Executive Summary and Report Card

Diverse interests and communities have varied needs and uses of the Sacramento River Basin and its services. But how do we know if we are keeping this critical place in good shape? How do we measure conditions in the watershed and our own performance toward maintaining and restoring watershed health? This Report Card comprises a key learning component of good watershed management, tying our goals for community and ecosystem well-being with actual conditions that can be measured over time.

The Sacramento River Basin Report Card provides a description of conditions relative to our expectations and goals for the Basin. It is a science-based solution to a social and management need. The Report Card measures aspects of the whole integrated system relative to stakeholder goals. It reports on the system using regionally-important and science-based indicators. Because the indicators are assessed using transparent reference points, they provide a measurement of health that can be assessed in future report cards.


The natural and human systems of a river basin are often thought of from the point of view of particular components because of economic, regulatory, or social perspectives. For example, water quality and pollutant loads are analyzed and regulated in waterways to meet legal standards, while recognizing ecosystem and economic needs and conditions. The Report Card performs a vital service in this watershed by bringing together the different components into a common framework, with stakeholder involvement, to facilitate discussion of the whole system, including natural and human processes and needs. This allows us to develop an integrated approach to valuing watershed services and approaches, managing for these values while also meeting regulatory needs, and connecting stakeholders to the diverse values of their watershed.

The Sacramento River is the largest river in California, is vital to the state’s economy and is a major source of drinking water for residents from Modoc County to San Diego County. It is this vital resource that incited the development of the Sacramento River Watershed Program (SRWP) in 1996, and the more recent Sacramento River Basin Management Plan: A Roadmap for the Future (Roadmap) and Watershed Health Indicators Project (WHIP). Roadmap summarizes key information about six subregions within the watershed providing a picture of watershed health in the Sacramento River Basin. Roadmap and WHIP use the Watershed Assessment Framework (WAF) to articulate a shared vision for each of the subregions by way of watershed forums throughout the watershed. By evaluating and summarizing watershed characteristics and articulating common goals and lists of indicators for the various subwatersheds, Roadmap and WHIP provide an essential foundation for adaptive management of the Sacramento River Basin.

SRWP began work on watershed health indicators in 2004, in response to stakeholder recommendations to expand SRWP monitoring efforts beyond main-stem river water quality monitoring. SRWP held two public workshops and several Monitoring Committee meetings to receive stakeholder input on the approach to develop watershed health indicators for the Sacramento River Basin. SRWP also had several meetings with state and federal agencies leading SRWP to adopt the WAF; an element of the 2006 California Watershed Action Plan.

Focus Watershed

The focus of this Report Card is the Feather River Watershed, which is the largest tributary to the Sacramento River and the State Water Project’s primary watershed. The Feather River Watershed is located in California’s northern Sierra Nevada and encompasses a broad variety of terrain, climate, historic use, and flora and fauna. It drains 6,223 square miles of land base from the Sierra Nevada crest westward into the Sacramento River. The watershed includes the tributary Yuba and Bear rivers, which flow into the Lower Feather River. Below the major dams on all three rivers, salmon and steelhead still return to spawn, though in declining numbers. The focus watershed was divided into 11 commonly-used divisions in the upper (above the lowest dams) and lower watershed (Figure E.1).

Figure E.1. Map of the Feather River Watershed, its constituent subwatersheds, and its overlap with counties

The watershed is home to several long-running citizen-based monitoring and restoration programs, including the Feather River Coordinated Resource Management (FRCRM), the South Yuba River Citizens League (SYRCL), Friends of Deer Creek, Wolf Creek Alliance, and the Yuba-Bear Watershed Council. This watershed was chosen as the focus of the first Report Card, because of its size and critical importance to California.

How To Use The Report Card

The Report Card summarizes the status and trends of key indicators in the watershed to measure watershed condition. The Report Card is organized around stakeholder goals and objectives for the watershed. Indicators were selected that corresponded to these goals and objectives, based on scientific and feasibility criteria. Report Card values (described in detail in section 3) range from 0, reflecting poor condition, to 100, reflecting good condition, for each indicator within each subwatershed. Trends in certain indicators were also calculated, indicated by arrows pointing up, down, or horizontal.

What Did We Find Out?

Environmental and community conditions are highly variable across the Feather River Watershed and across goals and indicators of condition (Table E.1). Bird populations appear to be doing very well and fire patterns are quite different than they should be. Aquatic communities are struggling in almost all subwatersheds, possibly due to the combination of water and land management that characterizes this watershed. Trends in most cases are either unknown or not detectably changing. Economic condition and carbon sequestration rates are declining, but agricultural practices are improving. Overall the Feather River Watershed is in fair condition, with room for improvement.

Goals Measurable Objective Condition Trend Confidence
Water quality and supply for natural and human communities Water quality for aquatic health 50 arrow_lr.png Medium-high

Maintain natural stream flows

55 n/a Medium
Protect and restore native animals and plants Native birds 100 arrow_lr.png Medium
Native invertebrates 46 arrow_lr.png High
Native fish 49 arrow_lr.png High
Agricultural/urban development 90 n/a Medium
Protect and enhance habitats, ecosystems, and watersheds Protect aquatic connections 77 n/a Medium-high
Protect landscape connections 33 n/a High
Maintain natural production and nutrient cycles 82 arrow_dn.png Medium
Maintain and restore natural disturbance Restore natural fire regimes 9 arrow_lr.png Medium
Encourage natural flooding, while protecting people 50 n/a Low
Improve social and economic conditions & benefits from healthy watersheds Enhance wildlife-friendly agriculture 83 arrow_up.png Medium-high
Improve community economic status 51 arrow_dn.png High

Table E.1. How well are we meeting goals and objectives for the Feather River Watershed?

Each subwatershed was evaluated for its condition relative to targets for each indicator. The condition score is the average score for all 11 subwatersheds. Trend was evaluated from a combination of trend assessments from each subwatershed. Arrow direction indicates trend direction, horizontal arrows refer to no change, “n/a” means not available. Confidence refers to quantitative or professional assessment of confidence in the result.