Our Story:
40+ Years of Friends Saving Rivers


1973: Jerry Meral, Rob Caughlan, David Oke, and David Kay came together as Friends of the River to protect the Stanislaus River from the New Melones Dam and Reservoir. Friends of the River (FOR) became an organization that gathered signatures to place an initiative on the statewide ballot to protect the Stanislaus as a state Wild & Scenic River.

1974: The Stanislaus Wild & Scenic River initiative is narrowly defeated in a statewide election. Friends of the River continues its campaign to stop the filling of New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus, but also begins a new campaign to preserve the American River Canyon from Auburn Dam. Construction of the Auburn Dam is halted amid concerns of earthquake safety.

1975: Under the direction of Mark Dubois and Jennifer Jennings, FOR becomes a membership-based organization. Donors rejoice.

1979: The North Fork American River is added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system. It’s the first California river to receive protection since the act was passed in 1968 and the second California river to be added to the federal system. For seven days, Friends of the River Executive Director Mark Dubois chains himself to a rock to block the filling of the New Melones Reservoir.


1981: The National Wild & Scenic Rivers System expands to include the Smith, Klamath, Scott, Salmon, Trinity, Eel, Van Duzen, and Lower American rivers. A major mining project is defeated on Middle Fork Feather River, California’s first federally protected river.

1982: Friends of the River plays a key role in passing state legislation prohibiting dam building on the South Fork American River. A statewide initiative that was circulated by Friends of the River activists to improve water management and prevent the filling of the New Melones Reservoir on the Stanislaus River is defeated at the polls. A statewide referendum defeats the proposal to build the Peripheral Canal, which would allow more northern California water to be exported south of the Delta.

1983: The New Melones reservoir drowns the Stanislaus River.

1984: The Tuolumne River is added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system after Friends of the River generates more than 5,000 letters urging Senator Pete Wilson to protect the river.

1986: Friends of the River helps pass federal legislation that requires more environmental protection when the federal government licenses dam projects. A near flood in Sacramento renews calls to build the Auburn dam on the American River.

1987: Friends of the River’s Three Rivers Campaign results in adding segments of the Merced, Kings, and Kern rivers to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system.

1989: The Smith River National Recreation Area is established. Friends of the River successfully lobbies to add the East Carson and West Walker rivers to the California Wild & Scenic Rivers system, the first rivers to be added to the state system since it was established in 1972. New dams are prohibited on the McCloud River.


1992: In response to Friends of the River’s intense lobbying campaign in Washington, DC, a bill re-authorizing construction of the Auburn Dam on the American River is defeated in Congress on a 2 to 1 vote. The lower Merced River, Big Sur River, Sisquoc River, and Sespe Creek are added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. The Central Valley Project Improvement Act is passed to provide water for fish, wildlife, and recreation from federal dam projects in California. Friends of the River also helps pass legislation to provide protection for the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

1993: Proposed hydroelectric projects on the North Fork Stanislaus and South Yuba rivers are withdrawn due to public opposition and poor economics.

1994: The upper Klamath River in Oregon is added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers system. Friends of the River generates public comments supporting changes in the operation of the Glen Canyon Dam to help restore the Colorado River in the Grand Canyon.

1995: Friends of the River successfully lobbies for state legislation prohibiting new dam projects on Deer and Mill creeks, the best remaining spring run Chinook salmon streams in the Sacramento River watershed.

1996: An Auburn dam bill in Congress is defeated again. Proposed dam projects on the Clavey and North Fork Mokelumne Rivers are rejected by the federal government. Friends of the River establishes an outdoor adventure program for disadvantaged teenagers (called River Quest) and initiates a new program to improve river flows for fish, wildlife, and recreation through the federal relicensing of hydroelectric projects.

1997: Friends of the River intervenes in the federal relicensing for hydroelectric projects on the North Fork Kings, North Fork Feather, Santa Ana, and San Joaquin rivers.

1999: After contentious debate, Friends of the River and its allies convince the California Legislature and Governor Gray Davis to add the South Yuba River to the California Wild & Scenic Rivers system.


