A decade ago, environmentalists and the federal government agreed to revive a 150-mile stretch of California‘s second-longest river, an ambitious effort aimed at allowing salmon again to swim up to the Sierra Nevada foothills to spawn.
The San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP) is a comprehensive long-term effort to restore flows to the San Joaquin River from Friant Dam to the confluence of the Merced River and restore a self-sustaining Chinook salmon fishery in the river while reducing or avoiding adverse water supply impacts from restoration flows.
The first water releases from Friant Dam in support of the SJRRP, called Interim Flows, began October 1, 2009. Restoration Flows began January 1, 2014.
At the end of October, 2016, a major milestone was reached when the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says the stretch of San Joaquin River will be flowing year-round for the first time in more than 60 years.
But the goal of restoring native salmon remains far out of reach, especially as a 5-year drought rages, fueling conflicts with farmers who also need the water.
The original plan was to complete the task in 2012. Now, federal officials expect it will occur in 2022. And the government’s original estimate of $800 million has ballooned to about $1.7 billion.
“I think we all had hoped we’d be further along,” said Doug Obegi, an attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which led the lawsuit that produced the deal with the government to bring back salmon. “Restoring the state’s second-largest river was never to be a cakewalk.”