Celebrate river-protection group

Sacramento River Preservation Trust celebrates 25 years of protection efforts

Twenty-five years ago, when John Merz founded the Sacramento River Preservation Trust, it had no money, no office and no members—just Merz’s conviction that the river needed protection and that such an organization could provide it.

At the time, the river was threatened mostly by proposals to riprap it—line the banks with rocks or concrete blocks—presumably to prevent flooding onto neighboring farm lands. Merz knew, however, that while riprapping might protect one stretch of the river, it speeded up water flow, causing bank erosion downstream, and changed the ecological makeup of the river.

The real problem, Merz knew, was that too much of the river’s riparian forest had been cut down to make room for farmland, so the river had no room to meander, as it will do sometimes, riprap be damned. And the destruction of riparian forest also had resulted in a loss of habitat for the many creatures that live in it.

Merz was a veteran environmentalist, having managed the Butte Environmental Council, so he knew how to build an organization. The trust gradually added members, but it’s never gotten large, and today has only two paid staffers: Merz, who is president, and Liz Gardner, its office manager.

But it has accomplished amazing things in a quarter-century. Because of its influence, agencies now look on the river as an ecosystem worthy of protection and have set up organizations—the Sacramento River Conservation Area Forum being the best example—that reflect the trust’s influence.

Members of the trust will be gathering tonight (Earth Day, April 22) at the Sierra Nevada Big Room to celebrate their 25 years of success. We salute them, and thank them—and especially John Merz—for working so hard and selflessly on behalf of the great river that runs through our valley