As of February 1, 2010, the Bureau of Reclamation has continued the increased flows on the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. The additional water is released pursuant to the 2006 settlement agreement, which calls for 350 cfs each day this February as part of the effort to restore the dry San Joaquin River and reintroduce Chinook salmon. The salmon runs basically ended in the 1950s after the Friant-Kern Canal was put into operation. The eventual goal will be to restore the section of the San Joaquin below Friant Dam, downstream to the confluence with the Merced River. The graph below shows the notable changes in San Joaquin flows, measured below Friant between September 2009 and February 2010:
The releases of extra water called for by the settlement commenced on October 1, 2009 and continued for almost two months, starting out at 350 cfs on October 1 and ramping up to 700 cfs on November 1. Restoration releases were cut back on November 21 for maintenance at Mendota Dam (pictured at right) and then started up again on February 1. The water released during that seven-week period in the fall of 2009 extended a few miles past Sack Dam, to a point about 90 miles downstream of Friant. Those releases fell well short of restoring flows in the dry riverbed through to the Merced River. There are plans to notch up the releases in March toward attaining the flow that will be required to sustain a revived fishery and successful spawning grounds; but as of this writing, Reclamation has yet to reveal the exact numbers for what will happen after February. Meanwhile, upcoming steps that will occupy the next few years include modifying channels and obtaining clearance from NMFS to reintroduce the Chinook salmon by 2012.
There are many challenges ahead in tackling this troubled river, and although we are currently nowhere near having a healthy and restored San Joaquin, the following pictures are a peek into the river’s better days in the future. The pictures on the left, from July 2009, show the dry riverbed. The pictures on the right, from November 2009, are at the same location after the restoration releases.
Images: Mendota Dam; San Joaquin River in Reach 2. Courtesy of San Joaquin River Restoration.