[env-trinity] SF Chron 3 31 10

Byron Leydecker bwl3 at comcast.net
Thu Apr 1 10:14:05 PDT 2010

San Joaquin River flowing through dry stretches

S.F. Chronicle-3/31/10

By Carolyn Jones


Six months after the court-ordered release of water from a Central Valley
dam, the San Joaquin River is now reconnected with San Francisco Bay, a
major development in the river's long-term recovery and re-establishment of
chinook salmon populations.


The river, 64 miles of which had been choked into a dusty wasteland after
the Friant Dam was built northeast of Fresno in the 1940s, is now flowing
along its historic channels, merging with the Merced River, pouring into the
delta and emptying into the bay.


"People are kayaking, sunbathing with their ghetto blasters, swimming. Six
months ago it was all sand," said Chris Acree, director of Revive the San
Joaquin, a Fresno nonprofit group that's been working to restore the river.
"It's great to see the river running again."


The water releases started six months ago, as part of a long-fought
settlement among the Bay Institute and other environmental groups, the
federal government and Central Valley farmers. 


The San Joaquin River, California's second-longest river, was dammed for
flood control and to provide water for farmers. But as it hooks through
Fresno and ambles north, the river was mostly dry in two sections, totaling
64 miles. The only water came from local storm runoff - much of it tainted
with fertilizers, pesticides and other agricultural residue - and occasional
releases from the dam after heavy snowmelts.


When the river dried up, the fish population did, too. 


"If you want to screw up a river, the San Joaquin is a perfect example,"
said Gary Bobker, program director for the Bay Institute, which helped
negotiate the restoration. "It's like a horror museum."


Hoping to restore the salmon runs, in 1988 the Bay Institute, Natural
Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups sued the U.S.
Bureau of Reclamation, which operates the dam. 


Almost 20 years later, in 2006, the parties reached a settlement that will
eventually replenish the river for the salmon, refill the aquifer below
Fresno and leave more room in the reservoir for farmers. The agreement was
signed by President Obama in March 2009. 


Small pulses of water were released starting on Oct. 1 to re-wet the dry
parts of the riverbed. On Feb. 1, the amount was increased to a steady 350
cubic feet per second, and on Monday it was bumped up to 1,100 cubic feet
per second. Scientists are studying the effects on levees and channels, many
of which haven't been used in decades, and by 2014 hope to see the river
fully restored year-round.


Much of the dry riverbed has been littered with rusty cars, old
refrigerators and other debris, Bobker said. 


But now, at Mendota, for example, the river is 3 feet deep and 50 feet
across, Acree said. The banks are lined with 6-foot lupine, and birds,
including eagles, are swooping overhead.


The project will cost about $500 million, covered by state bond funds, the
federal government and increased fees on the 15,000 farmers who rely on the
Friant Dam for some or all of their water.


The Friant Water Users Authority, which represents farmers from Merced
County to the Tehachapis, supported the settlement because eventually the
water from the San Joaquin, when it reaches the delta, will be pumped or
channeled back to the reservoir for agricultural use.


"In essence, we'll get to use it twice," said the authority's manager, Ron
Jacobsma. "But at this point we are very anxious to get our water back."


Friant's farmers will see an 18 percent drop in their water allotment
because of the releases, he said. 


Although this year most farmers have ample reserves, another year or two of
decreased water shipments could lead to fallow fields, laid off farmhands,
higher prices for produce and economic ripple effects throughout the Central
Valley, he said. 


"It's like when you exhaust your bank account," he said. "It might be OK
this year, but it affects your stability in the future."


For the bay, a restored San Joaquin means "we have a chance to restore these
salmon runs that were destroyed," Bobker said.


Salmon won't be able to pass the dam, but they will be able spawn in the
hundreds of streams that trickle into the river.


"This is not going to solve the problem entirely, but it does mean we'll be
able to finally begin healing this river," Bobker said. "So we're crowing
right now."


San Joaquin River 

Length: 350 miles. Its basin covers 38,000 square miles - nearly a quarter
of California - an area the size of Indiana.


Headwaters: Several points in the mountains east of Fresno.


Fish: In 1945, the year before Friant Dam was completed, 56,000 chinook
salmon swam up the San Joaquin to spawn. After the dam was finished, the
number dropped to zero. Fish could not swim past the confluence of the
Merced River, 150 miles downstream, because the San Joaquin was dry.


Irrigation: The San Joaquin provides water for 1 million acres of farmland,
producing $2 billion in crops every year.#



Byron Leydecker, JcT

Chair, Friends of Trinity River

PO Box 2327

Mill Valley, CA 94942-2327

415 383 4810 land/fax (call first to fax)

415 519 4810 mobile

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