Instream flow characterization of Upper Salmon River basin streams, central Idaho, 2005

Scientific Investigations Report 2006-5230

Prepared in cooperation with the Bureau of Reclamation
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Anadromous fish populations in the Columbia River Basin have plummeted in the last 100 years. This severe decline led to Federal listing of Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) and steelhead trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) stocks as endangered or threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in the 1990s. Historically, the upper Salmon River Basin (upstream of the confluence with the Pahsimeroi River) in Idaho provided migration corridors and significant habitat for these ESA-listed species, in addition to the ESA-listed bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus). Human development has modified the original streamflow conditions in many streams in the upper Salmon River Basin. Summer streamflow modifications resulting from irrigation practices, have directly affected quantity and quality of fish habitat and also have affected migration and (or) access to suitable spawning and rearing habitat for these fish.

As a result of these ESA listings and Action 149 of the Federal Columbia River Power System Biological Opinion of 2000, the Bureau of Reclamation was tasked to conduct streamflow characterization studies in the upper Salmon River Basin to clearly define habitat requirements for effective species management and habitat restoration. These studies include collection of habitat and streamflow information for the Physical Habitat Simulation System (PHABSIM) model, a widely applied method to determine relations between habitat and discharge requirements for various fish species and life stages. Model simulation results can be used by resource managers to guide habitat restoration efforts by evaluating potential fish habitat and passage improvements by increasing or decreasing streamflow.

In 2005, instream flow characterization studies were completed on Big Boulder, Challis, Bear, Mill, and Morgan Creeks. Continuous streamflow data were recorded upstream of all diversions on Big Boulder. Instantaneous measurements of discharge were also made at selected sites. In addition, natural summer streamflows were estimated for each study site using regional regression equations.

This report describes PHABSIM modeling results for bull trout, Chinook salmon, and steelhead trout during summer streamflows. Habitat/discharge relations were summarized for adult and spawning life stages at each study site. In addition, streamflow needs for riffle dwelling invertebrate taxa (Ephemeroptera, Plecoptera, and Trichoptera) are presented. Adult fish passage and discharge relations were evaluated at specific transects that were identified as potential low-streamflow passage barriers at each study site.

Continuous summer water temperature data for selected study sites were summarized and compared with Idaho Water Quality Standards and various water temperature requirements of targeted fish species.

Results of these habitat studies can be used to prioritize and direct cost-effective actions to improve fish habitat for ESA-listed anadromous and native fish species in the basin. These actions may include acquiring water during critical low-flow periods by leasing or modifying irrigation delivery systems to minimize out-of-stream diversions.

Study Area

Additional publication details

Publication type:
Publication Subtype:
USGS Numbered Series
Instream flow characterization of Upper Salmon River basin streams, central Idaho, 2005
Series title:
Scientific Investigations Report
Series number:
Year Published:
U.S. Geological Survey
Publisher location:
Reston, VA
Contributing office(s):
Idaho Water Science Center
Report: vi, 110 p.; Appendices; Data files
Time Range Start:
Time Range End:
United States
Other Geospatial:
Salmon River Basin
Transverse Mercator Projection