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.
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 livelihoods.
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.
At the confluence of the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers, a winter of heavy rains could inundate about 1,200 acres of riverside woodland for the first time in 60 years. That’s by design: Here, 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.
Fish biologists bringing back salmon runs on the San Joaquin River say a record number of fish nests have been found in the river below Friant Dam east of Fresno. The number of nests, called redds, created by spring-run Chinook salmon reached 41 this year, compared to just 13 last year. … Several fish biologists, lawyers and members of the public recently toured the river with the Water Education Foundation, based in Sacramento.
This tour ventured through California’s Central Valley, known as the nation’s breadbasket thanks to an imported supply of surface water and local groundwater. Covering about 20,000 square miles through the heart of the state, the valley provides 25 percent of the nation’s food, including 40 percent of all fruits, nuts and vegetables consumed throughout the country.
Under pressure from Gov. Jerry Brown’s administration, state regulators once again postponed a vote on a contentious plan to force San Francisco and several big San Joaquin Valley irrigation districts to give up some of their water supplies for environmental protection. On the eve of Wednesday’s scheduled vote, Brown and the man who will succeed him next year, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, asked for a month’s delay and promised to get involved in ongoing settlement negotiations.
When county officials from California flew across the country last month to hear President Trump speak at the White House, they got an earful from the commander in chief. Trump slammed the Golden State, which has suffered through more than five years of severe drought that ended only last year, for sending its water out to sea rather than using it to nourish crops. … The latest water struggle involves the California State Water Resources Control Board, which is set to decide whether to allow more water to flow through the San Joaquin River and its tributaries.
Jake Wenger grows walnuts on land where early settlers arrived in search of gold and instead found rich soil. His orchards just west of Modesto stretch 700 acres and supply a nut company that has remained in his family for four generations. Like other farmers in this congressional district at the northern end of the San Joaquin Valley, Wenger, 34, said he fears his livelihood is under siege by a state plan to reduce the waters diverted from Northern California rivers for irrigation.
The San Francisco Board of Supervisors issued a rare rebuke of the city water department Tuesday, claiming the agency is on the wrong side of a state water debate that pits California against President Trump. The San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, which provides water to the city and more than two dozen suburbs, has fiercely opposed a far-reaching state plan to revive California’s river system, including the languishing Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, because it means giving up precious water supplies.
San Francisco has always been on the periphery of California’s water wars — until last week. That’s when San Francisco Supervisor Aaron Peskin introduced with three co-sponsors a resolution to the Board of Supervisors that San Francisco should help maintain river flows in the San Joaquin by reducing its take from the Tuolumne, a tributary.
The rivers that once poured from the Sierra Nevada, thick with snowmelt and salmon, now languish amid relentless pumping, sometimes shriveling to a trickle and sparking a crisis for fish, wildlife and the people who rely on a healthy California delta. A state plan to improve these flows and avert disaster, however, has been mired in conflict and delays.
Sen. Dianne Feinstein and some state representatives in the Bay Area are calling for voluntary settlement agreements, rather than a State Water Board proposal, to bolster the salmon population in tributaries of the San Joaquin River. In a letter Friday to water board chairwoman Felicia Marcus, Feinstein said a voluntary settlement will achieve more in restoring fish in the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers.
It’s rare that Westlands Water District and San Francisco face identical problems, but plans to keep more water flowing in the San Joaquin and Sacramento rivers – leaving less for irrigators and cities – is bringing the two together. … The drama started in July when the State Water Resources Control Board issued a new water plan for the lower San Joaquin River recommending that 30 to 50 percent of the water — 40 percent is the target — would stay in the river as “unimpaired flows.”