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Sacramento River
California's Sacramento River
Country United States
State California
 - left Pit River, Feather River, American River
Cities Redding, Sacramento
Source South Fork Sacramento River
 - elevation 5,912 ft (1,802 m) [1]
 - coordinates 41°12′22″N 122°30′2″W / 41.20611°N 122.50056°W / 41.20611; -122.50056 [2]
Secondary source Middle Fork Sacramento River
 - elevation 6,359 ft (1,938 m)
 - coordinates 41°15′22″N 122°29′48″W / 41.25611°N 122.49667°W / 41.25611; -122.49667
Source confluence
 - location Near Lake Siskiyou, Siskiyou County, California
 - elevation 3,858 ft (1,176 m) [1]
 - coordinates 41°16′24″N 122°24′5″W / 41.27333°N 122.40139°W / 41.27333; -122.40139 [3]
Mouth Suisun Bay
 - location Sacramento County, California, Solano County, California, California
 - elevation ft (3 m) [1]
 - coordinates 38°3′48″N 121°51′10″W / 38.06333°N 121.85278°W / 38.06333; -121.85278 [3]
Length 382 mi (615 km) [3] the given length is in error, not being measured from 1:24,000 quads despite USGS's claim
Basin 27,000 sq mi (69,930 km2) [4]
 - average 30,215 cu ft/s (856 m3/s) [4]
Map of the Sacramento River watershed.
Sacramento River watershed showing tributaries & cities

The Sacramento River is the longest river entirely within the state of California. Starting at the confluence of the South Fork and Middle Fork of the Sacramento River, near Mount Shasta in the Cascade Range mountains, the Sacramento flows south for 447 miles (719 km) [5] , through the northern Central Valley of California, between the Pacific Coast Range and the Sierra Nevada.

Not far downstream from its confluence with the American River, the Sacramento River joins the San Joaquin River in the Sacramento River Delta, which empties into Suisun Bay, the northern arm of San Francisco Bay. It is the second largest river by average volume of water emptying into the Pacific Ocean in the Contiguous United States, behind only the Columbia River.

The chief tributaries of the Sacramento River are the Pit River, Feather River, McCloud River, and the American River. The Pit River is the longest of these, but the Feather and American rivers carry larger volumes of water. The Pit River's watershed formerly included Goose Lake, and it still does during rare periods of high water.[6] Lesser tributaries include Dye Creek.



Headwater of the Sacramento River in Mount Shasta City Park

According to Mt. Shasta Recreation & Parks District, the designated headwaters of the Sacramento River are at about 3600 feet (1100 m) elevation in the Shasta National Forest, southwest of Mount Shasta (41°19′43″N 122°19′38″W / 41.32874°N 122.32711°W / 41.32874; -122.32711)[7]. The USGS cites the river's source as the confluence of the South Fork Sacramento River and Middle Fork Sacramento River.[3]

Big Springs feeds Big Springs Creek which flows south into Lake Siskiyou. However, feeding Lake Siskiyou from the west are the North, Middle, and South Forks of the Sacramento River which bring water from much higher elevations, including from Castle Lake (elevation 5,440 ft (1,660 m)[8] The South Fork originates at 5,912 feet (1,802 m) at Cedar Lake (41°12′28″N 122°29′46″W / 41.20791°N 122.49601°W / 41.20791; -122.49601), the Middle Fork originates at 6,359 feet (1,938 m) in several headwater streams near Chipmunk Lake (41°15′08″N 122°29′39″W / 41.25234°N 122.49415°W / 41.25234; -122.49415), and the North Fork originates from springs at about 7,900 feet (2,408 m) near 41°12′28″N 122°29′46″W / 41.20791°N 122.49601°W / 41.20791; -122.49601.

Sacramento River passes west of the City of Sacramento

These various headwaters flow into Lake Siskiyou near the city of Mt. Shasta. From there the river flows generally south, closely followed by Interstate 5. Just north of the city of Redding, the river is impounded by Shasta Dam, which creates a reservoir called Shasta Lake. The Pit River and McCloud River tributaries join the Sacramento in Shasta Lake. The Pit River is actually longer than the Sacramento River above Shasta Lake.

Below Shasta Dam, the Sacramento River continues to flow south, passing Redding and collecting many small streams. The river passes by Red Bluff and near Chico. It bends slightly west around Sutter Buttes, then collects the tributary waters of the Feather River just north of the City of Sacramento. In Sacramento, the American River joins the Sacramento River.

During the Memorial Day weekend, and again in mid summer each year Red Bluff Diversion Dam creates Lake Red Bluff. Lake Red Bluff supplies water to the Tehama-Colusa and Corning Canals providing water for 100,019 acres (404.76 km2), and $88,529,000 worth of crops. Lake Red Bluff also provides recreational opportunities in the form of sailing, jet skiing, water skiing, and drag boat racing. Tourism and recreation revenues are important part of the region’s economy. Lake Red Bluff is of great environmental importance since the Tehama-Colusa Canal supplied water for 20,000 acres (81 km2) of the Sacramento Valley (wildlife) Refuges.

Below Sacramento, the river enters the Sacramento River Delta, where it is joined by the San Joaquin River. The combined waters then exit into Suisun Bay, San Pablo Bay, and San Francisco Bay, before finally entering the Pacific Ocean at the Golden Gate.

Natural history

Every year in October, California's native King Salmon (Chinook) return to the river from the Pacific Ocean to migrate upstream to spawning grounds. This migration attracts thousands of sport fisherman from all over America. Yearly salmon runs can stretch all the way through December.

