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New Era for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program

Monty Schmitt

Posted October 4, 2012

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The Regional Director for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, Donald Glaser, today signed the San Joaquin River Restoration Program Record of Decision (ROD), completing a major five-year environmental planning and permitting effort, and signaling a new milestone in the restoration of the San Joaquin River. The signing of the ROD formally approves the San Joaquin River Restoration Program’s programmatic environmental impact statement, completed in July 2012, and selects preferred alternatives for habitat restoration, water supply and flood management projects. This significant move, after five years of planning and developing project designs, means the Restoration Program is ready to move into the long-awaited phase of constructing projects. For wildlife, landowners and communities along its course, the river will be transformed over the next few years and the tangible benefits of the Restoration Program will begin to materialize, including:

  • Creating Jobs – When people think about the Restoration Program, they most often think about the development of fisheries habitat and water supply projects. People often overlook the fact that building these projects will create jobs. A new report by the Fresno Regional Foundation investigating the economic benefits of the Restoration Program concluded it will create over 11,000 jobs in the coming years. In a region with chronic high unemployment even in the best of times, this is good news.
  • Improving Water Supply and Flood Management – While the a primary goal of the Program is to restore flows and salmon to the river, the majority of the Program’s projects and costs will make improvements to old water supply and flood management infrastructure. In a recent report by the Restoration Program, over $600 million of the estimated $892 million total program cost will go towards replacing structures like Sack Dam, improving flood and seepage protection to land along the river, and constructing water supply projects. 
  • A Living River and a More Vibrant San Joaquin Valley – Last summer, the San Joaquin River Parkway Trust piloted a hugely successful river camp for kids from Firebaugh, a city northwest of Fresno, Calif., who discovered first-hand the beauty and fun of a living river. The fact is that for decades, local residents have worked to restore the river, even volunteering their time to clean up trash every year. The San Joaquin River is increasingly seen as a community treasure – one worthy of local support.
  • Restoring a River of National Importance – Despite being California’s second largest river, the San Joaquin River is often overlooked as an environmental and recreational resource, but the tide is turning. The great potential for the restored river earned it a spot as one of 20 Inaugural Landscapes of National Significance earlier this month, as part of the federal governments America’s Great Outdoors Program. This follows on the heels of the river being designated as a National Blueway – a boating trail to camping, fishing, bird-watching and other kinds of recreation in February 2012.
  • Fish and Wildlife – The San Joaquin River once nourished one of the richest ecosystems in California. Native Americans and California's early explorers once canoed the length of the river through dense wetlands and forests that teemed with waterfowl and other wildlife. Early settlers who lived near where Friant dam is today likened the noise of spawning salmon to a waterfall, noting the fish were so abundant you could practically cross the river on their backs. These magnificent salmon runs migrated upriver each year, supporting a vibrant commercial fishery in addition to plentiful recreational and subsistence fishing. The Restoration Program will restore a living river that provides a home for wildlife, and healthy salmon runs to revitalize commercial and recreational fishing. That’s something we should all celebrate.
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MikeOct 5 2012 03:56 PM

One of the "tangible benefits" that farmers in the Friant Division are still waiting for is a plan to return the water they relinquished to increase flows down the river. These farmers were told that they would receive replacement water but no announcement of a plan has been made. No reference is made of the 2005 economic analysis conducted by Friant Water Users which showed that thousands of farm worker jobs could be lost if future water supplies are jeopardized. Of the 11,000 jobs that will be created, most of them are related to construction and will be temporary. Many of the permanent jobs will be government oversight or regulatory positions that depend on taxpayer support.

Mike Wade
California Farm Water Coalition

Tom berlinerOct 6 2012 11:44 PM

The cost estimate of $892m includes $100m already spent, and does not include essential levee work at almost another $200m, and a total estimate by the Bureau of Reclamation of $2.1m as explained in the Framework for Implementation issued by Reclamation (see the "report" link above). Additionally, of the $892m, only about $500m has been appropriated from state and federal sources, so the remainder is dependent upon future congressional appropriations.

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