Program Overview

Since 1996 Family Water Alliance (FWA) has been the program manager in cooperation with several state and federal agencies, and private contributors, in spearheading research, development and installation of fish screens on small agricultural diversions.  This good-faith effort has been of key importance in obtaining a common sense application of the Endangered Species Act with regard to Sacramento-San Joaquin River and Delta diversion.  FWA has a proven track record regarding the instillation of small fish screens.  To date, FWA has installed 40 successful fish screens using the most innovative screen technology, cumulating in over 1,400 cubic-feet-per-second (cfs) of California water.   This fish screening effort by the FWA Sacramento Valley Fish Screen Program has resulted in over 84,000 acres of productive agricultural lands that is now fish friendly.

Fiscally Responsible
FWA has raised over $5.4 million in funds to fund fish screening efforts.  Based on the cfs screened, the cost per cfs is approximately $9,700 per cfs.  This cost includes, design, construction and installation, engineering, permits, monitoring, post-installation adjustments, education and outreach, and overall project management (fund accounting and reporting).

The overall success of the program is directly related to the fact that the lead partner, FWA, is project driven, not study driven. FWA has maximized the funds it has received thus far by prudent management and economies of scale.   For example, in a CALFED grant, we were able to double the number of diversion to be screened from 5 to 11 without changing the scope, timeline, or funding amount.

Landowner Interest
Landowner interest in participating in the fish screen program has grown immensely due to the effectiveness of FWA’s outreach program and proven track record.  For example, we have approximately 45 diversions currently on our waiting list to be screened. The development of trust is an important element in the program.  FWA’s primary objective has been to not only screen diversions, but also make sure the landowners maintain their ability to divert water.  We have worked hard to make sure landowners are kept whole during the process, and that concerted effort has reverberated throughout the community.  Thus, farmers are more willing to participate in a program that is not only locally based, but also assures farmers’ needs are met.

Of course, this monumental task could not have been accomplished without developing great working partners with numerous state and federal agencies, private contributors, and willing landowners.  The cooperating entities in this program have included: landowners, Family Water Alliance, CALFED, California Department of Fish and Game, National Marine Fisheries Service, NOAA Fisheries Community-Based Restoration Program, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Pacific Grassroots Salmon Initiative, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Services, U.S. Army Corp of Engineers, U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, California Resources Agency, Wildlife Conservation Board,  and the Department of Water Resources.

Project Elements
Throughout each screen project, landowners receive technical, educational, and financial assistance in all phases of screening.  This includes planning and design of screens, obtaining permits, construction, installation, monitoring, and funding. Each project consists of three distinct phases:

  • Pre-project planning, conceptual design, permits, contract work, design reviews by engineers, state and federal agencies, and overall organization,
  • Custom manufacturing, installation, and operations, and
  • Post-installation evaluation, monitoring, and further refinements.

Education and Outreach
This program incorporates an education and outreach component.  Family Water Alliance’s outreach and education program familiarizes stakeholders and others with the purpose and value of fish screens to the resource and to the landowner/farmer.  Outreach activities have included a web site, DVD, Fish screen brochure, and pamphlet, a quarterly newsletter, press releases and public demonstration days.

In the past, the Fish Forum, FWA’s quarterly newsletter on the fish screen program, was distributed throughout the Sacramento Valley and reached over 5,200 people in at least seven counties and beyond.  The Fish Forum had a broad reach and a diverse audience within the Sacramento Valley and along the Sacramento River Watershed.

In addition to the above, FWA incorporated into its outreach component special presentations to local groups, such as local schools and community groups.  An example of community involvement was the partnership between FWA and the local high school Future Business Leaders of America club. Together they produced an educational PowerPoint presentation on vertical fish screens.

These mediums recap the successful installation of screens at various locations and expose potential participants to the various screen technology.


