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Hydropower and high productivity in the Hanford Reach: A synthesis of how flow management may benefit fall Chinook Salmon in the Columbia River, USA

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The fall Chinook Salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) population that spawns in the Hanford Reach of the Columbia River, USA is paradoxical because it is located above 4 and below 10 main stem Columbia River dams and yet is one of the largest and most productive C. salmon populations in the Pacific Northwest. A synthesis of information collected in the Hanford Reach reveals that the hydrosystem above the Hanford Reach and the management of river flows may have contributed to the recent size and productivity of this salmon population. Mechanisms for high survival and capacity at each freshwater life stage have been identified. Plausible mechanisms for contributing to high spawning capacity include: (a) more spawning habitat available during the spawning period. Plausible mechanisms for high egg‐to‐presmolt survival include: (a) reduced desiccation of redds, (b) reduced scour of redds, (c) reduced sedimentation in redds, (d) improved flow exchange within redds, and (e) increased food availability. Smolt survival may also be enhanced through the large size they attain in the Hanford Reach. This synthesis of information provides an uncommon assessment of some the positive effects of flow management from hydropower dams on a valued native fish that has occurred over the last three decades. WIREs Water 2018, 5:e1275. doi: 10.1002/wat2.1275 This article is categorized under: Water and Life > Stresses and Pressures on Ecosystems Water and Life > Conservation, Management, and Awareness
The location and landmarks of the Hanford Reach within the Columbia River (Washington, USA). The Hanford Reach is located between Priest Rapids Dam and the city of Richland
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The relationship between flow variation during incubation (measured as the coefficient of variation of hourly discharge) and presmolt‐per‐egg production in the Hanford Reach (1975–2004). Intragravel conditions, such as dissolved oxygen and water velocities, are influenced by fluctuating flows. The increased interaction between surface water and embryos in redds may be the source of the significant positive relationship between discharge variation during incubation and presmolt production. (adapted from from Harnish et al. (). Copyright 2012, Public Utility District No. 2 of Grant County, Washington)
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The lowest daily average flow during the spawning season (top panel) and winter season (middle panel) and the difference between the lowest daily winter flow and lowest daily spawning flow (bottom panel) (i.e., middle values minus top values equal bottom values). The dashed lines are the median values for each period. Beginning in 1988, biological flow measures were enacted. These measures included a minimum flow during the winter months with the intent of limiting the exposure of embryos deposited during the spawning season to desiccation and freezing
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The annual median and range of average daily flow during the spawning period (25 October–25 November) in the Hanford Reach downstream of Priest Rapids Dam prior to Grand Coulee Dam, after Grand Coulee Dam, after Priest Rapids Dam, and after biological flow constraints
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The presmolt‐per‐egg survival by brood year prior to biological flow management protections (1975–1988), during the initial flow protection measures under the Vernita Bar Settlement Agreement (1989–2003), and the current flow protection measures under the Hanford Reach Fall Chinook Protection Program Agreement (2004–2009). Beginning in 1988, flow protection measures including reverse load following and winter minimum flows were enacted to protect redds and eggs. In 2004, additional flow fluctuation constraints were implemented to reduce stranding and entrapment of juveniles
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The seasonal pattern of flow in the Hanford Reach during pre‐ and post‐hydrosystem development. Since the construction of the Columbia River hydrosystem, the seasonal high flows in May–August have been reduced while flows during the rest of the year have increased
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An example of the common flow pattern in the Hanford Reach under current management operations (2013–2014) compared to average flows during the pre‐hydrosystem period (Historic, prior to 1941). Discharge from dams upstream of the Hanford Reach follow power demand, referred to as load following. During the day when power demand is high, water is discharged through turbines resulting in high daytime flows. At night, when power demand is low, discharge is reduced and reservoirs are refilled
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The total escapement (1964–2016) and an index of redd counts (1948–2016) of fall C. salmon in the Hanford Reach
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