Agreement in Washington Solves Last Contentious Concerns

WASHINGTON (September 27, 2006) -- One of America's great rivers is one step closer to flowing after 10 days of intense negotiations to restore the mighty San Joaquin River without harming farmers in California's San Joaquin Valley.
In talks in Washington, D.C. and Sacramento, parties in the San Joaquin River restoration settlement satisfied the misgivings of some downstream water users and land owners who had voiced concerns about unintended impacts from the settlement. The agreement clears the way for the historic plan to restore the San Joaquin River to move forward. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Rep. George Radanovich (R-19th-Calif) plan to introduce the settlement legislation this week.

"Less than two weeks after the settlement was reached, it is remarkable that we have reached such broad consensus on the settlement and its implementing legislation. We thank Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman George Radanovich for convening these meetings, and for their confidence that we could reach a compromise to satisfy everyone involved," said Senior Attorney Hal Candee with the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).

The legislation will implement the settlement in the 18-year legal battle to restore water flows and two historic populations of salmon to the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam near Fresno while undertaking one of the largest river restoration efforts in the West. The settlement was announced September 13 by NRDC, Friant Water Users Authority (FWUA) and U.S. Departments of the Interior and Commerce.

The settlement, filed in U.S. District Court in Sacramento, ends a generation-long legal dispute over the operation of Friant Dam and resolves longstanding legal claims brought by a coalition of conservation and fishing groups led by NRDC. It provides for substantial river channel improvements and sufficient water flow to sustain a salmon fishery upstream from the confluence of the Merced River tributary while providing water supply certainty to Friant Division water contractors.

Historically, Central California's San Joaquin River supported large salmon populations, including the southernmost Chinook salmon population in North America. Since Friant Dam became fully operational in the late 1940s, approximately 60 miles of the river have been dried up in most years, eliminating salmon above the river's confluence with the Merced River.