Managing Conflicts on the Lower American River—Can Urban and Agricultural Demands Be Met while Maintaining Healthy Fisheries?
Leo Winternitz and Elizabeth Holtz
Abstract.—The lower American River, located in Sacramento County, California, provides important habitat, a high-quality water source, a critical floodway, and a spectacular regional recreational parkway. It is also a key water source for the Central Valley Project, which provides irrigation water to 3 million acres of the country’s most productive agricultural lands. The river supports 43 species of native and nonnative fish, including fall-run Chinook salmon Oncorhynchus tshawytscha and steelhead O. mykiss. In the last decade, one quarter of all fall-run Chinook salmon produced in California’s Central Valley have come from the American River. The Sacramento region’s population is expected to double to more than 2 million people in the next 30 years. Water demand to meet population growth will cause additional stress on a river system that currently experiences low flow and high temperatures during critical salmonid spawning and rearing life stages. Increased demand for American River water outside the region will contribute to higher fall river water temperatures and more frequent fluctuating flows that result in stranding and/or isolation of fish. In 1993, regional stakeholders decided that new methods were needed to avoid water shortages, environmental degradation, groundwater contamination, and limits to economic prosperity. Consequently, they created the Water Forum. After 6 years of intense, interest-based negotiations, 40 stakeholder organizations approved the comprehensive Water Forum Agreement in 2000. The agreement allows the region to meet its needs in a balanced way through implementation of a comprehensive package of linked actions.