2000: Friends of the River signs settlements with PG&E and other parties that improve flows for fish, wildlife, and recreation in the Mokelumne and North Fork Feather Rivers as part of the federal relicensing of PG&E’s hydroelectric projects. Friends of the River becomes involved in the relicensing of PacifiCorp’s four hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River (three of which are located in California). The McCormick-Saeltzer Dam on Clear Creek is removed to improve salmon and steelhead migration.

2001: Friends of the River’s continued opposition to the Auburn dam prevents introduction of an Auburn dam funding bill in Congress. Friends of the River completes the first statewide inventory of potential Wild & Scenic Rivers, identifying for potential protection nearly 4,000 miles of rivers and streams throughout California.

2002: Friends of the River negotiates an agreement that improves flows for fish, wildlife, and recreation in the North Fork Kern River as part of the federal license for a Southern California Edison hydroelectric project. Senator Barbara Boxer introduces the California Wild Heritage Act, which includes 22 proposed Wild & Scenic Rivers totaling more than 500 miles. This bill sets the federal agenda for river protection in California for the next 10 years.

2003: Friends of the River successfully campaigns to add the Albion and Gualala Rivers to the California Wild & Scenic Rivers system, ending a plan to divert fresh water from the rivers for export to southern California. Three dams on Panther and Beaver Creeks are removed as part of the Mokelumne hydro settlement. Friends of the River proposes the removal of PacifiCorp’s hydroelectric dams on the Klamath River to restore the river’s declining salmon population.

2004: Friends of the River helps pass state legislation that requires urban areas in California to install and use water meters a requirement that will reduce urban water use by more than 20 percent in non-metered cities. Friends of the River negotiates a settlement with PG&E to improve flows for fish, wildlife, and recreation in the Stanislaus River as part of the federal relicensing of PG&E’s hydroelectric projects. Friends of the River and the Klamath River Indian Tribes visit Scotland to lobby PacifiCorp’s parent company to remove hydro dams and restore the Klamath River.

2005: Friends of the River and its allies successfully encourage the passage of state legislation adding Cache Creek to the California Wild & Scenic Rivers system. The 2005 California Water Plan Update is published, proposing a scenario for California that would reduce water use and increase conservation while continuing to meet the needs of our growing population without building new dams!

2006: The Black Butte River is added to the National Wild & Scenic Rivers System. Grassroots pressure led by Friends of the River convinces the Sacramento Municipal Utility District to sign an agreement in principle for the relicensing of its Upper American River Project, improving flows in the South Fork American River and its tributaries. Friends of the River defeats state legislation to fund new dams in California.

2007: Friends of the River negotiates an agreement with Southern California Edison to improve flows for fish, wildlife, and recreation in the San Joaquin River and its tributaries as part of the federal relicensing of SCE’s hydroelectric projects. The North Fork American River is restored at the old Auburn dam site. Friends of the River and the Klamath River Indian Tribes visit Omaha, Nebraska, to lobby PacifiCorp’s new parent company to restore the Klamath River.

2008: Governor Schwarzenegger and Senator Feinstein proposed a $5 billion water bond, including 3 new dams, that was unsuccessful in being placed on the November ’08 ballot.  The Bureau of Reclamation’s water rights at the Auburn Dam were revoked by the State Water Board thanks to 20+ years of work by FOR and its Conservation Director Ron Stork.   Our Wild and Scenic staff helped put together a nationwide wilderness bill which will protect another 105 miles of rivers in California (passed early in 2009).  And PacifiCorps, the states of CA and Oregon, and the Dept. of the Interior signed an Agreement in Principal to remove the dams on the Klamath which FOR is working hard to improve.

2009: National legislation protecting 105 miles of rivers, mostly in Southern California, signed into law by President Obama.  Legislation to protect 94 miles of rivers in Monterey County introduced by Rep. Sam Farr.  FOR was successful in litigation to restore flows to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam.  FOR’s work with Congress helped authorize and fund a new spillway on the Folsom Dam, improving flood control and decreasing the threat of Auburn Dam.  A lawsuit and several other actions by FOR improved the habitat for salmon in the Central Valley.  Gov. Schwarzenegger signed a bill strongly supported by FOR suspending suction dredging on all California rivers.


