News & Operations Blog

Cordova Creek Naturalization Project Nears Final Phase

Posted on Monday, January 16th, 2023

By Erica Bishop

The Water Forum is making strides to complete the naturalization of Cordova Creek, one of the few tributaries of the Lower American River with year-round water flow.

Aerial view of Cordova Creek. (Click for a larger view).

These flows, derived primarily from clean water outflows from Aerojet’s upstream groundwater treatment plant, make the creek especially important to the Parkway’s riparian plants, wildlife, and fish including juvenile salmon and steelhead. But, for decades, the creek has been accessible to fish only when American River flows are very high. That’s because the transition from creek to river is very steep, the result of a drainage ditch project in the last century that paved the creek in an attempt to reduce erosion.

In 2017, the Water Forum partnered with local and state agencies on naturalizing upstream portions of the creek. This involved adding some more natural bends to what had been a straight concrete-lined storm drain, adding cobble to stabilize the new stream channel, and planting willow trees and upland species along the creek’s margins.

The project was a win, as beavers quickly colonized the area. These native riparian rodents, long unfairly vilified, continued our work by building dams and a lodge, helping to slow and filter the water flow in the creek. The project attracts deer and a wide variety of birds, and it won an “Outstanding Environmental Stewardship” award from the Sacramento Environmental Commission.

Cordova Creek also has become a major asset for the community, which includes the adjoining Cordova Meadows neighborhood and Soil Born Farms, providing educational opportunities for Parkway visitors and local school groups to learn about the ecosystem, often led by the team at Soil Born Farms.

Erica Bishop (Water Forum), Kirsten Sellheim (Cramer Fish Sciences), and Paul Cadrett (USFWS) conduct channel surveys. The “pour over” area (seen at the back of this image) is a major reason for the realignment of Cordova Creek in Phase 2. (Click for a larger view.)

But, the final 400 feet of the project, where the creek connects to the American River, proved a bit more challenging. The naturalization must be planned carefully here, due to the steepness of the confluence and because the creek passes under a heavily traveled bike and pedestrian bridge that’s part of the American River Parkway’s trail system.

Now, after additional study, this final creek segment is nearly ready for construction. The project has reached the 65 percent design stage, and the Water Forum is ready to seek grant funding of around $5 million to complete permitting and pay for construction of our first multi-benefit project on the Parkway.

The project calls for removing concrete in the channel and building a series of boulder stepped pools from the river up into Cordova Creek. This will allow juvenile salmon to move both upstream and downstream between the creek and the river, even when American River flows are at their lowest. The step pools also help to make the project stable and sustainable—although Cordova Creek is small, this area is completely inundated by the American River when it floods and has to be built to withstand those conditions. Based on stakeholder input, the design ensures that large, native alders and other riparian trees growing near the existing concrete outlet will be preserved even after the creek is rerouted to its new channel.

When complete, this improved access will create an important resting and feeding area that may be used by juvenile salmon when they are small and vulnerable to predation. Areas like this are important for juveniles to access until they are large enough to migrate downriver to the ocean, and these habitats are very limited along the Lower American River.

The project also involves rebuilding the bike and pedestrian bridge for improved safety. This will include a bridge twice as wide as the current crossing, with a trailside viewing area and interpretive signs, where people can pause to appreciate the Parkway and creek. Since Parkway trails are also used by equestrians, the new bridge will be safe for horses, too.

Proposed realignment for Cordova Creek in Phase 2. (Click for a larger view.)

Naturalization of this final portion will shift the creek confluence slightly downstream to an existing eddy in the river, an area of calmer water that’s already attractive to fish and does not dewater, even at low river flows. It’s also across the river from another Water Forum habitat project set to begin construction in summer 2023—a project that will continue our efforts to increase spawning and rearing habitat by improving the composition of riverbed gravels and adding side-channel and seasonal floodplain areas for salmonids to use in their home river.

The final phase of the creek project will also restore more than an acre of riparian and oak woodland habitat. The plan calls for planting 120 native trees, including oaks, walnuts, and other species that will help provide shade and attract other native wildlife. Parts of the project area currently support invasive, nonnative weeds such as yellow star thistle.

