Tuesday, May 30, 2006

Salmon in the San Joaquin?

In this May 27th article from Recordnet.com we get a good overview of the status of the effort to restore the 300 mile San Joaquin River’s salmon run, relatively dormant for fifty years; and one thing seems clear (besides the obvious fact Friant Dam should have been built bigger), we really need to increase water storage so that the salmon, farmers, residents, and business can have access to the water they need in the fast growing valley.

Here is an excerpt.

Article published May 27, 2006
S.J. River restoration plan stalled amid negotiations

STOCKTON - What could turn out to be the single largest river restoration project in U.S. history remains mired in complicated settlement talks.The battle to revive the San Joaquin River pits environmental groups and local water agencies against the federal government and Southern California farmers. A settlement in the so-called Friant case, named after the upstream dam that both diverted water south and dried up portions of the San Joaquin, was expected earlier this year.

All sides appear to support restoring the river and its once-prodigious salmon runs. But reviving a 300-mile waterway after 50 years of relative dormancy has wide-ranging impacts, parties in the case said.

"We've spent a lot of time consulting with everyone that has expressed an interest," said Barry Nelson, a policy analyst with the National Resources Defense Council, the lead plaintiff in the lawsuit.

"It's certainly taken a chunk of time," Nelson added. "But we are really making real progress."

Fifty years ago, Friant Dam began diverting 90 percent of the upper San Joaquin River to farmers and towns near Fresno and south - water that would normally flow down the San Joaquin and into San Francisco Bay.

As a result, water levels fell in the Delta, where 23 million Californians get their water. Delta farmers saw salty water coming in from the Bay, which lowered their crop yields. And the river's lazy waltz through Stockton invited bright green algae that both stinks and robs fish of oxygen.

In 1988, the National Resources Defense Council, along with several other environmental groups, local governments and water agencies, sued the Bureau of Reclamation, which operates Friant Dam.

A prior round of settlement talks broke down three years ago. But in 2004, U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton ruled the federal government destroyed salmon runs and created severe water pollution in the Delta by drying up the river. Some said the ruling put the federal government on notice that it might lose a court trial.

A second settlement attempt began last year that both sides say is breeding hope.

"We believe progress is being made," said Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Users Authority.Jacobsma added that Karlton is "resolved" that a settlement is reached. "To that extent, he's sending a signal to the parties to remain steadfast," he said.

Some reports have suggested it would take about 400,000 acre-feet of water a year to restore the river below Friant. The dam only holds 520,500 acre-feet of water, roughly enough to grow 200,000 acres of tomatoes or meet the annual water needs of 2.6 million people.