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The future of sediment transport and streamflow under a changing climate and the implications for long-term resilience of the San Francisco Bay-Delta

May 16, 2020

Sedimentation and turbidity have effects on habitat suitability in the San Francisco Bay‐Delta (Bay‐Delta), concerning key species in the bay as well as the ability of the delta marshes to keep pace with sea level rise. A daily rainfall runoff and transport model of the Sacramento River Basin of northern California was developed to simulate streamflow and suspended sediment transport to the Bay‐Delta for the next century (water years, WY2010–2099). The model was calibrated to historical streamflow and sediment data and applied using 10 Global Climate Models with two representative concentration pathways (RCP) each for WY1980–2099 from the IPCC 5th Assessment Report. Results indicate average increases in peak streamflow of +58% and +66% for the RCP 4.5 and 8.5 ensembles, respectively, by mid‐century and +62 and +96% by end‐of‐century. Sediment loads increased by +39% and +69% by end‐of‐century. Suspended sediment concentrations (SSC) increased on average by +4.6% and +6.7% for RCP 4.5 and 8.5, respectively, by end‐of‐century. Individual scenario results varied, and statistically significant increasing trends of sediment loads to the Bay‐Delta were found for the RCP 4.5 and 8.5 ensembles and five individual scenarios. Increased suspended sediment loads may have negative effects such as contaminant transport but also have positive effects that help protect against sea level rise, increase turbidity and fish habitat, and sustain wetland habitats in the Bay‐Delta.

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