Feds approve San Joaquin restoration plan
Written byDEBRA KAHN, E&E
Federal officials have signed off on a plan to manage the San Joaquin River, ending a decades-long dispute over salmon and other fish not receiving adequate water flows from the Friant Dam.
The Interior Department on Sept. 28 approved the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, a blueprint for managing a 153-mile reach of the San Joaquin stretching from the Friant Dam near Fresno to its confluence with the Merced River.
The Friant Dam is part of the federally run Central Valley Project, which delivers water to about one-third of California's agricultural land. The dam irrigates about a million acres but does not release enough water for salmon in the river, according to a 2004 federal court decision.
Interior's record of decision approves the massive set of documents that the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources have been writing for the past five years to satisfy state and federal environmental laws. The plan stemmed from a lawsuit originally filed in 1988 by the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups. They had challenged the renewal of long-term water contracts between water contractors and the federal government.
The agreement includes releases of water from the dam, adjustments to channels of the river itself and reintroduction of chinook salmon. Starting this fall, agencies will start a breeding program for spring-run chinook salmon; release hatchery-raised, juvenile spring-run salmon into the river; and trap, tag and transport adult fall-run salmon to spawning habitat near the dam.
Environmentalists praised the plan, which won an internal Interior Department award in 2011 for being an exemplar of cooperation among agencies, communities and businesses.
"The restoration program will restore a living river that provides a home for wildlife, and healthy salmon runs to revitalize commercial and recreational fishing," said Monty Schmitt, a senior scientist with NRDC. "That's something we should all celebrate."
The agencies are still considering how exactly to capture the released water for reuse by water contractors. They could build new facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta in addition to using existing ones, according to the plan.