The Water Forum has worked closely with numerous partners on the Cordova Creek Phase 2 project, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife, California Native Plant Society, Save the American River Association, Soil Born Farms, and several American River recreation groups to develop a design that serves multiple benefits on the Parkway. This phase of the project was funded by a grant from the California Wildlife Conservation Board and was cost-shared by the Water Forum, which includes a diverse group of environmental and citizen groups, business leaders, water agencies and local governments working together to balance water supply needs with protection of the Lower American River.

We hope to obtain permits for this last phase of Cordova Creek restoration in 2024, then finalize design and begin construction in 2025.

Erica Bishop is Program Manager, Habitat and Science, for the Water Forum.

If You Build It, Do They Come? Measuring results of the Water Forum’s Habitat Projects on the Lower American River

Posted on Thursday, December 1st, 2022

By Erica Bishop

The Water Forum and its federal and state partners have invested millions of dollars over the past 15 years to enhance salmon spawning and rearing habitat in the Lower American River. In this blog post, we want to highlight one way that the Water Forum, with its consultant, Cramer Fish Sciences, monitors the projects and helps to answer a critical question: If You Build It, Do They Come?

Since 2008, the Water Forum has implemented numerous projects to replenish coarse gravel in the Lower American riverbed to create spawning habitat for fall run Chinook salmon and Central Valley steelhead. These native species require coarse riverbed gravels to create the redds, or nests, for their eggs.

Unfortunately, the gravel they need — ranging from 3/8 up to 4 inches in diameter — can no longer move naturally downstream into the Lower American River to replenish spawning habitat since Folsom and Nimbus Dams were completed nearly 70 years ago. This means the spawning habitat below the dam has degraded as this “right-sized” sediment has been washed away through natural processes and has been replaced with fine sediment and large cobbles that are not good for spawning.

“During field surveys, we see areas where the fish will actually dig up each other’s nests because there’s so little habitat available,” says Kirsten Sellheim, a senior scientist with Cramer. “The Lower American River is so habitat-limited that anything we can do to increase habitat makes a difference.”

This fall, Cramer crews, overseen by Sellheim, and in coordination with California Department

Philip Colombano with Cramer Fish Sciences is part of the team recording redd locations, and measuring the dimensions, water depth, gravel size, and other characteristics of each redd. (October 27, 2022)

of Fish and Wildlife (CDFW), are walking and floating along miles of the river to assess the extent of salmon redds, and especially how many of those redds are in the fresh gravel placed by the Water Forum. They record individual redd locations using GPS coordinates, and measure the dimensions, water depth, gravel size and other characteristics of each redd. This helps determine how intensively the enhanced areas are used, as well as the habitat types each fish species prefers.

And, for the first time, the survey data is being uploaded to a new data portal so it can be shared in near real-time with other agencies, including CDFW, U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Folsom Dam.

The work is funded by a $5 million grant from Proposition 68 administered by the California Natural Resources Agency. The money covers 2022 costs for both construction of the enhanced spawning habitat and pre- and post-construction surveys and monitoring and is combined with funds from Reclamation that supported designs, modeling and permitting for this year’s sites.

Since 2018, 27 acres of spawning habitat and 15 acres of rearing habitat have been enhanced on the American through the Water Forum’s habitat enhancement program. This program, which is funded by local, state, and federal agencies, has been implementing projects since 2008.

In a previous study published in 2013 in the journal River Research and Applications, scientists found that the Lower American River gravel enhancement was effective in increasing Chinook salmon and steelhead spawning. The study analyzed the Water Forum’s habitat projects at the Sailor Bar and Sunrise sites, and recorded thousands of spawning redds where none had been previously seen.

Sellheim, who was a study co-author, said the surveys now underway shed more light on the habitat preferences of salmon and steelhead and the spawning success that occurs as a result of Water Forum’s work in the river. Data from 2021 surveys demonstrated that 32 percent of all Chinook redds recorded during aerial surveys of the entire river were located at Water Forum’s enhanced habitat sites. Additionally, our 2021 project at Ancil Hoffman Park supported 30 percent of all steelhead redds counted on the Lower American River last season. Preliminary information from 2022 spawning surveys shows a similar trend – when we build it, they do come and use the habitat, just as they have for millions of years.

