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Salmon to be Restored to San Joaquin

CALIFORNIA, US - Water has begun flowing down the San Joaquin River as part of the settlement to restore the salmon fishery to the channel that has been mostly dry the past 60 years.

To many, the water flow is historic, calling it the beginning of the rebirth of one of the West's largest rivers. For others, it is the loss of what has become the most volatile resource in California – water.

Valley Voice reports that, for nearly two decades, a settlement was hammered out between environmentalists, water and ag interests over how to restore the salmon fishery in the San Joaquin River. Before Friant Dam was built above Fresno, the mighty San Joaquin flowed through the Valley, eventually winding its way to the San Joaquin Delta. Salmon were plentiful as river boats made their way from Fresno past Firebaugh, a western Fresno County community named after one of those riverboat captains.

However, for the past 60 years much of the river channel has been dry, especially from the Mendota Pool west of Fresno until where the Merced River merges with the San Joaquin, the first of many rivers that eventually merge with the San Joaquin. Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority, was one of those key to the negotiations that ended with Congress finally agreeing on a settlement earlier this year. He said last week a couple of issues still needed to be ironed out, but he expected the water to begin flowing today.

“Chances are better than 50-50 that the flow will start on Oct. 1.” He said the initial flow will be just 24,000 acre feet to study how the river handles the water.

Tulare Irrigation District Manager, Paul Hendrix, said the water being sent down the river is at the expense of Friant Water Users, like TID and Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District. “It's all coming out of Friant Dam,” he stressed, saying TID could lose as much as 20 percent of its average water supply. That may not mean fallowing farm land, but it will place a greater burden on the underground water supply that is being severely overdrafted every year.

The Friant-Kern Canal feeds much of agriculture on the east side of the Valley, including providing domestic water for the city of Lindsay.

Mr Jacobsma said on average the annual release would be about 150,000 acre feet. “If it's a wet year, it will be over 300,000 acre feet. If dry year, then there will be no release,” he said. On average, about two million acre feet of water flows down the San Joaquin into Friant Dam where the water is then diverted.

The releases, called interim flows for now, will be intermittent to allow for the construction of restoration projects, according to Valley Voice. The purpose of the flows is to collect information about salmon habitat, channel capacities, water reuse and other aspects of the river to inform the salmon reintroduction and water supply planning efforts. Full releases are expected in 2012.

the Fish Site Editor

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