San Joaquin River Restoration Program Receives 2011 Partners in Conservation Award from Interior

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I am proud to announce that the San Joaquin River Restoration Program last week received the Department of the Interior’s 2011 Partners in Conservation Award, an award which recognizes conservation achievements that include the collaboration of diverse parties to achieve conservation goals.

In a press release issued by DOI last week, Secretary Salazar stated that the Partners in Conservation Awards “demonstrate that our nation’s greatest conservation legacies often emerge when agencies and citizens from a wide range of backgrounds come together to address shared challenges.” That rings true for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.

As the Partners in Conservation Award reflects, the San Joaquin River Restoration Program is the successful product of untraditional partnerships between farmers, environmentalists, state and local agencies, and the federal government to both restore the San Joaquin River and its historic salmon populations and to also implement water supply and flood protection programs to benefit local farmers.

Despite (or perhaps because of) these diverse interests, the Program has made significant progress towards its intended restoration and water supply management goals.  See my colleague Monty Schmitt’s blogs on the restoration and rewetting of the San Joaquin River. In 2009, water flowed down the length of the San Joaquin River for one of the first times in nearly half a century. In 2011, juvenile fall run Chinook salmon were released into the river as part of a scientific experiment and successfully migrated downstream.  And the Program has provided more than 550,000 acre feet of low cost water to local farmers, more than fully offsetting the water supply impacts from implementing the Program in WY 2010 and 2011. 

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(Image courtesy of the National Marine Fisheries Service)

Receiving this honor comes on the heels of Secretary Salazar’s speech in September at the San Francisco Commonwealth Club, where the Secretary expressed his strong support for the restoration program, as well as his disapproval of bills in the House of Representatives to dismantle environmental programs, including the restoration of the San Joaquin River. Salazar specifically criticized House attacks on the San Joaquin Restoration Program, implicitly HR 1837, a bill sponsored by Rep. Devin Nunes, stating that “a few members of Congress are bent on killing a restoration program that is restoring water flows to the river, bringing stability and certainty to agricultural users, and that will bring the first salmon runs in half a century.” This show of support by the Administration is critical as the Restoration Program continues to defend against legislative attacks to defund and derail the restoration of California’s second longest river.

NRDC is honored by the Administration’s recognition of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s extraordinary progress, and we are grateful for Secretary Salazar’s vocal defense of the Program’s diverse merits in the face of legislative attacks.  While we all recognize that future challenges remain in implementing the Program, the Award demonstrates that by working together we can make progress toward the common goal of protecting our current water supply and meeting California’s future water needs.