Journal Article

The Need for Constructing Endangered Fish Habitats that Conform to Climate‐Driven Flow Changes in a Western U.S. River

Date: 2023/02/28

Author(s): Valdez R.A., Cunningham C., Effati A., Freeman D.L.

Publication: Journal of the American Water Resources Association, v. 59, p. 1084-1098


DOI: 10.1111/1752-1688.13114


Warmwater fish habitat in the San Juan River of the southwestern United States has been reduced by over 30% as a result of water depletion, reservoir inundation, and cold-water dam releases combined with drought-related changes in hydrology. This reduction and a suite of other factors have contributed to declines in native fish populations including the federally endangered Colorado Pikeminnow (Ptychocheilus lucius) and Razorback Sucker (Xyrauchen texanus). Conservation efforts for these species include determining flow needs; protecting, managing, and augmenting habitats; and stocking hatchery fish. But the young of stocked fish have low survival due largely to a paucity of nursery habitat not being reformed and maintained under current conditions. Flow recommendations for Navajo Dam releases designed to mimic the river's natural hydrograph have not been met due to water shortages, and the desired outcomes of increased channel complexity and enhanced fish habitat have not been observed. Forecasted hydrology that includes ongoing drought shows that achieving the flow targets through further dam reoperations is unlikely. Mechanical construction of early life-stage habitats is a highly recommended complement to flow management for offsetting the effects of flow reduction and habitat loss. Habitats with features that are effective and resilient under a range of flows are important in counterbalancing the effects of climate change.