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San Joaquin River

Map of the San Joaquin River and its major tributaries (click to enlarge).

water releases from Friant Dam

In 2009, water releases from Friant Dam reconnected the San Joaquin with the ocean for the first time since the 1940's. (video)

Chinook salmon release

Scientists with the Department of Fish and Wildlife release adult Chinook salmon into the SJR, a milestone for reviving their population.

San Joaquin River

Restoring flows in the San Joaquin will enhance recreation opportunities.

San Joaquin River

Enjoying the benefits of a living river!

The San Joaquin is California's second longest river and once supported the state's second largest salmon run. Spring- and fall-run Chinook salmon that historically numbered in the hundreds of thousands were wiped out after the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation (USBR) began operating Friant Dam near Fresno in the late 1940s, drying up nearly 60 miles of the river. In 1988, NRDC filed a lawsuit against the USBR for dewatering the river and violating state laws protecting fish. After years of litigation, a settlement in 2006 led to creation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP) to restore life-giving flows and runs of Chinook salmon while also improving flood protection and water supplies for local farmers.

Progress toward Restoring a Living River

Since 2006, the SJRRP has made significant progress towards restoring the San Joaquin River. Flow releases from Friant Dam have begun to revive the River, improving wildlife habitat and water quality downstream. After years of planning and permitting, the SJRRP is poised to begin construction of flood protection, restoration and water supply projects. Releases of fall-run and endangered spring-run Chinook salmon have sowed the seeds for future generations of returning fish for the first time in over 60 years. Monitoring wells, levee design improvements and seepage protection projects have improved flood protection for farmers and communities along the river. Flow releases have improved regional groundwater supplies and water management actions have recirculated water back to Friant water districts and have benefited other San Joaquin Valley farmers.

Benefits of a Restored River

Restoration of the San Joaquin River is a catalyst for positive and much-needed changes in the San Joaquin Valley. As the river returns to life, opportunities for recreation and education have increased and community events have been emerged to celebrate the river's return. Increased opportunities for tourism and the generation of an estimated 11,000 local jobs in the San Joaquin Valley will help diversify and strengthen the region's economy. Furthermore, river restoration will help revive the state's salmon populations and commercial salmon industry, benefiting both the environment and the economy.

The Path Forward

While much has been accomplished, much more remains to be done. In the next few years, water in the river and releases of salmon will increase as flood protection, habitat restoration and water management projects are constructed. Achieving river restoration and its revitalizing benefits to the region will take time. However with patience, collaboration among stakeholders and strong public support to ensure adequate funding the river will once again thrive alongside communities in the San Joaquin Valley.

NRDC's Role

More than 25 years after the initial lawsuit, NRDC continues to take a leading role in ensuring the successful restoration of the San Joaquin River by working with farmers, water agencies, the SJRRP and other stakeholders to implement the 2006 settlement agreement. NRDC works to expand the benefits of the SJRRP by fostering integration with other efforts in the region to improve fish and wildlife habitat, flood protection and the management of California's limited water supplies. Additionally, NRDC is helping to ensure river restoration benefits communities in the San Joaquin Valley by promoting opportunities for tourism and economic development as well as recreational access for swimming, fishing, and picnicking along the newly restored reaches of the river.

last revised 10/9/2014

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