California’s remarkable rivers thrive with fish and wildness across the state’s extreme diversity, from our wettest rainforests to our driest deserts. The North Coast has the highest concentration of designated Wild and Scenic Rivers anywhere, and snows of the Sierra Nevada’s luminous peaks melt to create the ultimate gems of flowing beauty: the Merced and Tuolumne with their dizzying waterfalls in Yosemite National Park, the American through its raucous whitewater plunge outside Sacramento, and the Kings, cutting the deepest canyon of all.

California has nearly 40 million people—more than the rest of the West combined—and so the pressures on our rivers are intense. Many waterways have been diminished by dams and diversions, by highways, sprawl, and industrial agriculture. Now a warming climate threatens much of what has been protected by a passionate river conservation movement dating to John Muir’s time.

Key issues

California also is better prepared than ever to respond to these challenges and shape a new course toward healthy rivers. For example:

  • In 2014, the state developed a Water Action Plan that calls for river protection, floodplain restoration and removing barriers to salmon migration.
  • Voters recently approved more than $2 billion to fund river restoration.
  • The State Water Board is developing a new plan to protect the public benefits of the Sacramento and San Joaquin river basins, which cover more than ½ of the state.
  • The state will develop a new Flood Protection Plan in 2017 that will promote river restoration.
  • More than 30 dams in the Sierra will get new operating licenses by 2020 that require river restoration and protection measures.

For the first time in the state’s history, California is taking steps toward sustainably managing its groundwater, essential for healthy rivers.

American Rivers has seized on this unprecedented confluence of challenges and opportunities to make fundamental, enduring change for California’s remarkable rivers.

In California we are spearheading some of the most innovative solutions to restore and protect our rivers seen anywhere in the country. Whether it is restoring meadows in the Sierra, which provides water for 65 percent of Californians, reducing flood risk and restoring rivers in the Central Valley by reconnecting floodplains, removing outdated dams , or improving dam operations on the Yuba and Bear rivers, our staff is proving that it is possible to keep our rivers healthy while getting communities the water they need. The Sacramento-San Joaquin River Basin is a priority basin for American Rivers.

With climate change shrinking mountain snowpack and bringing more intense floods and droughts, our work to protect California’s rivers and fresh water is more important than ever.