Fish Conditions

The lower American River is the crown jewel in the Sacramento region’s rich legacy of environmental stewardship. Nearly five million people flock to the spectacular river parkway each year to enjoy its unique ecological resources and recreational opportunities.

With 43 species of fish, including endangered steelhead trout and threatened Chinook salmon, the lower American River also provides important habitat for the anadromous fisheries of the Sacramento River Basin. It is also home to a rich diversity of wildlife and waterfowl. These natural attributes have made the lower American River the only urban waterway to be designated a “Wild and Scenic River” by state and federal governments.

Technical Memos and Tools

Fisheries and Health of the Lower American River: A Lookback at Summer 2021, Frequently Asked Questions (December 2021)

Water Quality, Fish Community, and eDNA Monitoring During the 2021 Drought, Lower American River, CA, by Cramer Fish Sciences (prepared by Joseph Merz, Kirsten Sellheim, Jamie Sweeney, Bobbie Flores, Yekaterina Karpenko) (updated November 4, 2021) 

2021 Critical Drought Conditions Temperature Management Planning Memo, prepared by Chris Hammersmark, PhD, PE (cbec, inc. eco engineering) and Paul Bratovich, MS (HDR, Inc.) (May 25, 2021)

Chinook Salmon Early Lifestage Survival & Folsom Dam Power Bypass Considerations (Bratovich, et al, 2020)

This Tech Memo gives biological information to help inform considerations regarding Folsom Dam power bypass operations to provide water temperature benefits for fall-run Chinook salmon spawning in the lower American River.

Click here for [daily Chinook salmon early lifestage survival tool] (Excel)

The Central Valley Salmonid Story: Six Million Years in The Making, by Hilary Glenn, Stacie Fejtek, Jake Rennert, published in Frontiers for Young Minds, section Biodiversity

Fisheries and In-Stream Habitat Management and Restoration Plan

Water Forum actions to improve fish conditions in the lower American River are guided by the draft Fisheries and In-Stream Habitat Management and Restoration Plan (FISH Plan). First completed in 2001, the plan outlines the most critical management and restoration actions needed to improve fisheries health and habitat for priority fish species in the Lower American River, including fall-run Chinook salmon and steelhead.

The 2019 update is designed to provide a progress report, as well as refresh and reprioritize the plan’s original list of 47 short- and long-term actions, to guide the Water Forum’s habitat restoration goals and activities for the next decade. The update was informed by interviews with 17 stakeholders from government agencies and non-profit organizations to identify priorities, challenges and key themes to guide the update conducted by an impartial non-profit group.

Overall, the draft FISH Plan conveys that the region is on the right track and identifies progress on many priority issues and actions—some of which are ongoing while others have shifted in priority or concluded. But there are many more opportunities and needs to address.

Escapement Estimates

Escapement estimates for Chinook salmon are compiled annually by the California Department of Fish and Wildlife Fisheries Branch Annadromous Assesment Unit. The following graphs summarize escapement estimate data for the lower American River.  

Redd Counts

Water Forum partners with the Bureau of Reclamation to conduct annual fall-run Chinook salmon redd counts using aerial photography and geographic information systems (GIS). Redd count data gives a snapshot of where salmon are spawning in the lower American River and  helps our restoration project design team evaluate the success of projects and plan future restoration actions. 

We share the results of redd surveys at bi-annual Bay Delta Science Conference poster sessions: 

Fall-run Salmon and Steelhead Life Cycle in the Lower American River

The lower American River is always home to some Steelhead. Steelhead spawning begins in late December of each year, usually peaking in February and concluding by the end of March. Eggs incubate in redds immediately after spawning, and emerge weeks to month later. This period, incubation through emergence, is from late December through May. Steelhead can spend their whole lives in the river, never migrating to the ocean. Most Steelhead rear in the river for one year. Over summer rearing is an important part of their lifecycle, and why maintaining cool summer river temperatures is important. After migrating to the ocean, they return between September through March to spawn.

Chart showing which months concur with different life cycles for Fall-run salmon and Steelhead