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Substrate particle-size distribution, dissolved-oxygen concentrations, sediment temperatures, and groundwater/surface-water exchange in shoreline spawning habitat of sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) of Lake Ozette, Western Washington

December 16, 2021

Sockeye salmon (Oncorhynchus nerka) spawn at beaches along Lake Ozette’s shoreline and within its tributary streams including Umbrella Creek and Big River in western Washington. The tributary-spawning aggregate of the Lake Ozette sockeye salmon population has been increasing from very low abundance through hatchery supplementation, but the beach-spawning aggregate has decreased from the early 20th century resulting in an Endangered Species Act listing of the Lake Ozette sockeye salmon population as “Threatened” in 1999. Among several factors inhibiting the recovery of beach spawning sockeye salmon, the quality of spawning habitat in beaches and low dissolved-oxygen concentrations in beach gravels during incubation were identified as important limitations on the recovery of this population. Proliferation of primarily native near-shore vegetation during the 20th century, as a result of alterations in the lake hydroperiod, accompanied by fine-grained sediment deposition was hypothesized as a potential cause of low rates of water circulation and dissolved-oxygen concentrations in beach spawning gravels. The potential for shoreline vegetation removal to restore spawning habitat function, including dissolved-oxygen concentrations, was evaluated in this report by measuring continuous dissolved-oxygen concentrations with data-logging dissolved-oxygen sensors, by measuring particle-size distribution of beach sediment, and by estimating groundwater/surface-water exchange using vertical sediment temperature profiles at three shoreline sampling areas. These sampling areas included an area of current spawning devoid of shoreline vegetation, an adjacent vegetated area, and an adjacent treatment area where a 3-meter-wide swath of existing above-ground vegetation was removed in 2018 prior to the study. Substrate particle-size distributions, dissolved-oxygen concentrations, sediment temperatures, and groundwater/surface-water exchange were compared among the three shoreline sampling areas. Median grain size (D50) of sediment varied at sampling stations from medium sand fine to coarse gravel. The coarsest sediment generally occurred in the current spawning area that was devoid of vegetation; whereas the vegetated shoreline and the shoreline where above-ground vegetation was removed were characterized by finer sediment. Removal of above-ground vegetation resulted in increased D50 at the most shoreward station at the treatment sampling area from 8.2 millimeters in 2018 to 21.6 millimeters in 2019 but other changes in substrate particle-size distribution in the treatment area were negligible. Increased grain size from 2018 to 2019 at this site suggests that while higher wave energy was allowed to mobilize sediment in the backshore area of the treatment area and winnow fine sediment during the winter, residual root structure in the treatment area may have limited the ability of wave energy to mobilize sediment after removal. During the November 2018 to March 2019 incubation period for sockeye salmon, dissolved-oxygen concentrations at the depth of sockeye salmon egg pockets (15–25 centimeters) within all three shoreline sampling areas were less than 1 milligram per liter throughout the deployment time (October 2018—May 2019) and below the threshold to sustain sockeye salmon embryo development (3 milligrams per liter). In addition, the similarity of dissolved-oxygen concentrations among all three shoreline sampling areas indicates that above-ground vegetation removal did not increase subsurface dissolved-oxygen concentrations. Groundwater/surface-water exchange measured from sediment temperature profiles were variable both within and across shoreline sampling areas. At the most lakeward stations, groundwater discharge to the lake ranged from 0.25 to 0.007 meter per day and was highest at the control station and lowest at the vegetated station. However, in general, the differences in groundwater/surface-water exchange across the three shoreline sampling areas were negligible. Collectively, these results suggest the process of removing above-ground vegetation had little effect on subsurface dissolved-oxygen concentrations and groundwater/surface-water exchange during the study period, but limitations of the study design, including retention of below-surface root cohesion after above-ground vegetation removal, too narrow of a band of vegetation removal, and a limited duration of the monitoring period, may have prevented wave energy from winnowing fine-grained sediment along the shoreline and altering subsurface dissolved-oxygen concentrations during the study period. Response of the substrate particle-size distribution, groundwater/surface-water exchange, and subsurface dissolved-oxygen concentrations to shoreline vegetation removal that includes root-zone removal over a larger extent and longer periods than the 7-month study period from October 2018 to May 2019, however, remain unknown and warrant further investigation.