Based on this analysis, the average distance between thermal refugia in this system was 2.8 km. While simulated stream temperatures are often too warm to support Lahontan cutthroat trout and other cold-water species, thermal refugia may exist to improve habitat connectivity and facilitate trout movement between spawning and summer habitats. Overall, high-resolution DTS and TIR measurements quantify temperature ranges of refugia and augment process-based modeling.more » « less
Reservoirs are sometimes managed to meet agricultural and other water demands, while also maintaining streamflow for aquatic species and ecosystems. In the Henrys Fork Snake River, Idaho (USA), irrigation‐season management of a headwater reservoir is informed by a flow target in a management reach ~95 km downstream. The target is in place to meet irrigation demand and maintain aquatic habitat within the 11.4 km management reach and has undergone four flow target assignments from 1978 to 2021. Recent changes to irrigation‐season management to maximize reservoir carryover warranted investigation into the flow target assignment. Thus, we created a streamflow‐habitat model using hydraulic measurements, habitat unit mapping, and published habitat suitability criteria for Brown Trout (
Salmo trutta), Rainbow Trout ( Oncorhynchus mykiss), and Mountain Whitefish ( Prosopium williamsoni). We used model output to compare habitat availability across two management regimes (1978–2017 and 2018–2021). We found that efforts to minimize reservoir releases in 2018–2021 did not reduce mean irrigation‐season fish habitat relative to natural flow, but did reduce overall fish habitat variability during the irrigation season compared to streamflow management in 1978–2017. Field observations for this research led to an adjusted flow target in 2020 that moved the target location downstream of intervening irrigation diversions. Using our model output, we demonstrated that moving the location of the target to account for local irrigation diversions will contribute to more consistently suitable fish habitat in the reach. Our study demonstrates the importance of site selection for establishing environmental flow targets.
Abstract. Mountainous regions act as the water towers of the worldby producing streamflow and groundwater recharge, a function that isparticularly important in semiarid regions. Quantifying rates of mountainsystem recharge is difficult, and hydrologic models offer a method toestimate recharge over large scales. These recharge estimates are prone touncertainty from various sources including model structure and parameters.The quality of meteorological forcing datasets, particularly in mountainousregions, is a large source of uncertainty that is often neglected ingroundwater investigations. In this contribution, we quantify the impact ofuncertainty in both precipitation and air temperature forcing datasets onthe simulated groundwater recharge in the mountainous watershed of theKaweah River in California, USA. We make use of the integrated surface water–groundwater model, ParFlow.CLM, and several gridded datasets commonly usedin hydrologic studies, downscaled NLDAS-2, PRISM, Daymet, Gridmet, andTopoWx. Simulations indicate that, across all forcing datasets, mountain front recharge is an important component of the water budget in themountainous watershed, accounting for 9 %–72 % of the annual precipitation and ∼90 % of the total mountain system recharge to theadjacent Central Valley aquifer. The uncertainty in gridded air temperatureor precipitation datasets, when assessed individually, results in similarranges of uncertainty in the simulated water budget. Variations in simulatedrecharge to changes in precipitation (elasticities) and air temperature(sensitivities) are larger than 1 % change in recharge per 1 % change inprecipitation or 1 ∘C change in temperature. The total volume ofsnowmelt is the primary factor creating the high water budget sensitivity, and snowmelt volume is influenced by both precipitation and air temperatureforcings. The combined effect of uncertainty in air temperature andprecipitation on recharge is additive and results in uncertainty levels roughly equal to the sum of the individual uncertainties depending on thehydroclimatic condition of the watershed. Mountain system recharge pathwaysincluding mountain block recharge, mountain aquifer recharge, and mountainfront recharge are less sensitive to changes in air temperature than changesin precipitation. Mountain front and mountain block recharge are moresensitive to changes in precipitation than other recharge pathways. Themagnitude of uncertainty in the simulated water budget reflects theimportance of developing high-quality meteorological forcing datasets in mountainous regions.more » « less
Abstract Non-perennial rivers and streams make up over half the global river network and are becoming more widespread. Transitions from perennial to non-perennial flow are a threshold-type change that can lead to alternative stable states in aquatic ecosystems, but it is unknown whether streamflow itself is stable in either wet (flowing) or dry (no-flow) conditions. Here, we investigated drivers and feedbacks associated with regime shifts between wet and dry conditions in an intermittent reach of the Arkansas River (USA) over the past 23 years. Multiple lines of evidence suggested that these regimes represent alternative stable states, including (a) significant jumps in discharge time series that were not accompanied by jumps in flow drivers such as precipitation and groundwater pumping; (b) a multi-modal state distribution with 92% of months experiencing no-flow conditions for <10% or >90% of days, despite unimodal distributions of precipitation and pumping; and (c) a hysteretic relationship between climate and flow state. Groundwater levels appear to be the primary control over the hydrological regime, as groundwater levels in the alluvial aquifer were higher than the stream stage during wet regimes and lower than the streambed during dry regimes. Groundwater level variation, in turn, was driven by processes occurring at both the regional scale (surface water inflows from upstream, groundwater pumping) and the reach scale (stream–aquifer exchange, diffuse recharge through the soil column). Historical regime shifts were associated with diverse pressures including network disconnection caused by upstream water use, increased flow stability potentially associated with reservoir operations, and anomalous wet and dry climate conditions. In sum, stabilizing feedbacks among upstream inflows, stream–aquifer interactions, climate, vegetation, and pumping appear to create alternative wet and dry stable states at this site. These stabilizing feedbacks suggest that widespread observed shifts from perennial to non-perennial flow will be difficult to reverse.more » « less
Intensive groundwater withdrawals in California have resulted in depletion of streams and aquifers in some regions. Agricultural managed aquifer recharge (Ag‐MAR) initiatives have recently been piloted in California to mitigate the effects of unsustainable groundwater withdrawals. These initiatives rely on capturing wet‐year water and spreading it on large areas of irrigated agricultural lands to enhance recharge to aquifers. While recharge studies typically consider local effects on aquifer storage, few studies have investigated Ag‐MAR benefits and challenges at a regional scale. Here we used the Integrated Water Flow Model, to evaluate how Ag‐MAR projects can affect streamflows, diversions, pumping, and unsaturated zone flows in the southern Central Valley, California. We further tested the sensitivity of three different spatial patterns of Ag‐MAR, each chosen based on different thresholds of soil suitability, on the hydrologic system. This study investigates how the distribution of Ag‐MAR lands benefit the regional groundwater system and other water balance components. The results suggest that Ag‐MAR benefits vary as a function of the location of Ag‐MAR lands. Stream‐aquifer interactions play a crucial factor in determining the ability to increase groundwater storage in overdrafted basins. The results also indicate that Ag‐MAR projects conducted during the November–April recharge season have implications for water rights outside of the Ag‐MAR season. If not properly monitored, Ag‐MAR can cause a rise of groundwater table into the root zone, negatively impacting sensitive crops. Our work also highlights the benefits of using an integrated hydrologic and management model to evaluate Ag‐MAR at a regional scale.