We evaluated the potential effects of two climate change scenarios on salmonid habitats in the Yakima River by linking the outputs from a watershed model, a river operations model, a two-dimensional (2D) hydrodynamic model, and a geographic information system (GIS). The watershed model produced a discharge time series (hydrograph) in two study reaches under three climate scenarios: a baseline (1981–2005), a 1-°C increase in mean air temperature (plus one scenario), and a 2-°C increase (plus two scenario). A river operations model modified the discharge time series with Yakima River operational rules, a 2D model provided spatially explicit depth and velocity grids for two floodplain reaches, while an expert panel provided habitat criteria for four life stages of coho and fall Chinook salmon. We generated discharge-habitat functions for each salmonid life stage (e.g., spawning, rearing) in main stem and side channels, and habitat time series for baseline, plus one (P1) and plus two (P2) scenarios. The spatial and temporal patterns in salmonid habitats differed by reach, life stage, and climate scenario. Seventy-five percent of the 28 discharge-habitat responses exhibited a decrease in habitat quantity, with the P2 scenario producing the largest changes, followed by P1. Fry and spring/summer rearing habitats were the most sensitive to warming and flow modification for both species. Side channels generally produced more habitat than main stem and were more responsive to flow changes, demonstrating the importance of lateral connectivity in the floodplain. A discharge-habitat sensitivity analysis revealed that proactive management of regulated surface waters (i.e., increasing or decreasing flows) might lessen the impacts of climate change on salmonid habitats.
Additional publication details
Modeling effects of climate change on Yakima River salmonid habitats