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. Efforts are now underway to restore the river and
continue providing agricultural lands with vital irrigation,
among other water demands.
After an 18-year lawsuit to restore water flows to a 60-mile dry
stretch of river and to boost the dwindling salmon populations,
the San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement is underway.
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 whims of political fate decided
in 2018 that state bond money would not be forthcoming to help
repair the subsidence-damaged parts of Friant-Kern Canal, the
152-mile conduit that conveys water from the San Joaquin River to
farms that fuel a multibillion-dollar agricultural economy along
the east side of the fertile San Joaquin Valley.
Land subsidence from overpumping of San Joaquin Valley
groundwater sank portions of the Friant-Kern Canal, the
152-mile conduit that conveys water from the San Joaquin River
to farms that help fuel a multibillion-dollar agricultural
economy. A plan to fix it helped sink the $8.8 billion
Proposition 3 bond measure last November. Now San Joaquin
Valley water managers are trying to figure out another way to
restore the canal, not only to keep farmers farming, but to aid
the valley’s overtaxed groundwater aquifers. By Gary
Pitzer in Western Water.
Most of the native habitat in California’s San Joaquin Desert
has been converted to row crops and orchards, leaving 35
threatened or endangered species confined to isolated patches
of habitat. A significant portion of that farmland, however, is
likely to be retired in the coming decades due to groundwater
overdraft, soil salinity, and climate change. A new study
… found that restoration of fallowed farmland could play a
crucial role in habitat protection and restoration strategies
for the blunt-nosed leopard lizard and other endangered
The confluence of California’s two great rivers, the Sacramento
and the San Joaquin, creates the largest estuary on the West
Coast of the Americas. Those of us who live here call it,
simply, the Delta. It is part of my very fiber, and it is
essential to California’s future. That’s why we must save it.
After more than three years, 104 days of testimony, and over
twenty-four thousand pages of hearing transcripts, the hearing
before the State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) on
the proposal to construct two tunnels to convey water under the
Delta (aka California WaterFix) is almost completed.
Probably, that is: there could be more if the project changes
again to a degree that requires additional testimony and/or
The McCormack-Williamson Tract restoration project, a 1,500
acre site, lowers the levees on the north side of the island to
allow the river to overtop into the site. On the south side,
DWR will alleviate the surge flows that pose a risk to
neighbors by opening small holes in the levee. 2018 saw the
completion of construction of a levee to protect existing
infrastructure on the site, as well as progress on habitat
restoration plans. For the next phase, DWR will strengthen the
interior levees and take steps toward opening the site up to
In an attempt to block the state’s plan to divert more water
toward the Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta and away from the
Bay Area, the Santa Clara Valley Water District has filed a
lawsuit arguing the project could significantly reduce the
local water supply. If the plan advances, the water district
might have to spend millions of dollars to obtain alternate
water supplies and pull up more groundwater.
The State Water Resources Control Board proved back on Dec. 12
that it wasn’t listening to a single thing anyone from our
region was saying. By voting to impose draconian and
scientifically unjustifiable water restrictions on our region,
four of the five board members tuned out dozens of scientists,
water professionals and people who live near the rivers.
A day after proposing a tax on drinking water, Gov. Gavin
Newsom took a “surprise” road trip to meet with Stanislaus
County residents in a community known for having unsafe wells.
Newsom and his cabinet made their first stop at the Monterey
Park Tract in Ceres, where he held a roundtable discussion with
people who for years had to use bottled water for drinking and
cooking because their community’s two wells were
long-contaminated with nitrates and arsenic.
The city of San Francisco is not standing down in California’s
latest water war, joining a lawsuit against the state on
Thursday to stop it from directing more of the Sierra Nevada’s
cool, crisp flows to fish instead of people.
As his term as governor drew to a close, Jerry Brown brokered a
historic agreement among farms and cities to surrender billions
of gallons of water to help ailing fish. He also made two big
water deals with the Trump administration. It added up to
a dizzying display of deal-making. Yet as Gavin Newsom takes
over as governor, the state of water in California seems as
unsettled as ever.
Jon Rosenfield: Last month the State Water Resources Control
Board finally required increased flows from three San Joaquin
River tributaries, as the first step in a process to update
water quality standards for the San Francisco Bay
estuary. The board opted for weaker environmental
protections in order to reduce impacts to agribusiness and San
Francisco, ignoring the potential for changed agricultural
practices and investment in sustainable water use to ease or
eliminate the impact of reduced water diversions.
At the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, a few
miles west of Modesto, work crews removed or broke several
miles of levee last spring and replanted the land with tens of
thousands of native sapling trees and shrubs. It’s part
of a growing emphasis on reconnecting floodplains to
rivers so they can absorb floodwaters. This shift in
methodology marks a U-turn from past reliance on levees to
protect cities and towns.
At the end of the last century, the Sierra Nevada captured an
average of 8.76 million acre-feet of water critical to the
nation’s largest food-producing region. By mid-century, a new
study projects, the average will fall to 4 million acre-feet;
and by century’s end, 1.81 million acre-feet.
Prompted by the collapse of fish populations, the State Water
Resources Control Board is trying to prevent humans from
totally drying up these rivers each year. The regulators’
lodestar for how much water the rivers need is the amount of
water a Chinook salmon needs to migrate.
Over the past three years, the State Water Resources Control
Board has conducted a public process to increase the water
flowing to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Rivers Delta with the
intent of improving declining fish populations. However, an
increase in river flow means a reduction in supplies for
Californians, who are dependent on them for their lives and
State water regulators announced plans earlier this week to
implement unimpaired flow requirements along the San Joaquin
River, unless water users can establish voluntary agreements
with state water and fish and wildlife agencies. The changes
were part of the State Water Resources Control Board’s update
to its Water Quality Control Plan for the greater Bay-Delta
watershed as a way to improve conditions for struggling salmon
populations and increase inflow into the Delta.
Some water districts would like to keep negotiating with state
officials over river flows. But lawsuits replaced settlements
as the most likely path forward, the day after a crucial vote
in Sacramento approving the “water grab.”
A state board on Wednesday approved a contentious proposal to
boost water flows through a Central California river, a move
that would increase habitat for salmon but deliver less water
to farmers and cities such as San Francisco. The plan under
consideration by the Water Resources Control Board would alter
management of the Lower San Joaquin River and three tributaries
to address what environmental groups say is a crisis in the
delta that empties into San Francisco Bay.