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.
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.
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
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
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.