, Volume 102, Issue 3-4, pp 493-520

An assessment of the current and future thermal regimes of three streams located in the Wenatchee River basin, Washington State: some implications for regional river basin systems

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Abstract

We examine summer temperature patterns in the Wenatchee River and two of its major tributaries Icicle and Nason Creeks, located in the Pacific Northwest region of the United States. Through model simulations we evaluate the cooling effects of mature riparian vegetation corridors along the streams and potential increases due to global warming for the 2020s–2080s time horizons. Site potential shade influences are smaller in the mainstream due to its relatively large size and reduced canopy density in the lower reaches, proving a modest reduction of about 0.3°C of the stream length average daily maximum temperature, compared with 1.5°C and 2.8°C in Icicle and Nason Creeks. Assuming no changes in riparian vegetation shade, stream length-average daily maximum temperature could increase in the Wenatchee River from 1–1.2°C by the 2020s to 2°C in the 2040s and 2.5–3.6°C in the 2080s, reaching 27–30°C in the warmest reaches. The cooling effects from the site potential riparian vegetation are likely to be offset by the climate change effects in the Wenatchee River by the 2020s. Buffers of mature riparian vegetation along the banks of the tributaries could prevent additional water temperature increases associated with climate change. By the end of the century, assuming site potential shade, the tributaries could have a thermal condition similar to today’s condition which has less shade. In the absence of riparian vegetation restoration, at typical summer low flows, stream length average daily mean temperatures could reach about 16.4–17°C by the 2040s with stream length average daily maxima around 19.5–20.6°C, values that can impair or eliminate salmonid rearing and spawning. Modeled increases in stream temperature due to global warming are determined primarily by the projected reductions in summer streamflows, and to a lesser extent by the increases in air temperature. The findings emphasize the importance of riparian vegetation restoration along the smaller tributaries, to prevent future temperature increases and preserve aquatic habitat.