The Water Forum’s work is just one part of a larger effort to sustain wild-spawning anadromous (ocean-going) fish in the Lower American River. Although a hatchery on the river produces millions of juvenile salmonids, wild-spawning fish are known to be more resilient to environmental change. They are also simply a unique natural treasure in an urban river like the American.

Erica Bishop is Program Manager for the Water Forum.

Folsom Reservoir Power Bypass Underway

Posted on Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is implementing a Power Bypass at Folsom Reservoir to reduce river water temperatures and protect salmonids as spawning season begins on the Lower American River.

A power bypass allows Reclamation to access and release cold water below the power unit penstocks at the reservoir, thereby reducing river water temperatures to benefit rearing steelhead and spawning fall-run Chinook salmon.

Reclamation initiated the bypass on October 20, 2022. Since then, temperatures have decreased by 2 to 3 degrees. The bypass will last several weeks until ambient temperatures drop further to assist Reclamation with its target temperature of 56°F towards the end of November.

Cheers to the Water Education Foundation

Posted on Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

Fostering informed discussion and leadership in California water

By Jessica Law

Today we write to share a hearty “happy anniversary” shoutout to the Water Education Foundation, a longtime friend of the Water Forum, for their longtime dedication to fostering informed discussion around California water issues.

On Oct. 26, the foundation hosts a reunion to mark the 25th anniversary of its Water Leaders Program.

The Water Forum is proud to have two employees who are alums of the Water Leaders program: Erica Bishop and Ashlee Casey. Water Leaders annually brings together 20 or so early- to mid-career water professionals in a program designed to deepen knowledge on water, enhance leadership skills and help participants take an active, cooperative approach to decision-making.

Ashlee Casey was part of the 2018 WEF Water Leaders class

Ashlee, our senior engineer, was part of the 2018 Water Leaders class while working for her previous employer, a civil engineering consulting firm. She says the experience not only boosted her knowledge about California water, but also broadened her perspective on this complicated subject.

“For me, the biggest thing was just getting to meet other water resources professionals that I wouldn’t have otherwise,” she says. “In getting to know those people from different facets of the water industry in California, I feel like I’m able to understand better where people are coming from in different settings.”

Another benefit of the Water Education Foundation is its many field tours of California’s water landscape. That’s how Erica, our program manager, first got involved with the foundation. Soon after moving to California from Wyoming in 2008, she joined a foundation tour of the Sacramento Valley.

“That really helped orient me toward the resources I was working on,” she says.

Erica was selected for the foundation’s 2019 Water Leaders class.

Erica Bishop was part of the 2019 WEF Water Leaders class

“It was a great opportunity and a real confidence builder to see myself as a future leader in the industry,” Erica says. “It made me excited to take that step into leadership in my career, which I did when I came to Water Forum.”

A year after that, she was asked to become a board member of the foundation, and gladly accepted.

“The Water Education Foundation is really important because they bring together such broad perspectives, and they don’t exclude anyone,” she says. “So you really get the bigger picture. That’s just such an important niche in our industry and our world. They’re really trying to get all the information out there so folks are educated about this vital resource we all need.”

The Water Leaders reunion will be held the day before the foundation’s Water Summit on Oct. 27, an annual event designed to share the latest information on key issues affecting water in California. The theme of the event, now in its 38th year, is “Rethinking Water in the West.”

Water Forum Welcomes CivicSpark Fellow Liana Huang

Posted on Wednesday, October 26th, 2022

The Water Forum this month is pleased to announce the arrival of our newest CivicSpark Fellow, Liana Huang.

CivicSpark is a Governor’s Initiative AmeriCorps program dedicated to building capacity for nonprofits and local governments to address emerging environmental and social equity challenges. The Water Forum has hosted CivicSpark fellows for several years. It has been a vital program to provide extra hands for special projects while providing early professional experience for recent college graduates.

Liana was raised in downtown Sacramento and in West Sacramento. She recently completed a bachelor’s degree in environmental science, with a concentration in environmental engineering, from UCLA. She also has a minor in GIS technology. She’s interested in forging a career in the field of climate mitigation and adaptation, and hopes her experience with the Water Forum will help focus her professional choices moving forward.

