Craig Noble at 415-601-8235 (mobile) or 415-875-6100 (office)
Statement by Hal Candee, NRDC Senior Attorney and Co-Director of Western Water Project
SACRAMENTO, Calif. (September 13, 2006) -- A historic legal settlement to restore water flows for salmon in the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam near Fresno while undertaking one of the West's largest river restoration efforts was announced today by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), Friant Water Users Authority (FWUA) and U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce.
The following statement is by Hal Candee, NRDC Senior Attorney, Co-Director of Western Water Project, and counsel to plaintiffs in NRDC v. Rodgers:
"Today, we are announcing a remarkable agreement to restore the San Joaquin River. This agreement provides that, once again, the San Joaquin will flow from its headwaters in the High Sierra all the way to San Francisco Bay. It means a lost, but not forgotten, salmon run will leap from the pages of history and back into a living river, to spawn and to complete its life cycle.
"This is a story about breathing new life back into a critical waterway -- where once again, we can have a living river, with salmon and people not just co-existing, but sharing in the lifeblood of California's second-longest river. The benefits will reach from one end of the state to the other. Downstream farmers will benefit from improved water quality and water supply reliability, as well as the recharging of depleted groundwater basins. Downstream communities will be strengthened by a living ecosystem, instead of a contaminated drain through the heart of the Valley. More than 22 million Californians who rely on water from the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta will see improved drinking water quality. The fragile ecosystem of the Delta and San Francisco Bay will receive a life-giving infusion. For salmon fishermen and North Coast fishing communities whose livelihoods once depended on the San Joaquin River's legendary spring-run salmon, this settlement heralds a return of the spring run and an important step toward revitalized recreational and commercial fisheries. Restoring the San Joaquin is good for our environment, our quality of life and our economy.
"NRDC and the 13 other environmental and fishing groups in our coalition have worked for many years to reach this moment. Much of that effort was in the Federal Courts, which issued important rulings upholding state and federal laws. But ultimately, this historic agreement would not have been possible without the participation of a remarkably broad group of agencies, stakeholders and legislators, reaching far beyond the settling parties. On behalf of our coalition, I would like to thank our partners in this settlement, the legislators who have sponsored these talks and supported our efforts, the numerous State officials who have helped us reach this critical point, and the many, many others -- from Delta farmers to Fresno environmentalists -- who have contributed to this effort. With this remarkably broad support, we will move ahead rapidly to tackle the next important steps in this cooperative restoration effort.
"Implementation of this agreement will begin immediately. For example, we are working together to pass federal legislation to provide federal agencies with the full authority and funding required to implement the plan.
"California's voters also have an important role to play in this effort. In November, they will have an opportunity to support Proposition 84, a parks and water bond that will provide at least $100 million to support San Joaquin River restoration. The Governor, NRDC and the Friant water users all support this important measure, as do numerous other water agencies and elected officials.
"The magnitude of this restoration effort -- returning water and salmon back to sixty miles of dead river -- is virtually unprecedented in the American West. Restoring the San Joaquin will be one of the largest salmon restoration efforts ever undertaken. It is hard to find a river this large anywhere in the world that has been literally dry for half a century and then brought back to life. Today, the environmental and fishing community, the Friant water users, the federal government and the State of California begin this historic task. All of us at NRDC are grateful to have had the opportunity to help make this day happen.
"John Muir once said that 'When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the universe.' That is particularly true about rivers, which are by their very nature interconnected. But for the past half century, this hasn't been true about the San Joaquin River. This agreement provides that, once again, the San Joaquin will be reconnected to the Bay-Delta estuary -- and hitched to the rest of California."