In coming years, chinook salmon will be once again able to spawn in the San Joaquin River as they did for thousands of years, thanks to the signing of a historic Record of Decision (ROD) by Interior Secretary Ken Salazar and other state and federal officials on October 4.
In a big step for river restoration in California, the Bureau of Reclamation and the California Department of Water Resources have signed Record of Decision documents selecting the "preferred alternative" from the Final Program Environmental Impact Statement/Environmental Impact Report for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program (SJRRP) for implementation.
"The 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 (153 miles), restoring a self-sustaining Chinook salmon fishery in the river while reducing or avoiding adverse water supply impacts from the release of restoration flows," said Pete Lucero of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation.
The program is being implemented by Reclamation, DWR, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the National Marine Fisheries Service and the California Department of Fish and Game.
The final environmental documents describe the direct, indirect and cumulative impacts of implementing the Settlement in NRDC, et al., v. Kirk Rodgers, et al. that resolved more than 18 years of litigation related to Reclamation’s operation of Friant Dam and established the SJRRP. Both Reclamation’s Record of Decision and DWR’s Notice of Determination select Alternative C1, the Preferred Alternative, out of the seven alternatives studied in the Final PEIS/R.
"This alternative includes the use of the river channel and bypass system to convey restoration flows and allows for recapture of these flows at existing facilities in the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and in the San Joaquin River upstream of the Delta at existing facilities or at new facilities that may be constructed in the future," according to Lucero. "Alternative C1 provides the greatest flexibility in implementing the Settlement and the greatest opportunity to fulfill the purpose and need of the SJRRP."
Monty Schmitt, Senior Scientist and San Joaquin River Project Manager for the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) in San Francisco, lauded the signing of the ROD and release of the documents. (http://switchboard.nrdc.org/...)
"U.S. Secretary of Interior Ken Salazar today signed the San Joaquin River Restoration Program Record of Decision (ROD)," said Schmitt, "completing a major five-year environmental planning and permitting effort, and signaling a new milestone in the restoration of the San Joaquin River.”
"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," said Schmitt.
These benefits included creating jobs, improving water supply and flood management, creating a "living river and a more vibrant San Joaquin Valley," and restoring a river of national importance, noted Schmitt.
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, Schmitt said.
"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," added Schmitt. "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.”
However, the restoration plan faces some obstacles in its implementation. After interim restoration flows were released in 2010 and flood flows proceeded down the once dry river in 2011, San Joaquin Valley farmers filed a lawsuit blocking the release of flows this year, claiming that the flows caused "seepage" that damaged their crops, according to Chris Acree, executive director of Revive the San Joaquin. (http://www.revivethesanjoaquin.org)
Earlier this year, Congressman Devin Nunes sponsored HR 1837, a bill that would stop San Joaquin River Restoration, block planning efforts in the Delta, block science-based protections for salmon under protected species law, gut the federal protections and funding for water supply and salmon restoration under the CVPIA, and waive the requirement that new federal dam projects in the Valley comply with NEPA. The bill passed through the House, but failed to garner support in the Senate.
For additional information or to request a copy of the ROD, please contact Michelle Banonis, Bureau of Reclamation, 2800 Cottage Way, MP-170, Sacramento, CA 95825-1898, 916-978-5457, TTY 916-978-5608, mbanonis [at] usbr.gov or at peisrcomments [at] restoresjr.net. To request a copy of the NOD and/or related CEQA documents, please contact Karen Dulik, DWR, at 559-230-3361 or kdulik [at] water.ca.gov.