WASHINGTON (January 15, 2009) – The Senate approved an omnibus public lands package today that includes an important provision to restore water and salmon populations to the San Joaquin River. The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement Act approves and authorizes the funding needed to implement the Settlement, which restores fisheries, mitigates impacts to agricultural interests, and will help improve water supplies and water quality for more than 22 million people. NRDC supported the bill and led a coalition of conservation and fishing groups in pursuing the long court battle and the historic Settlement, which is intended to restore runs of up to 30,000 salmon each year to California’s second longest river.
“This bill is good for fisherman, farmers, and the more than 22 million Californians who rely on the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta for drinking water.” said Monty Schmitt, senior scientist and project manager with NRDC. “This is a truly momentous effort because it is broadly supported and will result in restoring the flows and salmon to one of California’s largest rivers while also providing water supplies for farms and cities. We appreciate the Herculean efforts of Senators Bingaman, Feinstein, Reid, and Boxer to move this important legislation.”
Passage of the omnibus package comes on the heels of a historic legal settlement, reached in 2006, which resolved 18 years of litigation between environmental and fishing groups, Central Valley farmers, and the federal government to undertake one of the nation’s most significant river restoration projects. The legislation approved today is needed to fund the river’s restoration and related water management measures, and has broad bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic Members, the affected irrigation districts, the Bush Administration, the State of California, conservation groups and urban water agencies.
It will also restore the river’s salmon populations, which is welcome news to California’s ailing commercial fishing industry that suffered an unprecedented closure of the salmon fishery in 2008 due to decimated salmon populations, costing the state an estimated $255 million and 2,263 jobs.
Most of the restoration costs will not be paid by federal taxpayers, but rather by local stakeholders and the State of California – including more than $200 million in State funds.