“I am excited to see first-hand how water governance is formed through compromise and science,” Liana says. “I hope to grow my competency with public communications, and simply learn more about the large, complicated world of water resource management.”  

Liana will be with us for a year. Among other duties, she will help with research related to Water Forum 2.0, our work to negotiate an updated Water Forum Agreement wedded to the climate challenges that lie ahead.

Construction Complete on Water Forum 2022 Habitat Projects

Posted on Thursday, October 13th, 2022

Water Forum teams are in the final clean-up stages at the Water Forum’s Habitat Project at Nimbus Basin, signaling the successful on-time completion of the Water Forum’s 2022 Habitat Projects at the Basin and Lower Sailor Bar.

Since August 1, teams have been working to enhance crucial habitat in the Lower American River for native fall-run Chinook salmon and steelhead trout, which return to the river to spawn during their annual migration from October through February.

In the egg-laying process, females create a “nest” (called a redd) in loose gravel in flowing water, depositing their eggs and then covering them up with more gravel. Once hatched, young salmon move to the river’s shallow, slower-moving areas to find protection from predators and grow before eventually swimming out to the Pacific Ocean.

To aid this natural process, Water Forum teams collectively laid approximately 41,000 cubic yards of clean gravel into the flowing river and carved side channels into existing gravel bars. They also added large woody material into the side channels to create places for young fish to hide from predators, provide shade, and a place for insects to grow for feeding the fish and provide habitat for many other Parkway species.

The Water Forum now moves into the monitoring stage for the projects, carefully tracking and counting the number of redds over the next several months to monitor results. Previous projects have created a surge in native fish nests within several months following construction.

You can learn more about the 2022 Projects at

Happy New (Water) Year! Reflecting on the wild ride that was 2021-22… and what’s to come

Posted on Thursday, September 29th, 2022

By Ashlee Casey

September 30th will mark the end of the current water year, and it was a wild ride!

It all started with a roar on October 24, 2021, when Sacramento saw its wettest single day ever, recording 5.44 inches of rainfall. The subsequent runoff over the following week added close to 100,000 acre-feet to Folsom Reservoir storage.

November 2021 was relatively dry. Then December 2021 ended up being another wet month. In fact, the Central Sierra Snow Laboratory on Donner Summit set a new snowfall record in December 2021. In the first few weeks of January 2022, Reclamation was making releases from Folsom Reservoir to preserve flood control capacity. Unfortunately, this precipitation missed the northern Sacramento Valley, and Shasta Reservoir missed out on most of the runoff.

But then it all came to a halt. The January-through-March 2022 period had the lowest precipitation on record for Sacramento and the Sierra Nevada region as a whole. These three months are normally the wettest of the year, so this was a big blow to water supply. The result was another drought year for the state, although the picture for the American River Basin ended up being about average thanks to some favorable storm tracks. So, while Folsom Reservoir reached near-average levels in the summer months of 2022, other major reservoirs in the state fell to near-record low storage levels.

Fast forward to September 2022, and we saw a brutal heat wave that lasted more than a week. Sacramento even notched a new all-time high-temperature record on September 6th at 116 degrees. That was not only the hottest September day the city has seen (beating the previous record for the month by a full 7 degrees) but the hottest day in Sacramento’s recorded history, period.

September 6th also marked the beginning of the Mosquito Fire, which erupted that evening near Oxbow Reservoir in the Tahoe National Forest, and would grow to threaten the infrastructure and water supplies for the Placer County Water Agency.

Just a week later, an unusual series of typhoon-driven storms broke more records. September 2022 rainfall for downtown Sacramento was 0.49 inches, eclipsing the monthly normal of 0.15 inches.

It’s been an off-the-chart’s year for weather.

The extreme and disparate precipitation patterns across the state created extra challenges for already stressed systems (and water managers). While trying to balance the varying needs for the available water supplies across the municipal, agricultural, and environmental demands, water managers have also been looking for solutions outside the typical management toolbox. For example, agricultural growers in the Sacramento Valley, who are typically first in line for federal Central Valley Project water in the Sacramento River, saw their entitlements reduced to less than 20 percent, the lowest allocation in history. This reduction was an effort to meet environmental demands within the Sacramento River and in the Delta.

