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 part of an ongoing effort to protect and restore critical
habitat in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta, the Department of
Water Resources (DWR) has restored more than half of the 1,187
acres of former grazing and dairy lands into rich habitat for
fish and wildlife as part of the Dutch Slough Tidal Marsh
Restoration Project. The project is one of the largest
multi-benefit freshwater tidal marsh restoration efforts
The Mokelumne River was seeing an outstanding run of fall
chinook salmon at the fish hatchery when the atmospheric river
hit on Oct. 24-25. “We lost a lot of our fish,” said
William Smith, manager of the Mokelumne River Fish Hatchery.
“The Cosumnes River went up to 14,000 cfs (cubic feet per
second) and every creek in the region came up with the storm.
As a result, the salmon scattered throughout the Valley.
Meanwhile, the releases from Camanche Dam were still 250 cfs.”
Land and waterway managers labored hard over the course of a
century to control California’s unruly rivers by building dams
and levees to slow and contain their water. Now, farmers,
environmentalists and agencies are undoing some of that work as
part of an accelerating campaign to restore the state’s major
floodplains. … The hope, shared by stakeholders who have
traditionally fought over water and land, is to rebuild habitat
for fish, birds and other wildlife while simultaneously
providing benefits, like improved flood protection and
groundwater recharge, for towns and farms.
Land and waterway managers labored
hard over the course of a century to control California’s unruly
rivers by building dams and levees to slow and contain their
water. Now, farmers, environmentalists and agencies are undoing
some of that work as part of an accelerating campaign to restore
the state’s major floodplains.
As I write this on an October weekend, rain is falling steadily
in Davis and has been for most of the day. This is the first
real rain we have had in over seven months. But it is not the
end of the drought. Multiple storms are needed. The landscape
is a dry sponge, reservoirs are empty, water rationing is in
place or expected to be, and aquatic species are in decline.
About 30 hardy souls marched the length of the dry Kern River
bed — nine miles — from near Manor Street in east Bakersfield
all the way to Stockdale Highway Saturday morning to protest
the lack of water in the river. At the start of the hike,
the group filled bottles and jugs with water from the river,
which ends shortly after Manor Street as it’s divvied up by a
hydra of irrigation canals.
There are no shortages of critical issues facing Oakdale
Irrigation District in central California. As the
state looks to take 40% of the district’s springtime river
flows, district directors are searching for their next water
champion. … In October the State of California informed
OID and five other water districts, including the City and
County of San Francisco, that it would no longer negotiate over
stream flow agreements commonly known as “voluntary
agreements.” Under these coerced negotiations, the state seeks
to take 40% of river flows…
Our water tours are lauded because they are both fun and
educational, so don’t miss your chance to experience our last
online tour event of the year. Register now for our Tuesday,
Nov. 9, Headwaters
Tour and we’ll take you on an engaging
virtual journey across the upper watershed of a major
Sierra-fed river to learn the important role forests play in
California’s water supply.
It appears a new Kern River Watermaster will be chosen to
replace Dana Munn, whose contract winds up at the end of this
year. If he’s officially approved by all the voting members of
the “river interests,” Mark Mulkay will likely become the
fourth ever Kern River Watermaster. He said he’s discussed it
with all the parties and let them know he wants the job. Other
sources confirmed that the river interests, entities that hold
rights to the Kern River, have unofficially agreed on Mulkay as
The public can weigh in on the Kern River at an upcoming
hearing but the proceeding will be very narrowly focused,
according to a ruling released Wednesday. Too narrowly
focused, according to one attorney representing several
nonprofits hoping to bring water back to the river through town
on a regular basis.
Governor Gavin Newsom’s administration has signaled its desire
to go ahead with rigid fish flow increases despite the
deepening drought and hydrology changes in precipitating
patterns the state’s own experts are anticipating. The state
last week abruptly broke off negotiations with agencies
representing water users on the Stanislaus, Merced, and
Tuolumne watersheds regarding its desire to implement new fish
flows that will essentially reduce water available for urban
and farm uses.
The Newsom administration has informed regional water districts
that it will move forward with a plan to increase flows from
San Joaquin River tributaries in an action that may create more
water uncertainty for farmers. A notice from the California
Natural Resources Agency and state Environmental Protection
Agency represents a departure from the state’s earlier
willingness to consider voluntary agreements with water
districts, which includes aspects other than just flow
For nearly three years, some of California’s biggest water
users, including San Francisco, have been quietly meeting with
the state to figure out how much water they should be taking
from the San Joaquin River and its tributaries. The talks were
launched to prevent some of California’s mightiest rivers from
drying up, and keep fish populations from disappearing, while
still allowing cities and farms to draw the supplies they need.
The vision was nothing short of a grand compromise on divvying
up California’s water. But late last week, the state
conceded the negotiations had failed.
In drought years and when marine heat waves warm the Pacific
Ocean, late-migrating juvenile spring-run Chinook salmon of
California’s Central Valley are the ultimate survivors. They
are among the few salmon that survive in those difficult years
and return to spawning rivers to keep their populations alive,
according to a study published October 28 in Nature Climate
The recent storms allowed California to suspend the drought
curtailment orders that had been imposed during the summer.
Cities and irrigation districts now are free to capture river
runoff that had been unavailable because of the orders.
Officials warned that they could fall back into place if the
state gets another stretch of dry weather.
The state is moving ahead with its proposal to boost flows on
the Tuolumne and nearby rivers, to the dismay of irrigation
districts and San Francisco. The reservoir releases are needed
to help fish and other wildlife on tributaries to the San
Joaquin River, two cabinet secretaries said in a letter
Thursday, Oct. 20. The water users contend that the releases
would take too much from farms and cities supplied by the
Tuolumne, Stanislaus and Merced rivers. They have instead
sought “voluntary agreements” that would increase reservoir
releases to some extent while enhancing fish habitat in other
ways, such as restoring spawning gravel for salmon.
With so many extremes hitting California, the state is now
talking about Climate Insurance. The next disaster – combined
with a lack of insurance that many can’t afford and is getting
even more expensive – has the state considering a new
community-based approach to lower risk, and make sure more
people are protected against catastrophic weather events.
… Ideas to lower risk include building wetlands to store
water in floods, creating statewide hazard maps so residents
are clear on the risks where they live, and naming heatwaves
like hurricanes so people properly prepare.
This weekend’s atmospheric river brought record-breaking
amounts of rain to drought-plagued California. But they didn’t
give the state’s water supply much of a boost, data shows. The
state Department of Water Resources compared the amount of
water in select reservoirs across the state as of midnight Oct.
25 to the capacity of each reservoir and to historic levels for
the same date. The data shows that, even after all of Sunday
and Monday’s rainfall, many of California’s largest reservoirs
are still holding less water than the historic level for this
time of year.
It took 30 days for a crew of seven El Dorado Irrigation
District employees and the district’s dam safety engineer to
totally rebuild key elements of the Outingdale Dam. The
community of Outingdale gets its water from the dam, a
diversion dam on the Middle Fork of the Cosumnes
River. Water had to be trucked in when the leaking and
deteriorating dam stopped spilling this summer.
In a lawsuit filed Thursday, a local nonprofit accused
Sacramento County of violating the Clean Water Act by dumping
raw sewage and other pollutants into local waterways. The
California Coastkeeper Alliance alleges waste has been
illegally dumped into the Mokelumne River, Dry Creek, Morrison
Creek, the American River and the Sacramento River by the
Sacramento Sewer District. The suit claims the dumping is
“ongoing and continuous” and poses health risks to those who
come into contact with sewage.