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Report, 2009

Statistical evaluation of the effects of fall and winter flows on the spring condition of rainbow and brown trout in the Green River downstream of Flaming Gorge Dam

Magnusson, Katarina; LaGory, K. E.; Hayse, J. W.


Flaming Gorge Dam, a hydroelectric facility operated by the Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation), is located on the Green River in Daggett County, northeastern Utah. In recent years, single peak releases each day or steady flows have been the operational pattern during the winter period. A double-peak pattern (two flow peaks each day) was implemented during the winter of 2006-2007 by Reclamation. Because there is no recent history of double-peaking at Flaming Gorge Dam, the potential effects of double-peaking operations on the body condition of trout in the dam's tailwater are not known. A study plan was developed that identified research activities to evaluate potential effects from double-peaking operations during winter months. Along with other tasks, the study plan identified the need to conduct a statistical analysis of existing data on trout condition and macroinvertebrate abundance to evaluate potential effects of hydropower operations. This report presents the results of this analysis. We analyzed historical data to (1) describe temporal patterns and relationships among flows, benthic macroinvertebrate abundance, and condition of brown trout (Salmo trutta) and rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) in the tailwaters of Flaming Gorge Dam and (2) to evaluate the degree to which flow characteristics (i.e., flow volumes and flow variability) and benthic macroinvertebrate abundance affect the condition of trout in this area. This information, together with further analyses of size-stratified trout data, may also serve as baseline data to which the effects of potential future double-peaking flows can be compared. The condition (length, weight and/or relative weight) of rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss) at two sites in the Green River downstream of Flaming Gorge Dam (Tailrace and Little Hole) and weight of brown trout (Salmo trutta) at the Little Hole site has been decreasing since 1990 while the abundance of brown trout has been increasing at the two sites. At the same time, flow variability in the river has decreased and the abundance of total benthic macroinvertebrates at the Tailrace site has increased. The condition of trout in spring (averaged across all sampled trout) was positively correlated with fall and winter flow variability (including within-day skewness, within-season skewness and/or change in flow between days) at both locations. No negative correlations between trout condition and any measure of flow variability were detected. The length and weight of rainbow trout at the Little Hole site were negatively correlated with increasing fall and winter flow volume. The condition of brown trout at Little Hole and the condition of brown and rainbow trout at Tailrace were not correlated with flow volume. Macroinvertebrate variables during October were either positively correlated or not correlated with measures of trout condition at the Tailrace and Little Hole sites. With the exception of a positive correlation between taxa richness of macroinvertebrates in January and the relative weight of brown trout at Tailrace, the macroinvertebrate variables during January and April were either not correlated or negatively correlated with measures of trout condition. We hypothesize that high flow variability increased drift by dislodging benthic macroinvertebrates, and that the drift, in turn, resulted in mostly lower densities of benthic macroinvertebrates, which benefited the trout by giving them more feeding opportunities. This was supported by negative correlations between benthic macroinvertebrates and flow variability. Macroinvertebrate abundance (with the exception of ephemeropterans) was also negatively correlated with flow volume. The change in trout condition from fall to spring, as measured by the ratio of spring to fall relative weight, was evaluated to determine their usefulness as a standardized index to control for the initial condition of the fish as they enter the winter period. The ratio values were less correlated with the fall condition values than the spring condition values and did not show the same relationships to flows, to macroinvertebrates, or across years as the above-mentioned spring relative weight values. We found that the condition ratio of rainbow trout at Tailrace was positively correlated with within-day flow variability but was not correlated with flow volume, between-day-, or within-season flow variability. The condition ratios of rainbow trout at Little Hole and of both trout species at Tailrace were not correlated to any of the measured flow variables. The condition ratios of both trout species were positively correlated with the abundance of January benthic macroinvertebrates at the Little Hole site and with January dipterans (brown trout) or total coleopterans (rainbow trout) at the Tailrace site. The relationships among flows, macroinvertebrates, and trout condition were varied among species and locations.

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Publisher: U.S. Department of Energy

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    Fish and Wildlife Management

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