A spring at the Sacramento River headwater

Marine animals such as whales and sea lions are occasionally found far inland after navigating the river for food or refuge and then losing track of how to get back to the Pacific Ocean. In October 1985 a humpback whale affectionately named "Humphrey the humpbacked whale" by television media traveled 69 miles (111 km) up the Sacramento River before being rescued. Rescuers downstream broadcast sounds of humpback whales feeding to draw the whale back to the ocean.[9]

Delta the Whale in Sacramento River

On May 14, 2007, two humpback whales were spotted by media and onlookers traveling the deep waters near Rio Vista. The duo, generally believed to be mother and calf (Delta, the mother and Dawn, her calf[10]), continued to swim upstream to the deep water ship channel near West Sacramento, about 90 miles (140 km) inland. There was concern because the whales had been injured, perhaps by a boat's propeller or keel, leaving a gash in each whale's skin. The whales were carefully inspected by biologists and injected with antibiotics to help prevent infection.[11] After days of efforts to lure (or frighten) the whales in the direction of the ocean, the whales eventually made their way south into San Francisco Bay, where they lingered for several days.[12] By May 30, 2007, the cow and calf apparently slipped out unnoticed under the Golden Gate Bridge into the Pacific Ocean, likely under cover of night.[13][14]

Rio Vista, California hosts an annual Bass Festival each October to celebrate the return of bass to the river.


The Sacramento River helped form the track of a trade and travel route known as the Siskiyou Trail, which stretched from California's Central Valley to the Pacific Northwest. The Siskiyou Trail closely paralleled the Sacramento River and took advantage of the valleys and canyons carved by the river through the rugged terrain of Northern California. Based on the original footpaths of Native Americans, the Siskiyou Trail was expanded by Hudson's Bay Company trappers in the 1820s, and expanded further by California Gold Rush "Forty-Niners" in the 1850s. Today, Interstate 5 and the Union Pacific Railroad occupy the path of the ancient Siskiyou Trail.


1991 Dunsmuir metam sodium spill incident

In July 1991, a train derailed near Dunsmuir, California alongside the Sacramento River. A tank car split open, spilling about 19,500 gallons of the pesticide metam sodium into the river. The chemical formed a stinking, bubbling, green glob that moved 45 miles (72 km) down the river, killing everything in its path. Hundreds of thousands of fish were killed, including at least 100,000 rainbow trout. Next, the green glob entered Shasta Lake, California’s largest fresh-water reservoir. The tank car carried the metam sodium through California was of a type that the National Transportation Safety Board said had “a high incidence of failure” in accidents. Furthermore, the tank car was not labeled. The train’s crew didn’t know that they were hauling a dangerous chemical.

Economy and control

Man-made channels make the river navigable for 180 miles (290 km) upstream of San Francisco Bay; ocean-going ships travel as far inland as the City of Sacramento.

The Sacramento Area Flood Control Agency is a Joint Powers agency tasked with keeping the Sacramento River within its banks and levees.[15] California Governor Schwarzenegger declared a State of Emergency in February 2006 in an attempt to repair the levees, whose failure could impact the drinking water quality of two-thirds of California residents.

In April 2009, the Sacramento River Delta Region, which includes the San Joaquin River, was declared the nation's most endangered waterway by the environmental group American Rivers, due to water shortages caused by the Delta's environmental problems, declining fish populations, and aging levees, among other problems.[16][17]

See also


  1. ^ a b c Google Earth elevation for GNIS source coordinates. Retrieved on April 28, 2007.
  2. ^ "Middle Fork Sacramento River". Geographic Names Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  3. ^ a b c d "Sacramento River". Geographic Names Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  4. ^ a b USGS - NAWQA - Water Quality in the Sacramento River Basin - Introduction
  5. ^ CA EPA State Water Resource Control Board. Various other sources list the river length from 320 to 450 miles (720 km). Measured by the USGS utilizing the standard 1:24,000 scale quadrangle sources, the river is 375 miles (604 km) from its mouth in Suisun Bay at Broad Slough to the confluence with the Pit River in Lake Shasta. The distance from there to the confluence of the Middle and South Forks of the Sacramento is an additional 72 miles (116 km) for a total of 447 miles (719 km). (The slightly longer South Fork adds 11 miles (18 km) for a grand total of 458 miles (737 km).) When the 315-mile (507 km) Pit River is added to the 375-mile (604 km) Sacramento River length below their confluence, the Sacramento-Pit River system totals 690 miles (1,110 km), the third longest river enitirely within one state after the Kuskokwim River in Alaska and the Trinity River in Texas.
  6. ^ "Pit River Watershed Alliance". 
  7. ^ "Mt. Shasta Recreation & Parks District". 
  8. ^ "Castle Lake". Geographic Names Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. Retrieved 2009-08-14. 
  9. ^ Tokuda, Wendy; Richard Hall (June 1992). Humphrey the Lost Whale: a true story. ISBN 0893463469. 
  10. ^ See "Delta Dawn," the popular song recorded by Helen Reddy (1973), among other recording artists.
  11. ^ Article
  12. ^ Wildermuth, John; San Francisco Chronicle. Whales swimming back toward bay. Published May 20, 2007. Accessed March 1, 2009.
  13. ^ Sulek, Julia Prodis; San Jose Mercury News; "Whales vanish with morning fog;" published May 31, 2007. Accessed June 2, 2007
  14. ^ Glen Martin (May 31, 2007). "Whales' enriching diversion". San Francisco Chronicle: pp. B-1. 
  15. ^ Sacramento Flood History
  16. ^
  17. ^

External links


Up to date as of January 15, 2010

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Sacramento River


Sacramento River

  1. A river in northern California.

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