2010:  The FOR-led No on the Water Bond campaign succeeded when the effort to place the bond on the ballot was dropped.  FOR rejected the Klamath River dam settlement agreement due to concerns about implementation and durability.  Sen. Feinstein introduced a bill that would add another 75 miles of Wild & Scenic Rivers in the Mojave and the San Bernardino Mountains.  We continued our work on FERC relicensing on 16 dams and water projects throughout the state, fighting to secure the best possible terms for the rivers from dam operators.  FOR sued the Army Corps of Engineers over its War on Nature, the vegetation-clearing mandate on levees.  We continued our work to actively oppose the revival of the Peripheral Canal and the effort to raise old dams and build new ones.

2011: FOR’s legislative efforts resulted in new bills to study Wild & Scenic Rivers in the San Gabriel Mountains, protect as wilderness the upper watershed of the Santa Margarita River in San Diego County and establish the Sacramento River NRA in Tehama County. FOR opposed inadequate suction dredge mining regulations proposed by the California Department of Fish and Game and won a legislative moratorium on suction dredge mining through 2016. FOR provided policy expertise in the development of the state’s proposed Central Valley Flood Management Plan that was released late in 2011 for public review. FOR won litigation challenging the East Bay Municipal Utility District’s (EBMUD) desire to expand Pardee Dam on the Mokelumne River and in response EBMUD dropped the proposed dam raise.

2012:  We continued our all-out fight to oppose the Merced Irrigation District (MID) effort to expand New Exchequer Dam on the Merced River, which would drown a section of the river protected under the National Wild & Scenic River Act. FOR will testified in Washington, D.C. in the spring and summer to fight MID’s unprecedented attack on the nation’s environmental laws as well as other attempts to undermine local and state authority over water rights that could plunge California into a wholly new and “man-made” water crisis – at the end of 2012 MID’s bill died in the US Senate.. FOR continued to make progress in our suit challenging the renewal of Westlands Water District contracts which require additional diversion of water from the beleaguered Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta. FOR continued to defended rulings protecting endangered salmon and steelhead in the Delta and in response to our efforts, a federal court directed the National Marine Fisheries Service to update its biological opinion to protect threatened spring Chinook salmon and green sturgeon on the Yuba River. FOR also continued litigation challenging the State Water Board’s approval of a flow regime from Pyramid Dam into Piru Creek that adversely affects several endangered species, including southern steelhead, arroyo toad and California red-legged frog. FOR filled suit against the US Army Corps of Engineers new national policy requiring the removal of all woody vegetation on and alongside river levees – these trees and shrubs provide most of what little river side habitat remains in California and are critical to ensuring cooler water temperatures for fish and stability for river banks during high flow conditions.

  • Built and led a coalition of 50 groups that stalled both legislation to drown the Wild & Scenic Merced River and efforts to permanently weaken the National Wild & Scenic River Act.
  • Introduced federal legislation to protect 89 miles of rivers in Southern California including Piru, Mono, Sespe, and Indian Creeks.
  • Blocked an attempt to rollback restoration of the San Joaquin River, which now reaches the sea after decades of exploitation. Salmon spawned in the reach above the restored section for the first time in fifty years.
  • Secured a mandate from the courts requiring the National Marine Fisheries Service to develop a scientific report requiring the Army Corps of Engineers to implement fish passage past two Yuba River Dams.
  • Filed suit to stop the roll-out of poorly crafted in-river mining regulations and succeeded in extending the moratorium on suction dredging until effective protections for water quality and habitat are in place.
  • Convinced East Bay Municipal Utility District to remove a proposed New Pardee Dam on the Mokelumne River from their water supply plan.
  • Joined with dozens of organizations to stop the state from spending tens-of-billions of dollars to divert water from northern California rivers underneath or around the Delta to desert irrigators and urban sprawl.

