California’s Primary Watershed

The Sierra Nevada Region plays a critical role in California’s water supply and hydrological system. More than 60 percent of California’s developed water supply originates in the Sierra Nevada serving end users throughout the State.

Snowpack in the Sierra region provides a natural form of water storage, and Sierra forests and meadows play a role in ensuring water quality and reliability.

Further, 75 percent of the fresh water that flows into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta (Delta) comes from the Sierra. The Delta is the hub of the State of California’s water system, providing water to more than 25 million Californians and three million acres of agricultural land.

Together, these two regions act as California’s natural water infrastructure, and are critical pieces of a complex system that provides clean, reliable water for the state.

Do you live in the Los Angeles Basin, the City of Los Angeles, San Francisco, or the East Bay?  Do you know where your water comes from?  Please join us for a dynamic look at where your water comes from, the threats it faces, and how the Sierra Nevada Conservancy and its partners are working to protect California’s water for the long term.

The Sierra Nevada Region serves as California's primary watershed providing more than 60 percent of California's developed water supply, which nourishes communities, agriculture, and industry.

The Sierra-Delta Connection

In 2014 the Sierra Nevada Conservancy (SNC) and the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta Conservancy (Delta Conservancy) Governing Boards held a joint meeting in Sacramento to discuss shared issues impacting both regions. Presentations were given by experts on the impacts of climate change on the Sierra and the Delta, State policies linking the two regions, and how ecosystem services tie the Sierra and the Delta together.

The Boards, recognizing the shared challenges facing water supply and reliability in their two regions, adopted a joint resolution recognizing the important connection between the Sierra and the Delta and agreeing to work collaboratively to address policies that impact both regions.

Sierra Nevada forests and watersheds provide services essential to meeting Delta co-equal goals of ecosystem health and water reliability. These services are becoming increasingly important as a means to address issues such as climate change, resulting shifting hydrologic patterns, and the State’s mandate for decreasing greenhouse gas emissions. In addition to the water flowing into the Delta, Sierra forests also provide:

  • Biodiversity
  • Wildlife Habitat
  • Recreation
  • Scenic Landscapes
  • Alternative Forms of Power
  • Food and Fiber
  • Carbon sequestration and storage opportunities

Today, many Sierra forests are overgrown and at  increased  risk for catastrophic wildfires that can negatively impact California’s water quality and supply and many other services provided by the Region. Improving forest and watershed health, restoring meadows in the upper watersheds and reducing risk of large, damaging fires can help to:

  • Ensure water supply and improved water quality for downstream users in both rural and urban communities;
  • Protect wildlife habitat and support biodiversity;
  • Store carbon and combat climate change;
  • Sustain local economies by creating jobs, producing alternative energy , increasing recreation and producing food and fiber;
  • Improve fire safety;
  • Reduce risk of air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions;  and,
  • Enhance visual aesthetics.

Because the benefits of Sierra forest and watershed restoration accrue primarily outside of the Sierra Nevada Region, long-term enduring solutions cannot overlook the Sierra-Delta connection or ignore the benefits restoration and maintenance have in the Delta and the rest of the state.

The SNC is committed to supporting projects that improve forest health, reduce risk of catastrophic fire, restore watershed and meadow function, and conserve land to protect key public benefits, such as water quality and quantity. We achieve our goals through efforts including awarding millions of dollars in Proposition 84 grants, coordinating the Sierra Nevada Forest and Community Initiative and completing actions called out for us in the Bioenergy Action Plan.

The SNC also worked with the U.S. Forest Service, and The Nature Conservancy to release a new study that shows that investing in proactive forest management can save the public millions of dollars. The Mokelumne Watershed Avoided Cost Analysis Project was developed in consultation with a broad range of local and regional stakeholders and compared the cost of proactive forest investments with the costs associated with the large, damaging wildfires that have devastated California over the last decade.

When people in California turn on their tap, eat local produce, go camping in the woods or visit one of the area’s many historic parks or cultural sites, they are enjoying the bounty that comes from a high-quality, reliable water supply. Investing in activities in California’s primary watershed will ensure that these public goods last long into the future.

Additional Resources

California’s Water: Protecting Headwaters

According to this publication from the Public Policy Institute of California Water Policy Center, Protecting Headwaters, mountainous regions provide most of the state’s water supply. But major problems loom— from a growing risk of wildfires to a shrinking snowpack. This brief outlines ways California and the federal government—the largest landowner in headwater areas—could address critical problems in these areas.

What is California’s Delta?

Many Californians have never heard of the Delta or why it’s important to the state’s economy and wildlife. In three minutes, this KQED video will explain how the Delta is a key part of California’s water supply and why it’s been the focus of a decades-long water battle.

Delta Plan

The Delta Protection Act of 2009 formed the Delta Stewardship Council and tasked them with developing and implementing a comprehensive management plan for the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. The primary goal of the Delta Plan is to guide state and local agencies to achieve the coequal goals of providing a more reliable water supply for California and protecting, restoring, and enhancing the Delta ecosystem.

California Water Plan Update for 2018

The California Water Plan provides a planning framework for elected officials, agencies, Tribes, water and resource managers, businesses, academia, stakeholders, and the public to develop findings and recommendations and make informed decisions for California’s water future.

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan

The Bay Delta Conservation Plan (BDCP) is a long term conservation strategy that sets for actions needed for a healthy Delta. It is intended to be implemented over the next 50 years and it will provide the basis for the issuance of endangered species permits for the operation of the state and federal water permits. The BDCP is being prepared by local water agencies, environmental and conservation groups, and state and federal agencies.

A sustainable water supply is not only requisite for health, it is critical for a thriving economy, for growing food, for recreation and for maintaining the productive ecosystems on which human activity depends.