Estimating Natural Flows into the California’s Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta

Tuesday, 16 December 2014: 9:45 AM
Guobiao Huang, Tariq Kadir and Francis I Chung, California Department of Water Resources, Sacramento, CA, United States
Natural flows into the California’s Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta under predevelopment vegetative conditions, if and when reconstructed, can serve as a useful guide to establish minimum stream flows, restoration targets, and a basis for assessing impacts of global warming in the Bay-Delta System. Daily simulations of natural Delta flows for the period 1922-2009 were obtained using precipitation-snowmelt-runoff models for the upper watersheds that are tributaries to the California’s Central Valley, and then routing the water through the Central Valley floor area using a modified version of the California Central Valley Groundwater-Surface Water Simulation Model (C2VSIM) for water years 1922 through 2009. Daily stream inflows from all major upper watersheds were simulated using 23 Soil Water Assessment Tool (SWAT) models. Historical precipitation and reference evapotranspiration data were extracted from the SIMETAW2 with the 4km gridded meteorological data. The Historical natural and riparian vegetation distributions were compiled from several pre-1900 historical vegetation maps of the Central Valley. Wetlands were dynamically simulated using interconnected lakes. Flows overtopping natural levees were simulated using flow rating curves. New estimates of potential evapotranspiration from different vegetative classes under natural conditions were also used. Sensitivity simulations demonstrate that evapotranspiration estimates, native vegetation distribution, surface-groundwater interaction parameters, extinction depth for groundwater uptake, and other physical processes play a key role in the magnitude and timing of upstream flows arriving at the Delta. Findings contradict a common misconception that the magnitude of inflows to the Delta under natural vegetative conditions is greater than those under the historical agricultural and urban land use development. The developed models also enable to study the impacts of global warming by modifying meteorological and climatic conditions that comport with the various projections. The developed set of tools also provides a more systematic, reliable and scientific means for setting the Bay-Delta flow and quality standards and examining ways to improve the health and sustainability of the ecosystem.