Evaluation and Use of Stream Temperature Prediction Models for Instream Flow and Fish Habitat Management

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Virginia Tech

The SNTEMP (U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service), QUAL2E (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency), and RQUAL (Tennessee Valley Authority) stream temperature prediction models were evaluated. All models had high predictive ability with the majority of predictions, >80% for Back Creek (Roanoke County, VA) and >90% for the Smith River tailwater (SRT) (Patrick County, VA), within 3°C of the measured water temperature. Sensitivity of model input parameters was found to differ between model, stream system, and season. The most sensitive of assessed parameters, dependent on model and stream, were lateral inflow, starting-water, air, and wet-bulb temperature. All three models predicted well, therefore, selecting a model to assess alternative water management scenarios was based on model capabilities. The RQUAL model, used to predict SRT temperatures under alternative hydropower release regimes, illustrated potential thermal habitat improvement for brown trout (Salmo trutta) compared to existing conditions. A 7-day/week morning 1 hr release was determined to best concurrently increase occurrence of brown trout optimal growth temperatures (+10.2% mean), decrease 21°C (state standard) exceedances (99% prevention), and decrease hourly changes in temperature (-1.6°C mean) compared to existing thermal conditions. The SNTEMP model was used to assess thermal habitat under flow, shade, and channel width changes occurring from future urbanization within the Back Creek watershed. Predictions reveal that additional urban development could limit thermal habitat for present fish species by elevating summer mean daily temperature up to 1°C and cause 31°C (state standard) exceedances compared to existing conditions. Temperature impacts were lessened by single rather than cumulative changes suggesting mitigation measures may maintain suitable thermal habitat.

fish habitat, stream temperature model, hydropower, Water quality, thermal habitat, tailwater