Flows and Operations

Nurturing water supplies for wildlife and people.

For the past two decades, the Water Forum has been studying and refining guidelines for a flow standard for the Lower American River that would both protect river health while improving the reliability of water supplies for people. The Water Forum’s research has demonstrated that proper flows and cold water are the foundation to fish survival. Temperature, in particular, is considered to be the greatest stressor to species survival.

Flow Management Standard (FMS)

The Water Forum’s Flow Management Standard (FMS), first published in 2006, uses the best available science to set targets for minimum river flows and cold water storage at Folsom Reservoir to help preserve water storage in Folsom Reservoir to guard against drought and improve water temperature in the Lower American River for salmon and steelhead.

After 20 years of study and refinement, the FMS has continued to evolve and improve with new modeling and technical efforts. Water Forum efforts to refine the FMS are linked with similar efforts to ensure that the methodology is included in regulatory processes such as the re-initiation of consultation on the Biological Opinion that guides operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project. The Water Forum’s technical team of staff and consultants are critical to communicating and interpreting the FMS with scientific rigor.

    Flow Management Standard 2022 Update: To support understanding and implementation of the Water Forum’s Flow Management Standard (FMS), our team is working to publish a consolidated version of the FMS methodology for reference by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and other state and federal implementing agencies.

    Drought Response

    During dry or critical water years, the Water Forum works closely collaborating with Water Forum members, state and federal fish agencies, and the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to anticipate conditions and support science-based decision making. During the most recent drought period, the Water Forum took several actions to ensure protection of regional water supplies and protection of the lower American River, these included:

    • Working with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which manages Folsom Reservoir, and other state and federal partners, to preserve as much water as possible in the reservoir to support the health of the river and water supply reliability.
    • Increasing river monitoring. The Water Forum regularly monitors fish conditions in the Lower American River as part of its ongoing science program.
    • Working with water providers to sustainably shift to using more groundwater and encourage water efficiency from customers.
    • Enhancing habitat for salmon and steelhead. The Water Forum undertakes yearly habitat enhancement projects. These include the 2022 Habitat Projects at Lower Sailor Bar and the Nimbus Basin. You can learn more about Habitat Projects on our Habitat Management page.

    On August 27, 2021, Water Forum members passed a resolution calling on the Sacramento Water Forum, its members and the public to reduce water use by 15 percent to preserve water supplies in Folsom Reservoir and the Lower American River. The resolution also called on members to optimize sustainable use of groundwater; monitor fishery conditions in the Lower American River; implement an aggressive public outreach campaign to increase water conservation; and continue coordination with the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation to meet its goals for reservoir storage.  

    Learn more:

    The Water Forum team and its members convene and engage in many important citizen working groups, forums and projects focused on the coequal objectives of water supply reliability and environmental health of the Lower American River. These include:

    • American River Group – US Bureau of Reclamation: The American River Group (ARG) is a multi-agency and stakeholder technical team that coordinates fishery and operational requirements for the lower American River (LAR). The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (Reclamation) is the lead coordinator of the ARG, bringing together those who have either a legislated or resources-specific interest in the operation of Folsom Dam and Reservoir, and the LAR. 
    • Reinitiation of Consultation of the Long-Term Operation of the Central Valley Project and State Water Project: In September 2021, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation signaled its intent to engage in the “reinitiation of consultation” on the 2019 Biological Opinions (BiOps). Reinitiation requires federal and state agencies to take a fresh look at the science and develop a new BiOp based on the best available data. The 2019 BiOps included the Water Forum’s Modified Flow Management Standard (FMS) and temperature management criteria. The Water Forum is engaging in this process to ensure the FMS standard continues to be productive and protective of the river.
    • Temperature Control Device Modeling with SAFCA/USACE
    • Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan and Voluntary Agreements: The State Water Board is currently updating the Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan (Bay-Delta Plan). The board’s vision is to improve the imperiled Delta ecosystem by setting minimum levels of water that must flow unimpaired through the rivers and tributaries that feed into the Delta. These include the Sacramento River and its tributary, the Lower American River.

      Over the past several years, Water Forum stakeholders have been actively working with State Water Board staff to include the Water Forum’s Flow Management Standard in the Bay-Delta Plan update as a way to meet the State Board’s goals for Delta flows while preserving local waters supplies and the health of the Lower American River.
    Publications and Data