A massive effort – restoring the San Joaquin River

November 22, 2022
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
by Jesse Vad, SJV Water
A fish skeleton lies on the ground by a structure near the San Joaquin River designed to protect against flooding. The structure also impedes fish migration up the river and will be altered as part of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program. Jesse Vad / SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water
Jesse Vad, SJV Water


CLICK HERE for an interactive map describing the San Joaquin River Restoration Program section by section.



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The San Joaquin River is a vital source of water for agriculture and the environment and it is also home to a unique program that hopes to restore native fish runs.

It is a complex program and SJV Water was fortunate to take advantage of a tour offered through the Water Education Foundation Nov. 2-3 that helps break down the various aspects of restoration efforts.

The restoration program is a nearly one billion dollar endeavor to restore spring-run Chinook salmon to the river which went extinct there after Friant Dam and other obstructions were built. 

The 366-mile-long San Joaquin River starts high in the Sierra Nevada mountains east of Fresno. It travels north through the valley to the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and, ultimately, flows into the San Francisco Bay. Historically, the river was home to many runs of salmon, including spring-run Chinook which made up a significant portion of California’s commercial fishing industry.

In the 1940s, the Friant Dam was built by the federal Bureau of Reclamation above Fresno and most of the river’s water was routed south to farms and towns all the way to Arvin via the Friant-Kern Canal. The river was dried up for more than 60 miles until its confluence with the Merced River.

In 1988, the Natural Resources Defense Council, along with other environmental groups, sued the federal government to restore the river and the salmon populations. After 18 years, the case was settled in 2006. That led to creation of the Bureau’s Restoration Program, tasked with restoring salmon populations.

The program was able to reconnect the river for the first time in 2016 but progress has been slowed by recurring drought and unanticipated costs due to water seepage damage to farmland adjacent to the river.

Participants on the recent tour heard from a wide range of experts and stakeholders during the tour, including scientists, state engineers, farmers and water district managers.

CLICK images for larger view:

Jesse Vad, SJV Water

SJV Water is an independent, nonprofit news site dedicated to covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Get inside access to SJV Water by becoming a member.


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