Needs of threatened Delta fish to be studied at UC Davis

04/05/2012 12:00 AM

04/05/2012 8:44 AM

Federal officials plan to fund a study at UC Davis to learn more about the basic behavior of Delta smelt, the threatened fish at the vortex of water supply and environmental problems in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation announced the study on a government grants website. It plans to pay UC Davis $73,957 to try to answer basic questions about smelt behavior.

Pete Lucero, a Reclamation spokesman, said an important goal is to determine the role of turbidity. Biologists theorize that smelt require murky water because the fish are visual feeders: silty or muddy water may provide a visual background that helps the fish identify food. Muddy water may also help smelt hide from predators.

If true, these traits would raise key questions about water management in the state. The Delta's waters may now be clearer than historically because thousands of dams block downstream sediment movement that would make the water murky. Certain invasive water weeds also make the water clearer by trapping sediment.

The study will take place at the UC Davis Delta Smelt Culture Facility, a lab near Byron in Contra Costa County that has perfected captive breeding of the fish.

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