San Joaquin River Restoration

On October 1, 2009 the Bureau of Reclamation began the first release of Interim Flow water from Friant Dam into the San Joaquin River, wetting lengths of the San Joaquine that had not seen water during this time of year for decades and beginning one of the largest river restorations in US History. The San Joaquin River Restoration Project (SJRRP) is the result of a Settlement reached in September 2006 on an 18-year lawsuit to provide sufficient fish habitat in the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam near Fresno, California, by the U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), and the Friant Water Users Authority (FWUA). The Settlement received Federal court approval in October 2006. The Goals of the settlement are two fold:
Restoration: "To restore and maintain fish populations in "good condition" in the main stem of the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam to the confluence of the Merced River, including naturally reproducing and self-sustaining populations of salmon and other fish."
Water Management: "To reduce or avoid adverse water supply impacts to all of the Friant Division long-term contractors that may result from the Interim Flows and Restoration Flows provided for in the Settlement. Full Restoration Flows are scheduled to start no later than January 1, 2011"

This highly complex project is planned to retore over 151 mile of river length. If you want a good overview check out this KQED video:

One of the most interesting aspects of this project is the highly prescriptive control of water into the system below Fiant Dam through various control structures and the actual recapture of restoration flows at the confluence of the river with the Delta which will be pumped back up stream for water users. It will also be interesting to see how well the fish respond once they are reintroduced. Fall Run Chinook will be reintroduced from the Merced river tributary but Spring Run Chinook have been extirpated from the area and will have to be breed, introduced and managed before they can become a self sustaining population. NOAA is currently reviewing a permit application from the Bureau to collect individuals from other populations which they will then breed in "conservation hatcheries" in the San Joaquin below the dam. Finally, per the settlement agreement, there is a tremendous amount of data being collects and, although they don't say explicitly that they will be incorporating adaptive management, it is apparent that they will be using this data to modify restoration activities and dam operations. I am looking forward to seeing the new information scientist will be able to gain from this project in the coming years.

Images: Interim release flows out of Fiant Dam Oct.1, 2009 (above), Mendota Dam; San Joaquin River in Reach 2 before and after interim flows began (left). Courtesy of San Joaquin River Restoration.

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