Implications of Colorado river (Texas, USA) freshwater inflow to benthic ecosystem dynamics: A modeling study




Kim, Hae-Cheol
Montagna, Paul A.


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Coastal and Shelf Science



Estuaries are defined by mixing of freshwater from rivers and saltwater from seas. Water resource development can reduce river flows to the coast, but it is difficult to predict effects on estuaries. The Lavaca-Colorado Estuary is a major estuarine system along the Texas coast that provides major economic benefit to the region by supporting a variety of agricultural, residential, industrial, and recreational functions. New water projects could divert freshwater from Matagorda Bay. So, what environmental effects could result from further changes to inflow patterns in the Matagorda Bay system? To answer this question, a bioenergetic model, calibrated using a long-term dataset of benthic biomass, was run to investigate dynamics of macrobenthic biomass related to salinity regimes in the estuary. The model simulation results were interpreted to assess the role of freshwater inflow in controlling benthic productivity. Simulations, based on calibrated parameters (1988–1999), were run for a long-term period from 1988 to 2005. The model performance was found to be promising with the best percent root mean square (RMS) difference being 63% and worst being 92%. Sensitivity tests for the benthic responses to changes in salinity show that, in general, when salinity increased with decreasing nutrient concentrations, deposit feeder biomass increased while suspension feeder biomass decreased. Estuary-wide comparison predicts that reducing freshwater inflow may cause the upper and lower bay communities to respond in different ways. Reduced inflow to Lavaca Bay would result in decreasing benthic biomass; whereas, in Matagorda Bay, biomass would increase. Also, functional diversity would decrease in both bays with decreasing inflow. These effects are probably due to the benthic community acclimating to different salinity regimes, or more (or less) salt tolerant species populating the area. It is concluded that freshwater inflow plays an important role in maintaining the observed character of estuarine productivity through the combined effects of the frequency, duration, timing, and magnitude of inflow, particularly during droughts or low-flow periods.






Kim, H.-C. and P.A. Montagna. 2009. Implications of Colorado River freshwater inflow to benthic ecosystem dynamics: a modeling study. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 83:491-504. doi: 10.1016/j.ecss.2009.04.033