2013: Friends of the River:

  • Secured commitments from federal legislators to introduce Wild & Scenic bills to protect 380 miles of California rivers including rivers: on the north coast,  the central coast, the high desert and coastal portions of southern California.
  • Geared up for Forest Plan Revisions  for the Inyo, Sequoia, and Sierra National Forests, urging the Forest Service to recommend hundreds of miles of potential Wild & Scenic Rivers in the eastern and southern Sierra Nevada including: Hot Creek, the lower Kern River and the Kings River.
  • Mobilized 738 comment letters opposing the proposed Shasta Dam raise that would flood portions of the McCloud and upper Sacramento Rivers eligible for Wild & Scenic protection.
    Made national headlines in our battle to save the Wild & Scenic Merced River form Merced Irrigation District’s efforts to drown this gem of the Sierra’s.
  • Continued our fight to oppose the building of Sites Dam in the coast range and Temperance Flats dam on the San Joaquin River.
  • Submitted comments on the State Water Resources Control Board’s Water Quality Control Plan Update to tell the Board that recovering salmon populations need adequate flows from the Merced, Tuolumne, and Stanislaus Rivers.
  • Testified in person at House Natural Resources Committee hearing to de-designate part of the Wild & Scenic Merced River and mobilized 1,057 comments letters in opposition.
  • Defeated yet another attempt to authorize the Auburn dam through the Water Resources Development Act.
  • Sued to stop the disastrous Delta Plan which would authorize the 25 billion dollar peripheral tunnels.
  • Filed comments to oppose the raising of Shasta Dam Raise Threatens Sacramento River Ecosystems new information has been revealed about how the dam raise will adversely affect the Sacramento River downstream of the dam in addition to drowning sacred Native American sites on the McCloud River .
  • Continued the fight to save the San Joaquin River Restoration program.

2014 Accomplishments & Activities

  • Sent the Twin Tunnels Project Back to the Drawing Board
    Comments from FOR, our allies, and thousands of activists helped convince state and federal agencies that this plan to divert more water from the San Francisco Bay-Delta through two giant tunnels has major problems.  Planners are now revising the plan for re-release sometime in 2015 which will create another valuable opportunity for public comment.
  • Saving the San Joaquin River from Temperance Flat Dam
    Plans for this 665-foot dam on the San Joaquin River are moving fast.  FOR generated turnout to two public meetings, filed expert comments, and produced an analysis debunking the economic benefits of the project.  We’re now generating grassroots comments and working with FOR member Anita Lodge whose 5th generation home in the San Joaquin River Gorge would be flooded.
  • Launched a Grassroots Organizing Initiative
    FOR deployed three organizers this year to build our grassroots base of support. They have already engaged more than 5,000 people by organizing along the South Fork American and holding the first ever Salmon Run for Rivers—a public run from San Francisco to Sacramento to build support for rivers and the critters that need them.
  • Mokelumne River Wild & Scenic Campaign
    FOR launched an effort with the Foothill Conservancy to protect 37 miles of the Mokelumne River as a State Wild & Scenic River. State Senator Loni Hancock’s bill made it through the Senate but got hung up in the Assembly. We are now working with our partners to build on this incredible progress next year.
  • Connected 1,000 People to the River
    Our robust volunteer-led rafting program got 1,000 people on the river, including 220 youth who participated in educational white water outings.
  • Protected Riparian Habitat
    FOR stopped the U.S. Army Corps of Engineer’s controversial program to remove trees from levees in California. This riparian vegetation provides scenic beauty and critical habitat for fish and wildlife. Our litigation with the Center for Biological Diversity and Defenders of Wildlife held off the levee clear-cutting program while we successfully lobbied Congress to require the Corps to review and reconsider the policy.
  • New Canoe Training Program
    FOR is launching a new canoe program thanks to the hard work of FOR member Paul Barth who secured more than 20 canoes along with the associated equipment!  This means FOR will be able to provide a more diverse array of opportunities to get people on rivers to educate and engage them in our work.
  • San Gabriel Mountains National Monument
Working in coalition with a diverse array of partners, FOR convinced President Obama to issue a proclamation to establish a 350,000-acre San Gabriel Mountains National Monument in Southern California that protects several rivers and streams.