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Thursday, November 26, 2009

San Joaquin River is wet once again!

A Thanksgiving Message from the Friends of the River

Photo by Josh Uecker

Sometimes in the frenetic rough and tumble of our river conservation campaigns we forget to give thanks. So we thought it appropriate for Thanksgiving 2009 to give thanks for a particularly important event that was more than 20 years in the making. Water creeps down the dry riverbed of the San Joaquin.

A few months ago, some switches were flipped and valves opened on the Friant Dam, releasing more water into the San Joaquin River. As a result, water slowly creeped down a portion of the river west of Fresno that in most years is completely dry. It took decades of litigation, settlement negotiations, and federal legislation, but a portion of the San Joaquin River will soon be permanently re-watered. And eventually, one of the largest salmon runs in the state, which was wiped out by the completion of the Friant Dam in 1942, may be restored. Scientists are now examining the “interim” flow releases over the past few months to determine what kind of riverbed restoration is needed for when permanent flows are reestablished. Friends of the River was one of 13 plaintiffs in the original lawsuit that successfully proved that Friant Dam’s dewatering of the San Joaquin violated the Endangered Species Act and California’s public trust policies. It took years of litigation, contentious negotiations, and hardball lobbying to make the rewatering of the formerly dry San Joaquin River a reality. It will take several more years to fully restore the riverbed, its riparian vegetation, and fisheries. And threats remain. Opponents to the restoration continue to snipe at the effort by lobbying for legislative riders that would bring it to a halt. Challenges to the Endangered Species Act are pending in court. California has passed complex water policy legislation and is proposing a budget-busting $11 billion water bond that may or may not affect the river’s restoration (most notably by building a new dam on the San Joaquin River in an attempt to capture the last two percent of the river that remains undiverted). But it is appropriate this Thanksgiving to step back, take a deep breath, and appreciate what has been achieved, and give thanks for the river.

Click here to read news reports about San Joaquin River restoration featured on FORs Blog.

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