Maven’s Notebook –
Historically, the San Joaquin River has supported large chinook salmon populations. However, since the Bureau of Reclamation’s Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River became fully operational in the 1940s, much of the river’s water has been diverted from the river for agricultural uses. This has resulted in about 60 miles of the river bed going dry in most years and the river no longer being able to support salmon populations.
In 1988, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and other conservation and fishing groups sued the Bureau of Reclamation and the Friant Division contractors of the Central Valley Project (CVP) in the case, Natural Resources Defense Council v. Rodgers. The judge ruled that operation of Friant Dam violates state law because of its destruction of downstream fisheries. Faced with mounting legal fees, uncertainty, and the possibility of dramatic cuts to water diversions, the parties reached a settlement in 2006 that called for releases of water from Friant Dam to restore fisheries, as well as efforts to mitigate those reductions in deliveries to water users that are a result of restoration flows. Since that time, the San Joaquin River Restoration Project has been working towards achieving those objectives.
At the December meeting of the Central Valley Flood Protection Board, Elizabeth Vasquez from the Bureau of Reclamation and Paul Romero from the Department of Water Resources provided an update on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.