Riverine temperatures are an important management target when considering environmental needs. October and November conditions in the American River often make it difficult to provide quality water temperatures for fall-run Chinook Salmon due to continuing warm days and seasonal rains not yet beginning.  This fall, the Water Forum is continuing to support efforts to improve conditions on the Lower American River by conducting modeling and analysis to help the National Marine Fisheries Service and California Department of Fish and Wildlife determine potential options that could produce favorable conditions while considering different operational scenarios.

Also, let’s not forget the role of conservation in keeping our rivers flowing. Every household is being asked to reduce water use by 15 percent to keep California thriving. It’s important to all do our part to encourage local residents and businesses to use less water.

Unfortunately, this past water year—and the swings from intense highs to lows—is just another case study demonstrating the impacts of climate change. Those huge oscillations between record-breaking dry and record-breaking precipitation make it incredibly hard to do the kind of seasonal water planning that needs to be done.

There is still a high level of uncertainty about what the 2022-2023 Water Year will bring. The National Weather Service Climate Prediction Center forecasts a 54 percent chance of La Niña conditions for January-through-March 2023, which would mean a third-straight La Niña winter and potentially another dry year. But it’s still a coin toss: Sacramento and the American River Basin can go either way, depending on seasonal variability. In our area, La Niña sometimes produces wet winters.

Don’t throw out your umbrella yet.

Ashlee Casey is a Senior Engineer at the Water Forum.

Water Forum Launches Nimbus Basin Phase of 2022 Habitat Projects

Posted on Thursday, September 8th, 2022

The Water Forum this week launched the second phase of its 2022 Habitat Projects on the Lower American River.

Crews began work enhancing spawning and rearing areas in the Nimbus Basin, near the Sacramento State Aquatic Center. Over the coming weeks, they will add clean gravel sourced from tailings piles at Mississippi Bar to the river for salmon and steelhead to build redds (nests) and excavate a side channel complex for juvenile fish to hide and grow. Gravel from the tailings (discarded rock from the gold mining era) has been carefully sorted to the sizes that salmonids prefer.

Habitat Project crews are staying safe during this record heat wave by following all City of Sacramento extreme heat protocols, which include frequent breaks, access to hydration and shade stations, and following the buddy system. Another way they beat the heat—all of the heavy equipment onsite has air-conditioning in the cab.

The Water Forum last worked in the area about a decade ago and is now providing a “tune-up,” understanding that the Nimbus Basin is heavily utilized by spawning fish every year and that gravel naturally moves downstream over time.

“Previous habitat enhancement projects have nurtured dramatic increases in redds, including a 1,000 percent increase after the Water Forum’s 2019 habitat enhancement project at Upper Sailor Bar,” said Program Manager Erica Bishop. “We are optimistic that we will see similar—or better results—with the projected higher flows and expected cooler temperatures in the river this year.”

This week also marks the halfway point for the Habitat Project at Lower Sailor Bar. Crews from

the City of Sacramento Department of Utilities are now finished with excavating and sorting gravel and are using river-friendly equipment to push gravel into the river. Over 100,000 cubic yards of gravel were sorted to achieve the 37,000 cubic yards needed for the Lower Sailor Bar project.

Crews have also carved the side channel and are placing woody habitat structures during the next few weeks to provide protected places for young fish. They are utilizing surveying equipment and drone footage to measure progress and ensure the design follows

The Habitat Projects have been receiving significant media attention, including segments by KCRA Channel 3, Fox 40, CBS 13 and several local publications. You can find the KCRA 3 story and other coverage on the project page.

site plans.

The 2022 Habitat Projects are the most ambitious of the Water Forum’s spawning and rearing work to date. The Lower Sailor Bar project alone includes three spawning riffles and an extra-long side channel measuring over half-a mile end-to-end.

