[env-trinity] SF Chronicle 3 26 09

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Mar 26 09:09:23 PDT 2009

Plan to restore San Joaquin River approved

 <mailto:kzito at sfchronicle.com> Kelly Zito, Chronicle Staff Writer

Thursday, March 26, 2009



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.



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7D88.DTL> Obama turns to Web to take questions from public 03.26.09 


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. It seals a settlement
reached in 2006 that followed two decades of battles between
environmentalists and fishing groups - who filed a lawsuit in 1988 - and
agricultural interests.

Both sides praised the bill, which spells out funding for the program and
authorizes a timetable for water releases beginning this fall.

"After recent dry years and a collapsing salmon fishery, passage of this
bill is good news for fisherman, farmers, and the more than 22 million
Californians who rely on the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta for their water
supply," said Monty Schmitt, senior scientist at the Natural Resources
Defense Council, one of the plaintiffs in the 1980s suit.

The San Joaquin River, California's second-longest behind the Sacramento
River, once maintained plentiful runs of spring and fall salmon and fed
pristine freshwater into the delta.

Old-timers remember when the river surged with so many salmon they were
scooped up and used as hog feed. Once the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation built
the 319-foot-tall Friant Dam, however, the river became a seasonal dribble.

Farms and communities - including the city of Fresno - grew up across 1
million acres of fertile land, employing thousands of people and producing
millions of dollars worth of produce.

Farmers argued that re-establishing the salmon populations would destroy
their livelihood. But when it became clear that a federal judge overseeing
the lawsuit could enact severe water cutbacks, the farmers came to the

"Having a federal court serve as a water master on our river system was
disconcerting to our folks," said Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the
Friant Water Users Authority, which serves the 15,000 farms in the region.
"The water supply certainty, money certainty and opportunity to get
additional water drove our folks to stay on board with the settlement."

Of the $400 million to be doled out over the next decade, about $200 million
will come from California, with the rest coming from the federal government
and special fees paid by the area's water districts.

The funds will pay for environmental studies on increasing river flows
(large-scale releases are to begin in 2014), bolstering levees along the
river, fixing damaged canals and recharging underground aquifers. The plans
target a section of San Joaquin River between Friant Dam and where the
Merced River merges with it.

Peter Moyle, a nationally known UC Davis professor of conservation biology,
acknowledged the challenges in replenishing a river that some have compared
to an agricultural drainage ditch. But he is optimistic.

"I really think this can be done," said Moyle, who has worked in the San
Joaquin region on fish restoration since 1969. "For the past few years, a
lot of work by many people has been put into figuring out how to restore
flows and fish to the river. Now it looks like it will actually happen.

"Think of it: A 150-mile-long river that has been dry or heavily polluted
for much of its length may actually support salmon runs again," he added.

Moyle said the river bed just below the dam - where the last chinook salmon
in the river spawned - is an ideal spot for the salmon's return because it
has deep, cold gravel pools where the fish need to rest in between May and
September before they spawn.

In the late 1940s, the last chinook spawned there after being trucked by the
hundreds up the river. Their progeny died that year, Moyle said, because the
Bureau of Reclamation refused a request by the state Department of Fish and
Game to release more water so the fish could return to the ocean. 




Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land

415 519 4810 cell

 <mailto:bwl3 at comcast.net> bwl3 at comcast.net

 <mailto:bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org> bleydecker at stanfordalumni.org

 <http://fotr.org/> http://www.fotr.org 




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