Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta Among America’s Most Endangered Rivers

Outdated water and flood management threaten millions

June 2nd, 2010

<p>John Cain, American Rivers, 510-388-8930<br />Amy Kober, American Rivers, 206-898-3864</p>

Washington, DC — The Sacramento-San Joaquin River System, the largest watershed in California, is on the verge of collapse, threatening the water supply for 23 million people, placing the capital of the nation’s most populous state at high risk of flooding, and damaging a once productive and healthy river. This threat landed the Sacramento-San Joaquin on the America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ list, produced by American Rivers, for the second year in a row.

“Unless we overhaul the way we manage water supply and flood protection on the Sacramento-San Joaquin, the lives of millions of people and the entire economy of the state of California will continue to be jeopardized,” said Rebecca Wodder, president of American Rivers.  “It’s time for 21st century solutions to restore the health of these rivers and protect the health, safety and quality of life of Californians.”

American Rivers called on Governor Schwarzenegger to ensure both the Bay Delta Conservation Plan and the Central Valley Flood Plan contain key protections for river health as well as measures like water efficiency and non-structural flood management.

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, listed in the number two spot in America’s Most Endangered Rivers™: 2010 edition, is extremely vulnerable to catastrophic failure.  Prominent scientists have warned that the increasing rain brought by climate change threatens catastrophic levee failure that will flood the low-lying cities of Sacramento and Stockton and shut down the state’s principal water supply.

The state and federal governments have jointly launched two separate efforts to address this multi-faceted crisis.  The Bureau of Reclamation and Department of Water Resources are working with a broad group of stakeholders, including American Rivers, to develop the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) to both restore endangered wildlife and improve water supply reliability from the Delta. The state is also working with the Army Corps of Engineers to develop a comprehensive flood plan that will update the antiquated levee system to withstand the more frequent and severe floods. 

The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta is the largest watershed in California, accounting for 40 percent of the run-off.  The Delta drains the west slope of the Sierra Nevada into San Francisco Bay – the largest estuary on the West Coast.  Forty percent of the river’s flow is diverted to provide drinking water for 23 million Californians and irrigation water to cultivate half the nation’s fruits and vegetables.  Dams, levees, and agricultural development have eliminated over ninety five percent of floodplain and freshwater tidal marsh habitats.  Despite these insults, the system still provides critical habitat for the pacific flyway and a substantial portion of the Pacific salmon fishery in California and Oregon.

About America’s Most Endangered Rivers™

Each year, American Rivers reviews nominations for the America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ report from river groups and concerned citizens across the country. Rivers are selected based upon the following criteria:

  • A major decision (that the public can help influence) in the coming year on the proposed action
  • The significance of the threat to human and natural communities
  • The degree to which the proposed action would exacerbate or alleviate stresses caused by climate change

The report is a call to action and emphasizes solutions for the rivers and their communities. By shining the spotlight on key decisions that will impact the rivers, and by providing clear actions the public can take on their behalf, the report is a powerful tool for saving these important rivers.

America’s Most Endangered Rivers™ is sponsored by Orvis, the oldest mail order company in the US, which has been outfitting customers for the sporting traditions since 1856. Orvis is a long-time supporter of American Rivers.  This is the second consecutive year that they have sponsored America’s Most Endangered Rivers and have also provided American Rivers with a 2010 Conservation Grant.  Orvis donates 5% of their pre-tax profits annually to protect nature.

American Rivers Senior Vice President for Conservation Andrew Fahlund and Director of Conservation for California Flood Management John Cain are available for interviews, both pre and post embargo.  Please contact Amy Kober, 206-898-3864 for booking.

Reporters wishing to direct readers to the report online may use the following link:


About American Rivers

About American Rivers

American Rivers protects wild rivers, restores damaged rivers, and conserves clean water for people and nature. Since 1973, American Rivers has protected and restored more than 150,000 miles of rivers through advocacy efforts, on-the-ground projects, and the annual America’s Most Endangered Rivers® campaign. Headquartered in Washington, DC, American Rivers has offices across the country and more than 200,000 members, supporters, and volunteers.

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