Precipitation in fall and winter is important to recharge aquifers in Northern California and the Pacific Northwestern United States, causing the baseflow in rivers ascend during the time when Chinook salmon (Oncorhynchus tshawytscha) construct redds. Herein, we evaluate the availability of spawning habitats under a constant streamflow common in regulated rivers against ascending baseflows patterned from free‐flowing rivers. A binomial logistic regression model was applied to predict the suitability of redd locations based on physical characteristics. Next, two‐dimensional hydrodynamic habitat models were developed at two locations representing a broad range of channel forms common in large rivers. Hydrodynamic and habitat models were leveraged together to simulate the quality, amount, and spatial distribution of spawning habitat at a series of individual flow rates, as well as the combined effect of those flow rates
through a spawning season with ascending baseflows. Ascending baseflows increased the abundance of spawning habitat over individual streamflows at a site where the river channel is confined by levee‐like features. However, improvements were greater at an unconfined site that facilitated lateral connectivity and greater expansion of wetted channel area as streamflows increased. Ascending baseflows provided spatial
separation in preferred habitats over a spawning season, which may reduce the risk of superimposition among runs or among species. Ascending baseflows provided a benefit across the range of hydrologic regimes in a 100‐year gauge record ranging from 20% to 122% improvements in habitat area over low streamflows that are currently used to manage for spawning habitat. Although replicating natural flow regimes in managed systems can be impossible or impractical, these results demonstrate that incorporating elements of the natural flow regime like ascending baseflows can benefit the restoration and conservation of riverine species.