The Sacramento Region has a water rich history. The California Gold Rush started on the American River in 1848. Since then the citizens of this river basin have been deeply involved with water supply and environmental decisions.
By the early 1990s, the Sacramento region had suffered 30 years of contentious battle over the American River with local governments, water purveyors, environmentalists, and other stakeholders stating competing and conflicting claims on the river and its resources. The last two California droughts brought the region water supply cutbacks and environmental degradation. Compounding these problems was a water table that had been lowered in some areas by as much as 90 feet due to groundwater overdraft. Moreover, parts of the area’s groundwater basins had become unusable due to contamination. Adding to water supply concerns was an increasing awareness of the fragility of the aquatic ecosystem of the lower American River.
With water demand growing alongside population and growing concern for the environment, area leaders recognized that balancing the complex and often conflicting needs of water demand and environmental needs required input from multiple stakeholders to comprehensively address the region’s water woes. In 1993, the City and County of Sacramento created the Water Forum to find solutions to the water dilemma. The Water Forum provided a safe place for water interests to work together to meet their mutual water needs.
Following seven years of interest-based negotiations, where members looked beyond demands or historic positions and focused on underlying interests, the Water Forum Agreement was signed in 2000 by 40 stakeholder organizations.
The Water Forum Signatories represent a diverse group of business and agricultural leaders, citizen groups, environmentalists, water managers, and local governments who have agreed to work together on a new approach to water management and water-based ecosystem protection. Water Forum members take a balanced approach to water management and water-based ecosystem protection, relying on interest-based collaboration and the best available scientific information.
Over the years, the Water Forum process has employed a proven model of stakeholder-driven “bottom up” decision making. Members use the Water Forum Successor Effort—the mechanism created to help ensure implementation of the Agreement—as a necessary tool for coordination, with the Water Forum’s small but resourceful staff providing support for development of member-driven initiatives.
For over 20 years the Water Forum, along with its members, have successfully implemented programs that protect fish and other public trust assets in the lower American River. The Water Forum has made broad and extraordinary efforts to conserve municipal and industrial water use and collaborated to maintain the long-term sustainable yield of the North Area Groundwater Basin. Today, with dozens of member-driven programs, projects, and activities successfully implemented, the Water Forum is poised to meet the challenges ahead.
Perspectives from the Water Forum Team
CivicSpark AmeriCorps Fellows Katherine Perkins and Cassandra Miller of the Water Forum talk about their experiences with salmon research on the Lower American River, sharing their knowledge of science, strength, and who will save the planet.