Assessing the Effects of Water Rights Purchases on Dissolved Oxygen, Stream Temperatures, and Fish Habitat

Monday, 15 December 2014
Nathaniel R Mouzon and Sarah E Null, Utah State University, Logan, UT, United States
Human impacts from land and water development have degraded water quality and altered the physical, chemical, and biological integrity of Nevada’s Walker River. Reduced instream flows and increased nutrient concentrations affect native fish populations through warm daily stream temperatures and low nightly dissolved oxygen concentrations. Water rights purchases are being considered to maintain instream flows, improve water quality, and enhance habitat for native fish species, such as Lahontan cutthroat trout. This study uses the River Modeling System (RMSv4), an hourly, physically-based hydrodynamic and water quality model, to estimate streamflows, temperatures, and dissolved oxygen concentrations in the Walker River. We simulate thermal and dissolved oxygen changes from increased streamflow to prioritize the time periods and locations that water purchases most enhance native trout habitat. Stream temperatures and dissolved oxygen concentrations are proxies for trout habitat. Monitoring results indicate stream temperature and dissolved oxygen limitations generally exist in the 115 kilometers upstream of Walker Lake (about 37% of the study area) from approximately May through September, and this reach currently acts as a water quality barrier for fish passage.