Keeping Water in Streams

Colorado River Delta + Boat, photo by Pete McBride

Colorado River Delta and Boat, photo by Pete McBride

Many rivers and streams are “over-subscribed” – this means that 100% of the water in these streams and rivers are allocated for human use. This has tragic consequences for every species in the area. In the Santa Monica Mountains, some of our streams go underground for segments during dry weather but maintain flow above or below the dry portions – sometimes all that remains in drought years are small pools. These wet sections provide habitat for species such as fish, frogs, newts, birds, mammals, and reptiles.

Finding ways to keep water in stream in order to preserve the plants and animals that depend upon that water is crucial keeping California vibrant and beautiful.


Every day people drink, cook, bathe, water plants, and care for pets with imported water. Photographer and visual storyteller Pete McBride produced a powerful short film called I Am Red that demonstrates the plight of the Colorado River.


Raise the River
Raise the River is a coalition of non-profit organizations working to bring water back to the Colorado River Delta, which has been turned into desert by over-use. Their innovative approach is to buy back water rights to keep water instream in order to restore the diverse ecosystems and communities the river once supported.


Oregon 25% Law
In an era of drought and population growth, many creeks and rivers across the United States have been or will be completely utilized by human beings, leaving no water behind for wildlife. The State of Oregon is utilizing the Allocation of Conserved Water Program which leaves 25% of flow in stream; it allows water right holders to put water saved through conservation practices to use on new lands or in stream. This approach might be replicated in California.


Colorado In Stream Measurements
In California it is difficult to know how much water is in any given stream at any given time. Meanwhile, Colorado has taken an open book approach to the same subject. You can view the State’s surface water conditions online. This approach could be replicated in California.


Groundwater Management
Have you ever wondered how streams and rivers continue to flow in the heat of the summer or the absence of rain and snowfall? They are fed by groundwater stored in aquifers beneath the ground. If people over-subscribe our groundwater – this destroys streams, rivers, ponds and lakes above ground. Thoughtful ground-water use and long-term planning will allow us to sustain natural waterbodies. State Senator Fran Pavley has proposed several pieces of legislation to address aquifer depletion concerns in California.

Photo by Stream Team, RCDSMM

Photo by Resource Conservation District of the Santa Monica Mountains Stream Team

Seasonal streams, also called ephemeral streams, or arroyos in Spanish, are vital to maintaining our local hydrological systems because they capture groundwater, reduce erosion, and provide crucial seasonal habitat.

Don’t put grass clippings, horse manure, or trash in a “dry” streambed…it will pollute a great torrent of stormwater in the next rainstorm.