A New Beginning for the San Joaquin River

Many people, including myself, had written off the San Joaquin River and its salmon runs as lost forever. However, in 1988, NRDC and a broad coalition of fishermen and conservation groups brought suit in U.S. district court in an effort to bring the river and its native fisheries back to life.

No water has flowed in this section of the Lower San Joaquin River for decades

Sixteen years later, in August 2004, the coalition achieved a landmark victory when a judge ruled that the operation of Friant Dam violates one of California's most important fishery protection statutes, Section 5937 of the California Fish and Game Code, which states: [t]he owner of any dam shall allow sufficient water to pass over, around or through the dam, to keep in good condition any fish that may be planted or exist below the dam.

Blue Heron flies along the Lower San Joaquin River

On September 13, 2006, NRDC announced the signing of a historic settlement agreement with Friant water users and the United States Department of Interior that will restore water flows and salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam while undertaking one of the West's largest river restoration efforts. The settlement resolves NRDC's 18-year legal battle over the operation of Friant Dam, heralding new life for the San Joaquin River and most importantly future runs of Chinook salmon.

Winter flows in the Lower San Joaquin River

Update Congress Approves Project to Increase Instream Flows

In one of the boldest river restorations in the Western United States, a 63-mile stretch of the San Joaquin River will be transformed from a dusty ditch into a fish-friendly waterway under legislation approved Wednesday that ends a decades-long dispute between farmers and environmentalists.

The $400 million project, approved by Congress as part of a landmark wilderness bill, will increase the amount of water released from the Friant Dam near Fresno into the San Joaquin River. The flows are intended to resurrect the river's salmon fishery, decimated in the years following the dam's construction in 1942.

The 15,000 farms in the region will receive between 15 and 19 percent less water from the reserves stored behind the dam. Funds from the measure will help water districts offset that loss with new storage facilities and repairs to existing canals.

President Obama is expected to sign the legislation, sponsored by California Democratic Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein.

Reported by Kelly Zito, San Francisco Chronicle / March 26, 2009