The San Joaquin River is the second longest river in California; however, water diversion for irrigation and urban use has caused 64 miles of the river to run dry. Dry riverbed will soon flow with water again, thanks to the Omnibus Public Lands Bill signed into law by President Obama on March 30, 2009. Federal officials plan to release extra water from the Friant Dam to restore river flows in early October.
18 years of court battles have resulted in the The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act, “one of the largest salmon and river restoration programs in the history of the United States”. Monty Schmitt, Senior Scientist of the San Joaquin River Project Manager, explains:
Under the Settlement, salmon will be reintroduced in 2012 – nearly sixty two years since the last fish died out in the face of a dry river bed – with the goal of nearly 30,000 spring run Chinook returning to spawn each year…And the Settlement is also about protecting agriculture. While some water (around 18% on average) will now remain in the river instead of being diverted for agricultural uses, the Settlement provides certainty for farmers about what their future water supplies will be, as well as provisions to help mitigate water supply and other impacts.
Although October 1, 2009 was slated as the day when restoration was to begin, federal officials were unable to release water from the Friant Dam because they were awaiting a permit from state water regulators. The delayed report was expected to stall flows by a few hours or a day at the most. The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation called the process complicated in explaining the delay, even though they have had three years to prepare since the “historic 2006 settlement between environmentalists, federal agencies and agricultural interests” mandated San Joaquin river restoration.
The Friant Dam was completed in 1942. Prior to dam construction, the San Joaquin River provided the southernmost habitat for salmon in the United States. Thanks to the efforts of many, the mighty San Joaquin River will once again flow providing habitat for salmon and drinking water for 22,000,000 residents of California.