American Rivers’ work in California focuses primarily on restoration efforts in the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin, whose rivers’ headwaters begin in the Sierra Nevada, flowing through California’s Central Valley and out to the Pacific Ocean. Californians, and the United States more broadly, rely on these critical headwaters and agricultural floodplains to sustain life and contribute to the world’s 5th largest economy. Local communities depend on riverine habitats as well, and our work expands local access to natural spaces whether in the urban or rural context, the valleys or mountains. California is experiencing the severe impacts of climate change, manifesting in years-long drought, intensified floods and wildfires, and loss of biodiversity. At American Rivers, we work with partners to put shovels in the ground, bringing to life landscape-scale projects in the Sierra Nevada, Central Valley, and along critical waterways that mitigate the far-reaching impacts of human activity and climate change while increasing access and appreciation of the rivers we love. Our methodology centers around the multi-benefit approach, where one powerful project can address multiple priorities. On a state and federal level, we advocate policies that help preserve and restore California’s rivers to build a more sustainable future. 


Our work in the river headwaters that run down from the Sierra Nevada includes mountain meadow restorations, forest road remediation, and fuels management. Our team recognizes the complex and interconnected nature of mountain ecosystems. We adopt a comprehensive approach to restoration that considers the ecosystems as a composite whole, where stream, forest, and soil interact to create resilience to the stressors that threaten the Sierra Nevada. Through our partnerships such as the Sierra Meadows Partnership (SMP), we collaborate to put our passion into practice, complemented by a range of expertise. Visit California’s Headwaters page to find out more about recent and current projects.

Central Valley

Once home to one of the largest and biologically rich wetlands on earth, California’s Central Valley has transformed over the past two centuries into an agricultural hotspot with water-intensive needs. The remaining wetlands are now at risk from the interrelated threats of climate change, development, and drought. Our work in the Central Valley includes urban creek restorations that bring nature closer to home for thousands of California residents and floodplain reconnection that allows rivers to serve their historical function as a cornerstone of Central Valley hydrology and ecosystem health. Visit California’s Central Valley page to find out more about recent and current projects

What’s happening in California?

Central Valley Restoration

American Rivers designs and implements restoration projects up and down California’s Central Valley to support and restore key aquatic ecosystems and habitats. Our projects in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Basins use the multi-benefit approach to build resilience and enhance the holistic benefits of the Central Valley’s wetlands, floodplains, creeks, tributaries, and rivers. These activities benefit fish and wildlife, increase community access to nature, improve water supply and climate resilience, and much more. Explore our work throughout this vital region by following the link to our Story Map.

Dam Removal and Management

Removing dams expands access to recreation, preserves fish and wildlife habitat, reconnects essential natural corridors, and improves regional climate resilience. In California, American Rivers is ensuring public safety and ecological resilience through our collaboration with regional partners and key state and federal agencies. In recent news, our dam removal work along the Klamath River in Northern California is expected to be the largest dam removal in the history of the United States. Learn more about our Dam Removal and Management work here and see how you can get involved!