Historic Lands Bill Will Restore Water Flow and Salmon to San Joaquin River

Congress Passes Package That Will Protect America's Land, Water and Rivers

WASHINGTON (March 25, 2009) – The U.S. House of Representatives today passed an omnibus public lands package, which includes a landmark settlement to restore water and salmon populations to California’s San Joaquin River. This vote will send a bill to the president’s desk that provides the additional authority and funding needed to restore runs of thousands of salmon each year. It will also launch projects to improve flood protection and water supply in the Central Valley.

"After so many years of effort, today's historic action by Congress will revitalize California's second longest river,” said Monty Schmitt, project manager and senior scientist in the water program at the Natural Resources Defense Council. "After recent dry years and a collapsing salmon fishery, passage of this bill is good news for fisherman, farmers, and the more than 22 million Californians who rely on the Sacramento – San Joaquin Delta for their water supply."

The House vote on the omnibus lands bill follows Senate passage last week. The bill comes after 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.

"This legislation received broad bipartisan support from Republican and Democratic Members of Congress, the affected irrigation districts, the State of California, conservation and fishing groups, and urban water agencies," said Hal Candee of Altshuler Berzon LLP, who has represented NRDC and 13 other conservation and fishing groups in the litigation and the three-year old settlement effort. "It's gratifying to see Congress provide its final approval to this historic settlement that will restore one of California’s major rivers.”

Added Monty Schmitt: "This legislation will provide the final approval needed for a landmark restoration program that is already underway. Ultimately, restoring salmon to the San Joaquin River is critical to revitalizing California’s ailing salmon fishery, which was closed for the first time in the State’s history due to record low numbers of salmon, costing the state an estimated $255 million and 2,263 jobs."

The Omnibus Public Lands Package contains 160 public lands, water and resources bills, as well as 16 wilderness bills from nine states. In addition to funding the restoration of the San Joaquin, the bill:

  • Designates more than 2 million acres of wilderness in nine states
  • Establishes three new national park units, a new national monument, three new national conservation areas, more than 1,000 miles of national wild and scenic rivers and four new national trails
  • Enlarges the boundaries of more than a dozen existing national park units and establishes 10 new national heritage areas