A part of the federal Central Valley Project, the 152-mile Friant-Kern Canal in California’s Central Valley plays a critical role in delivering water south to Bakersfield.
The Friant-Kern Canal is part of the Friant Dam, which was built between 1939 and 1944 on the upper San Joaquin River, creating Millerton Lake. The Madera Canal also begins at Millerton Lake and travels 36 miles north.
Located 25 miles northeast of Fresno, Friant Dam stores and diverts the river’s waters into the canals for irrigation on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley. Except for releases to manage floods and to meet the needs of riparian water-rights holders immediately below the dam, the upper San Joaquin’s entire flow was impounded by the dam and diverted into the canals.
This water helped support the valley’s major crops: alfalfa, corn, grains, grapes, vegetables, nuts and fruits. However, the Friant Dam also ceased flow in some portions of the San Joaquin River, which ultimately led to the loss of salmon runs and a lawsuit culminating in ongoing effort to restore the river’s flows and salmon populations. A 2006 settlement ultimately led to an ambitious plan to restore the San Joaquin River.
Water from the Delta-Mendota Canal, which is begins near Tracy, California and ends near Mendota, replaces San Joaquin flows that have been diverted by both the Friant-Kern Canal and the Madera Canal.