The fish screen systems are monitored during the year following installation.  Monitoring included diver observations and videotaping of the fish screen operation, interviews with the diversion operator, documentation of any needed repairs or adjustments, and an evaluation of the hydraulic characteristics of the fish screen. Monitoring was intended to identify any problems with the operations and function of the screens.  Adjustments and/or repairs were made based on monitoring data and real world experience in the river or tributaries. Monitoring was completed by an independent 4-man OSHA certified dive team, as well as by the screen manufacturer.  The monitoring program included:

In the past, Family Water Alliance coordinated with landowners and Big Valley Divers (Advanced Diving Services) to schedule monthly monitoring dives during the irrigation season, straw decomposition, and during waterfowl seasons. Over the winter, few dives were conducted as many farmers had terminated pumping for the year.  Monitoring dives included the following scope of work:

  • Underwater monitoring of the mechanical operation of various types of fish screens currently in operation in the Sacramento River and tributaries.
  • Assess the presence or absence of fish.
  • Maintenance checks and fill out corresponding report forms in conjunction with Family Water Alliance.
  • Removal of trash such as logs, tree branches, or vegetative material, as necessary.
  • Assist in the installation of screen modifications on selected screens, as required.
  • Video taping, as directed.
  • Report findings, as directed.
  • Compile data from dive into monitoring report forms.
  • Assist and make recommendations to increase the effectiveness of the project.

Currently, each project is monitored by the screen contractor for one-year upon installation to assure the screen system works as designed and does not alter the landowners ability to continue their rights to divert water.

Back to Top

Successful Outcome

The monitoring program not only contributed to advances in screen technology, but also limited the exposure of risk to participating landowners of pump failure.  The monitoring component exemplifies that adaptive management can and does work.  The monitoring program identified numerous issues that were addressed under the system adjustment or refinement part of the overall program.  These improvements included:

  • The need for telemetry systems to assist the landowner in identifying potential system failures before they happen, thus saving thousands of dollars in pump and screen replacements, and water delivery interruptions.  Installed telemetry systems in systems control panel as requested by landowners.
  • Recorded typical algae and vegetative growth, as well as river microorganisms that clog screen systems, which resulted in the development of new technology to be incorporated into the retractable screen systems to specifically address these issues (i.e. internal brush system.  This internal brush system was incorporated into the ISI systems).
  • Determined that in some instances, vandal proof mechanisms must be incorporated into screen designs on site to protect the systems from theft or damage (i.e. wire cages that house the screen when docked out of the river, winch boxes to protect the winches from theft, and provide permanent housing. All ISI Retractable screen systems were retrofitted with permanent winch housings or steel boxes).
  • Developed O&M manuals that not only addressed typical operations of screen systems, but also addressed system-timing settings to meet the needs of seasonal river conditions, and the need to retract the screen from the river when not pumping, or to continue the cleaning cycle even if the pump is not on.
  • Improved the screen systems in numerous ways.

The monitoring component exemplifies that adaptive management can and does work.

Murray, Burns, & Kielen (MBK) have been the engineers throughout this program.  Their responsibility has been to assure that the fish screens not only meet the criteria set forth by the participating resource agencies, but also assure that each project is structurally correct, and the support platforms sustain the weight of the screen, manifold and track.  MBK has reviewed and approved the design drawings submitted by fish screen contractors and inspected and approved final installations.

Special Recognition

The FWA fish screen program has received recognition and support for the fish screening effort from over 28 landowners, organizations, and state and federal agencies.

FWA received special recognition from National Marine Fisheries Service.  Miles M. Croom, National Marine Fisheries Service, National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, stated in a letter dated, May 22, 2003 that:

The FWA has proven to be highly successful in coordinating landowners, funding sources, permitting agencies, screen manufacturers and design engineers.

The FWA is a resilient, reliable and resourceful partner in providing measures that protect fish while respecting private property rights and the interest of landowners. This partnership meets the needs of all of us who care about restoring populations of salmon and steelhead. Much of the habitat that these fish require is found on privately owned property. It is only through efforts such as those undertaken by FWA that salmon and steel head will eventually recover to the point where they can be taken off the list of threatened or endangered species.

NOAA Fisheries believes the FWA is a well-run organization that plays a crucial role in environmental protection and community service. Dollar for dollar, FWA has perhaps been the most cost-effective recipient of CALFED funds to date.

On May 25, 2004 Family Water Alliance was awarded a prestigious environmental award.  Steve Edmonston, Northern California Supervisor for the Habitat Conservation Division, NOAA Fisheries Southwest Region, presented the 2004 Environmental Stewardship Award to FWA.  The award acknowledged and gave recognition to FWA’s proactive, volunteer fish screening efforts, and other good acts of environmental stewardship.  The award was presented to FWA as being the most deserving organization in regards to environmental efforts in 2004.  The award was given in recognition of FWA’s leadership with government agencies and agriculture to make the Sacramento River Small Diversion Fish Screen Program a great success.