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Summer Stream Temperature Patterns and Controls in an Irrigation Depleted Western Stream

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Created: Jan 03, 2021 at 11:59 p.m.
Last updated: Jun 20, 2021 at 12:41 a.m.
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In the western US, major landscape modifications for flood conveyance and conversion of floodplains to crops have reduced the natural pathways of recharge and groundwater discharge. Combined with direct flow diversions for irrigation, these modifications result in depleted streamflows during the critical summer low flow period. Depleted streams are much more susceptible to extreme spatial and temporal temperature variability, which is inextricably linked to aquatic habitat suitability. However, in depleted streams, even small amounts of colder water (e.g., cool lateral inflows) can moderate temperatures and provide critical thermal refugia. While irrigation diversions reduce the amount of water instream, seepage from nearby irrigated areas and canal networks can enhance baseflows and moderate stream temperatures downstream of diversions. Some rivers now depend on these human-mediated return flows to maintain suitable flow and temperature conditions for river ecosystems over the dry season, making them sensitive to changes in land and water management. To improve our understanding of the role of irrigation diversions and shallow return flows on stream temperature patterns, we collected flow and temperature measurements along a diversion-depleted reach of the Blacksmith Fork River in northern Utah over three summers. We determined the significance of site-specific properties (shading, weather), channel morphology, and lateral inflows on spatial and temporal stream temperature patterns. We found that lateral inflows, most likely sourced from unlined canals, were a critical component for maintaining suitable river temperatures. This study informs local and regional water management efforts during low flow periods and highlights potential unintended consequences of irrigation efficiency projects that reduce seepage.

Subject Keywords



Coordinate System/Geographic Projection:
WGS 84 EPSG:4326
Coordinate Units:
Decimal degrees
Place/Area Name:
Blacksmith Fork River


Start Date:
End Date:


How to Cite

Alger, S. M., B. Lane, B. Neilson (2021). Summer Stream Temperature Patterns and Controls in an Irrigation Depleted Western Stream, HydroShare,

This resource is shared under the Creative Commons Attribution CC BY.


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