30th Anniversary Blog

By Eric Epstein & Christa Harader

2023 marks Sustainable Conservation’s 30th anniversary, and we’re so grateful for our donors, staff, board, partners, and collaborators who help us steward California’s most precious natural resources.

While our programs, projects, and partners change over time, the philosophy that underpins our work is constant. We catalyze collaborative and economically sound environmental change through innovative pilot projects, cross-sector collaborations, and informed policy.

Join us in celebrating past successes, current growth, and imagining what’s possible in the next 30 years.


Brake Pad Partnership

One of our earliest achievements, the Brake Pad Partnership was a 15-year effort to understand how copper brake pad debris threatens our aquatic ecosystems, and how to remedy it.

The coalition worked to pass Senate Bill 346 (2010) to phase out copper from brake pads to make urban waterways safer for aquatic species while saving cities billions of dollars in potential environmental cleanup costs.

As of 2023, more than 60% of brake pads on the market are copper-free, leading to an estimated 28% reduction of copper in urban runoff.

The report also indicates that the minimum acceptable concentration of copper in new manufactured brake pads will be reduced from 0.5% to almost zero by 2025.


Thanks to annual volunteer-led nursery surveys, partnerships with big-box stores like The Home Depot and Lowe’s, an innovative invasive plant list, and tireless nursery industry outreach, PlantRight helped 80% of California nurseries stop selling invasive plants.

Invasive plants outcompete native species, increase our wildfire risk, and harm our watershed and ecosystem health.

In 2019, we “graduated” PlantRight to our friends at Plant California Alliance, formed through the merger of the California Association of Nurseries and Garden Centers and the Nursery Growers Association.

Watch our new video to learn more about how Sustainable Conservation started and where we are today after thirty years of collaboration and statewide solutions!


Our earliest successes taught us what’s possible when we listen, learn, and work together, and inspired our focus on California’s most critical resource: water.

Now you can join our Watershed Moment campaign and learn how all our work advances water problem-solving in California. We’re bringing our programs together to connect floodplain restoration to groundwater replenishment, nitrate mitigation to soil health practices, salmon health to human health, and water quality to quantity to build an equitable, secure, and sustainable future for the whole state.

Partners in Restoration to Accelerating Restoration

From a single, 40-acre project to multi-agency statewide paths that activate watershed-level restoration, our work has grown exponentially in three decades. Hundreds of restorationists have used the expedited permits we’ve helped put in place over 2,500 times to restore miles of critical riparian habitat, revitalize our rivers, protect iconic species, and reconnect our surface and groundwater resources.

Sustainable Conservation’s restoration work was born on the Central Coast, in the Elkhorn Slough Watershed. When we learned that landowners had to go to seven different government agencies to get permits for voluntary restoration projects, we developed our first Partners in Restoration program in the Elkhorn Slough Watershed.

Partners in Restoration grew into 10 additional coastal watersheds and counties, and became our award-winning, statewide Accelerating Restoration program.

Groundwater Recharge to A Watershed Moment

In 2011, Sustainable Conservation joined farmer Don Cameron and researchers Philip and Sandra Bachand to launch a recharge pilot project. We flooded 1,000 acres of Cameron’s wine grapes, alfalfa, and open land with floodwater from the Kings River.

Fast forward to 2023, one of California’s wettest years on record. Momentary drought relief faded as rivers overflowed and storm runoff ravaged our homes, crops, and ecosystems. Still, our partners recharged three times more groundwater this year than ever before.

Thanks in part to Sustainable Conservation’s work siting, testing, scaling, and promoting recharge with willing partners, the California Department of Water Resources (DWR) reported that Californians recharged enough water for 11 million homes this year alone.

With another wet year on the way, we know we can and must do more.

We studied the practice, we built the tools, and we know the potential. With DWR, we’re scaling our innovative Merced River Watershed climate modeling study to the four other watersheds that drain into the San Joaquin Valley – the state’s agricultural powerhouse, and ground zero for many community drinking water crises.

If California is to have a secure environmental and economic future, we must do work that affects not just one field, aquifer, or river.

Watershed planning that includes on-farm recharge and floodplain restoration can reduce flood risks, weather drought, and provide water communities and agriculture can count on.

Cow Power to Waste Not

Sustainable Conservation began our work in the dairy industry by investigating and proving out methane digester viability for farms in California – to the tune of 2.3 million metric tons fewer GHGs, or 510,000 few cars on the road.

From there, we worked with the California Air Resources Board to understand how the dairy industry can reduce our methane and other greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions at a large scale, and began work on a first-of-its-kind, award-winning manure drip irrigation system (SDI-E) for dairy silage and forage.

SDI-E is now an international tool for dairies to protect their groundwater quality, with the first system online in New Zealand as of 2023 – and the 3,500 California acres using SDI save around 2 billion gallons of water per year, and reduce their nitrogen use by 2 million pounds annually.

Closing the loop on manure as an asset for cow- and even human-consumed crops in California is possible. Now, we promote sound policy, incentives, and technologies that will help dairies of all sizes and management styles be part of our larger environmental solutions.

Solutions in Our Soil

Why soils if Sustainable Conservation focuses on water?

Healthy soils not only improve water use efficiency, and capture and store more water when it’s available, but also improve the quality of water that’s returned to aquifers, rivers, and streams.

Soils are the productive foundation of our state, which grows nutritious food for the entire world, and must be part of our overall climate adaptation strategies. With only 5% of California’s croppable acreage currently using healthy soils practices like compost application, cover crops, and reduced tillage, the potential is enormous. Scaling soil health strategy is a must.

We’re all connected by land, air, and water, and understanding how we can improve soil health will help us co-create a more sustainable California.


Sustainable Conservation knows that water management isn’t just about one field, aquifer, or river. California needs a secure environmental and economic future, so our work must benefit entire watersheds, and the whole state.

Give now to protect communities, restore floodplains, and pursue real water solutions for the next three decades – and beyond.

While our programs, projects, and partners change over time, our philosophy is constant. We catalyze collaborative and economically sound environmental change through innovative projects, cross-sector collaborations, and informed policy.

In honor of our 30th anniversary, we’re connecting floodplain restoration to groundwater replenishment, soil health to water quality, and salmon habitat to human health. Increase your investment this year and your gift will go twice as far to advance lasting water stewardship!