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The Sacramento Watershed is undergoing a fundamental transformation from agricultural uses to urban/suburban/exurban uses. The fundamental driver of this growth is the highly desirable quality of life that the area provides; residents of the valley, foothills, and mountains love to live in the rich and bountiful rural environment that this watershed provides. But as people are drawn here and develop new homes and businesses, those qualities are transformed to an urban environment. This is a pattern repeated throughout California's history, as one agricultural or natural geographic area after another became ripe for growth.

Current Grazing Uses

Most of the Sacramento Valley is agricultural.

General Plan Zoning

Impacts of development, even at low density levels, will be felt throughout the study area.

The speed and extent of the transformation in the Sacramento Watershed emerged as a topic of investigation for the Sacramento River Watershed Program as a result of the Agricultural Issues White Paper (PDF, 971 KB) completed in 2005 with attached SWRP Recommendations completed in 2006. Two views of the Watershed provided a disturbing contrast: current agricultural grazing uses compared to general plan zoning for the future.

This transformation has been underway in a significant way for the past fifty years, and will continue as long as the watershed remains attractive for its quality of life. Population growth from existing residents is a minor factor compared to the immigration of new residents. The flow of population to the watershed converting agricultural lands to urban environments began with significant momentum in the boom of the late 1940s and 1950s after World War II; Citrus Heights in eastern Sacramento County still has remnant orange trees in the suburban back yards. This growth seems to have increasing momentum with several of the fastest growing areas of the state. The magnitude and speed of this change became a topic of investigation for the Sacramento River Watershed Program.

This inquiry into rural residential development has several fundamental elements:

  • The current status of development and population trends is studied.
  • The Uplan model is used to investigate future scenarios, and is incorporated into SRWP's SWIM model so these scenarios can be viewed at different scales.
  • Background on rural residential trends is provided as it may apply to the Sacramento Watershed area.
  • Adaptation strategies employing a Best Management Practice (BMP) approach is explored for both land use planning entities and for property owners.
  • Next steps for SRWP programs and rural residential development, including the Roadmap and watershed indicators, are outlined.

The transformation of vast areas of the Sacramento Watershed will have profound effects on the ecosystem and on the quality of life. The next fifty years will transform the ecosystem in a way that has not been seen since the mid-1800s when vast areas of the watershed were transformed from wild lands to agricultural grazing lands. The intent of this study is to understand the scope of this change, to inform choices that can be made, and to begin to explore strategies for adaptation to this level of change that may help preserve the quality of life that current residents of the watershed value, and that is the attraction for so many new residents of the Sacramento Watershed.