San Joaquin River and San Joaquin River Restoration Program
The San Joaquin River, which helps drain California’s Central Valley, has been negatively impacted by construction of dams, inadequate streamflows and poor water quality.
Formerly home to the nation’s largest spring-run of Chinook salmon, the river was dammed in 1942 to provide water to farms and cities in the San Joaquin Valley.
In the 1980s, environmental organizations including the Natural Resources Defense Council filed suit to restore water flows to a 60-mile dry stretch of river and to boost the dwindling salmon populations.
After 18 years, the lawsuit was settled in 2006. The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement’s goals were to refill the 60-miles of dry river bed and salmon runs while minimizing water supply impacts to farmers. Congressional action set the plan in motion.
Water releases are now used to restore the San Joaquin River and to provide habitat for naturally-reproducing populations of self-sustaining Chinook salmon and other fish in the San Joaquin River. Long-term efforts also include measures to reduce or avoid adverse water supply impacts from the restoration flows.
The experimental interim flow releases have re-wet a significant portion of the once-dry riverbed and provide information about hydrology and habitat. This information is being used in designing the major improvements needed in the river and informing the fish agencies as they prepare to reintroduce salmon.
The river’s restoration has also involved major structural changes, including a bypass. The lower part of the river also requires upgrades for flood protection—a major concern. There is concern restoration flows could seep out of the river and damage crops adjacent to the once-dry riverbed, particularly on lands susceptible to high water tables that were once wetlands.
Thus far, major restoration efforts include full restoration flows, and reintroduction of salmon. In the spring of 2013, the Bureau of Reclamation, “announced the availability of up to $10 million in grants, under the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act, for groundwater banking or recharge projects proposed by local agencies within the Central Valley Project. Eligible projects must reduce, avoid, or offset expected water supply impacts to the CVP’s Friant Division long-term contractors caused by the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s Interim and Restoration Flows.”