Coho salmon in California are on the brink of extinction. If current trends continue, steelhead trout are close behind. Coho salmon and steelhead trout are largely dependent on the small tributaries of the Coast Ranges for spawning and the first year of their lives.

Coho and steelhead are particularly vulnerable to impacts from human water demands. Coho and some steelhead remain in their home stream for a year—streams that are already low during the summer dry season and also serve human needs. Without sufficient cold, clean water, there is no in-stream habitat for juvenile coho and steelhead. We believe that by working with water users in coastal streams to change how water is managed, we can recover coho salmon and steelhead populations.

Who We Are

The Nature Conservancy, Trout Unlimited and California Trout have joined together to form the California Salmon and Steelhead Coalition (Coalition). The organizations are among the most active conservation organizations working state-wide to recover salmon and trout in California. Each Coalition partner brings a set of skills that, when integrated, allow us to achieve greater conservation outcomes than if we were working alone.

The Coalition’s goal is to improve streamflow for coho salmon and steelhead, while at the same time improving water supply reliability for farmers and rural communities.

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How We Work

The California Salmon and Steelhead Coalition works together to address state water policy, streamflow science, and resource management challenges to give salmon the best chance for survival across their freshwater lifecycle. We do this by increasing water supply reliability for people; working with landowners in high priority watersheds to develop projects that leave more water instream; using what we learn to increase incentives for water users and speed necessary permits; and providing water management tools for others to improve conditions in salmon and steelhead watersheds throughout the state.

By working in this coordinated fashion, we are demonstrating that water management changes can show results, and that the benefits are immediate, direct and long-term.

Will this work bring coho salmon back from the brink of extinction? Not by itself. But if we can solve the issues around streamflow, other recovery actions will be sufficient to recover the species within our lifetime.

On-the-Ground Projects

On-the-ground projects have an immediate benefit for individual streams, demonstrate that change is possible, and allow us to test new approaches to permitting and policy that are scalable to other areas. The Coalition works with water users and other partners in the Navarro, Russian, Mattole, Eel and Shasta rivers; and San Gregorio and Pescadero creeks (view Coalition project map) to:

  • Identify and implement water conservation and efficiency projects to reduce demand
  • Change the rates and timing of diversion on irrigated agricultural land to store more water in the wet season and divert less in the dry season
  • Build the technical capacity for landowners to coordinate diversions in real-time to have less impact on streamflow
  • Purchase and lease water rights for instream flow
  • Build water storage (tanks or agricultural ponds) for individual landowners
  • Streamline the permitting process
  • Reduce costs for dedicating a portion of a water right to instream flows for fish


To protect streamflows year-around, we need methods for managing water diversions that are effective at protecting the natural pattern and timing of streamflows, that work for landowners and other water users, and that can be applied through existing policies at a watershed scale. Traditional approaches that identify “minimum flows” for fish are outdated and ineffective. In their place, innovative and science-based approaches are needed. The Coalition seeks to:

  • Develop and refine a standardized methodology for streamflow and water supply/demand studies
  • Describe watershed-wide diversion management practices that balance environmental flow needs with human water demand
  • Prioritize specific actions and watersheds that lead to streamflow improvements in places where salmon and steelhead are being impaired by low flows
  • Build these new water management approaches into effective policies that apply to California’s coastal, salmon-bearing watersheds
  • Integrate water management and flow studies into the California Department of Fish and Wildlife's Coastal Monitoring Program to evaluate effectiveness of water management practices


The Coalition aims to create a policy and permitting landscape where beneficial water management projects can happen at a large scale. Some of the policy tools include:

  • Incentives-based local markets for water transactions
  • Forbearance agreements and other water rights templates to improve summer streamflow
  • “Safe harbor agreements” to protect landowners from risk

By focusing our efforts on a common goal, the California Salmon and Steelhead Coalition is improving conditions for coastal communities and salmon and steelhead.

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