Date: 5 May 09

A few weeks ago, we read you a news release from the American Rivers conservation group that declared the Sacramento-San Joaquin river system to be the most endangered system in America. In earning this dubious distinction, the Sacramento-San Joaquin beat out the Flint River, in Georgia, which, despite extended drought, is threatened with damming projects to slake the thirst of Atlanta, and the Snake River in Idaho, Oregon, and Washington, which has been dammed and sluiced over the years to the extent that if you are a barge owner, you can float 800 miles from the Pacific Ocean to Lewiston, Idaho, but if you are a salmon, you can’t make it back to your spawning grounds.

In this program, we speak first with Steve Rothert, authored the report on the Sacramento and San Joaquin system for American Rivers to learn more about the system and how it is being pressured.Then we will talk with Greg Werner of the Nature Conservancy office here in Chico, which, for twenty years, has conducted a project aimed at restoring the Sacramento river here in the Northstate.

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Our Conversation with Steve Rothert
A recent report from American Rivers begins, “The largest watershed in California is on the verge of collapse, threatening the water supply for 25 million people, placing the capital of the nation’s most populous state at high risk of flooding, and damaging a once productive and healthy ecosystem that supported the nation’s most diverse salmon runs.”

  • Please tell us a little about the American Rivers project, how you function, what your goals are.
  • The Sacramento flows through the heart of our listening area, just five miles west of Chico, so we are familiar with that. But we know less about it once it leaves our area. Please describe this system for us. (In particular, many of us are a little murky about the “delta” and how it operates.”)
  • Is it truly in danger of “collapse”? What would be the effects?
  • How did you research the Sac-San Joaquin systems in preparation for this report. What criteria did you use in selecting ours as the most threatened system?
  • Let’s review the major threats to the Sac-San Joaquin
    • flood control
    • loss of species
    • overuse
    • water diversion
  • What is the Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) and what are its aims? Who are the stakeholders? Can they agree on recommendations?
  • Your report also mentions a controversial peripheral canal and the California Flood Plan. How would that work?
  • One of the key elements in American Rivers recommendations is water conservation. Can we realistically expect to reduce demands on the system?
  • What’s the available time frame before damage becomes irreversable?
  • How can concerned citizens join in the effort to save these rivers?
    Read the full report at

Our Conversation with Gregg Werner

Gregg Werner is director of the Sacramento River Project for the Nature Conservancy. This project has just celebrated its 20th anniversary.

  • Please tell us more about the work of the Nature Conservancy generally and the Sacramento River Project in particular over the past twenty years.
  • Your website states that in the past 150 years, the Sacramento has lost about 98% of its natural woodlands and riparian areas. How have you attempted to remedy that?
  • Please tell us about the Hamilton City levee project, which, you say, involves “combining both flood management and public safety benefits with ecosystem conservation benefits.”
  • You’ve also said, “We’ve forged a new way of doing business working in close partnership with local residents and unlikely partners like the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.” [italics added]
  • What are your plans for future projects?
  • How can concerned listeners get involved with or support the work of the Conservancy on the Sacramento River Project


You’ve heard already from Steve Rothert of American Rivers and Gregg Werner of the Sacramento River Project about ways of supporting their work.

–You should also remember that the Butte Environmental Council has water protection as one of its central projects. A particularly disturbing page on their website reviews endangered and threatened waterways in our area, e.g.
Big Chico Creek (mercury, resource extraction)
Butte Creek (mercury, acidity, resource extraction)
Feather River ( temperature, flow restrictions for hydroelectric)
Lake Oroville (PCBs, mercury)
Sacramento River (chlordane, PCBs, mercury)

–University of Minnesota Extension Division has a useful website outlining ways in which recreational users can protect waterways, including

  • protecting the banks, don’t erode
  • not using herbicides to control growth on the banks
  • not using soap to bathe in the water
  • not dumping paint or oil in storm sewers
  • avoiding gas and oil spills
  • packing out all camping trash and waste
  • keeping off-road vehicles out of waterways and off banks
  • preserving wetlands
  • preserving forest areas
  • avoiding the introduction of non-native species

–Also check out the website of Northern California River Watch
Though based primarily in Sonoma county, the site has excellent statistics on river problems and legislation affecting the maintenance of rivers. One of their recent articles argues persuasively that California doesn’t have a “water problem,” it has a “plumbing problem,” with all that implies.

–And check out, which features a “genuine water conservation and protection search engine,” which turned up 46 hits for Big Chico Creek, including a fascinating history of the Big Chico Creek watershed, plus active links to river conservation groups all over the world.

Playlist for Ecotopia #31

1. Old Man River 2:40 Paul Robeson Live At Carnegie Hall, 1958
2. Proud Mary 5:27 Tina Turner All The Best
3. Riverdance 3:17 Celtic Roots Riverdance & Lord Of The Dance
4. Haunted by Waters – A River Runs Through It (Reprise) 4:2 Mark Isham A River Runs Through It Soundtrack
5. Weave Me the Sunshine 4:28 Peter, Paul And Mary The Very Best of Peter, Paul and Mary
6. Catch Hell Blues 4:18 The White Stripes Icky Thump
7. Cool, Cool River 3:56 Paul Simon Rhythm Of The Saints