The work is made possible with the support of Water Forum members, project partners, and grant funding from the federal Central Valley Improvement Act and state Proposition 68—the “California Drought, Water, Parks, Climate, Coastal Protection, and Outdoor Access for All Act,” passed by voters in 2018. Prop 68 funding is intended for projects that plan, develop and implement climate adaptation and resiliency projects, including those that protect natural resources and water supplies.

The Lower Sailor Bar project is on target to finish in late September, with the Nimbus Basin project taking place through early October.

Water Forum Business Strategy Set for 2022-2030

Posted on Thursday, July 28th, 2022

Water Forum members on July 28, 2022, confirmed the Business Strategy (2022-2030) that describes priorities and provides an overall guide for the organization’s operations for the next eight years.

The strategy discusses how the Water Forum will implement core programs for habitat management, flows and operations, science and monitoring, communications, and administration of the Water Forum Successor Effort.

“While the past two-plus years have presented challenges on so many levels, the Water Forum has continued to prioritize negotiations to renew the original agreement, signed over 20 years ago,” said Water Forum Executive Director Jessica Law. “As we continue with the Water Forum 2.0 process as a top priority, the Business Strategy delineates the level of effort for ongoing implementation of the original Water Forum Agreement.”

Representatives from each of the Water Forum’s caucuses—water, environment, business and public—shaped, reviewed and provided input on the plan.

“The Business Plan is a way to focus the Water Forum’s work on the actions that are most important to member agencies, as well as to anticipate potential issues that are years in the future,” said Kerry Schmitz, a member of the Coordinating Committee and Water Caucus.

Added Gary Bardini, a member of the Coordinating Committee and Public Caucus, “The plan brings focus to the Water Forum’s core business areas and funding, and prioritizes those efforts for the coming years.”

The Business Strategy is a living document that is expected to be adjusted on an annual basis. You can find the Final Plan here.

Jonas Minton, a guiding light of the Water Forum

Posted on Tuesday, June 28th, 2022

Here at the Water Forum, we are deeply saddened by the recent news that Jonas Minton has passed away. Our first full-time executive director, Jonas was a vital guiding hand in our work and left a huge imprint on many aspects of California water policy. He died June 22, 2022, due to a heart condition at the age of 73.

Jonas worked for the California Department of Water Resources starting in 1978, and rose to become a deputy director from 2000 to 2004, where he was responsible for divisions of Planning, Local Assistance, Dam Safety, Water Conservation, and Flood Management. Among other accomplishments, he served on the team that secured federal Wild and Scenic River protection in 1981 for more than 1,200 miles of California rivers.

Jonas helped shape the Water Forum in its formative stages and then served as executive director from 1995 to 2000. Susan Sherry, who guided the negotiations that created the Water Forum while at the Center for Collaborative Policy at Sacramento State University, recalled Jonas’s value as a guiding hand during those tense, early days.

“He was able to bring all these adversarial parties together, because he really believed in dialogue & seeking common ground,” she said. “So people trusted him even though they knew he was this activist. He did not put his thumb on the scale at all.”

Photo of Jonas Minton by Brad Zweerink

After retiring from DWR in 2004, he served as senior water policy advisor at the Planning and Conservation League until his death. In that capacity, he was a tireless advocate for the state’s rivers and for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. His work helped lead to the removal of San Clemente Dam on the Carmel River in 2015. He also led the effort for a comprehensive statewide flood management package, which became law in 2007. More recently, he convened water law and policy experts to develop 11 detailed proposals on water rights, climate change, drought and water justice, a number of which are now before the California legislature.

Jonas was a generous friend who spent countless hours mentoring young people, recruiting volunteers and encouraging others with his relentless optimism. He also expressed his love for the water as an expert kayaker and rafter who enjoyed sharing the paddling life with others.

“He used to tell me that when he was on the river, it was spiritual for him,” Sherry said.

Jonas is survived by his wife of 42 years, Julie Carrasco-Minton, as well as numerous sisters, brothers-in-law, nieces and nephews. A celebration of his life is being planned for September. In the meantime, friends and colleagues are invited to make donations in his honor to Friends of the River, the Sacramento Food Bank or the American Heart Association.

Read “Jonas Minton, California environmentalist and water-policy expert, dies at 73” in the Sacramento Bee here.