America’s Most Endangered Rivers® Report: 2009 Edition

#1 Sacramento-San Joaquin River System, California

Threat: Outdated Water Supply and Flood Management Systems

Depended on by nearly 25 million Californians for drinking water, thousands of farmers, and the state’s commercial and sport salmon fishing industries, the Sacramento-San Joaquin river system is arguably California’s single most important natural resource. But the outdated water supply and flood management systems have put at risk the ecosystem and thousands of Californian families and businesses that depend upon it. The California Department of Water Resources, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other water users and stakeholders must overcome decades of neglect, mismanagement and conflict to develop a workable, durable plan to restore the ecosystem, secure water supplies and reduce the risk of floods. Learn More

UPDATE (October 2009): The Sacramento-San Joaquin river system continues to face dire threats from the outdated water supply and flood control systems and the environmental harm they cause.  In recent months, NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service issued a Biological Opinion for the state and federal water supply projects and a draft Recovery Plan for listed Central Valley salmon. Together these documents provide measures needed to protect and restore several threatened species but already large Central Valley irrigation interests have filed lawsuits to halt implementation of the Biological Opinion, and the Recovery Plan is under public review.

Also, the state legislature attempted to develop new water management policies to address the crisis, but failed to reach a deal by close of the regular session. As of mid-October, legislators continue to negotiate behind closed doors but American Rivers remains concerned about policies and projects that will further harm California’s rivers.  The legislation could also hamper efforts by American Rivers and many other stakeholders working to develop a long-term solution to the water supply and ecosystem crisis in the Sacramento-San Joaquin delta through the Bay Delta Conservation Plan process.

A promising development since April is the launch of the Central Valley Flood Management Planning Program, which will develop a Central Valley Flood Protection Plan to guide the modernization of the Central Valley flood protection system. The flood protection plan offers an opportunity to simultaneously reduce flood risk for millions of people and help restore the Sacramento and San Joaquin rivers by reconnecting them to their floodplains. Restoring access to floodplains will reduce the risk of flooding and restore wetland habitat that is so critical to endangered species. American Rivers is playing a leadership role in the process and is hopeful it will produce significant benefits to California’s two largest rivers and the communities that live along them.