Saturday, April 12, 2014

The San Joaquin River Is Not Endangered

Dale Matson
The San Joaquin River Below Piute Creek

The second longest river in California was recently named the most endangered river in America by American Rivers. American Rivers is a conservation group based in Washington D.C. to find out more about this group click here:

The concerns of the group were expressed by John Cain and reported by Mark Grossi in the Fresno Bee. The on line article from April 8th is here:

Here are the strategic goals of the organization:

Strategic Goal #1: American Rivers will improve the health of rivers across the nation by protecting and restoring flows, connectivity, water quality, and habitats in priority rivers and basins.
Strategic Goal #2: American Rivers will be recognized as the leading advocate for river conservation in national policy discussions and debates.
Strategic Goal #3: American Rivers will be a financially sound and sustainable organization with a growing base of unrestricted financial support and dedicated support for priority programs.

Taken at face value, these seem like rather worthwhile goals but the claim that the San Joaquin River is endangered depends on how one defines endangered. For one thing, the 60 miles below Friant Dam is what is in question. The 300 miles above Friant is not in question. This 60-mile section has periodically dried up since the construction of the dam in the 1940s. The litigated “compromise” [courtesy of another ‘watchdog’ group The Natural Resources Defense Council] of release for Salmon and river restoration was never realistic for dry years. With the additional demands of a growing population in the Central Valley, the situation will continue to deteriorate. It is especially frustrating since there is no environmental group advocating for additional storage in wet years.

In fact, the American Rivers organization funded with a large grant from the federal government is quite proud of the fact that they have contributed to the removal of 41 dams in 2013 alone. I would like to hear what the leadership, none of whom live along the San Joaquin would like to see happen to the Friant Dam. I suspect they would like to see it removed.

My concern with where this seems to be going is additional legal action to declare this 60 mile section of the San Joaquin to be restored as a “Wild River”. Then the removal of Friant Dam would simply be preceded by a court order. Additionally, this definitely would eliminate Temperance Flat as an additional potential water storage site.

For those who proudly call themselves “environmental activists”, I would urge you to consider the people your policies affect. The San Joaquin Valley is agricultural. We produce food that is consumed worldwide. Our people and our crops depend on water. Creating more storage IS conservation. I walk or run by the San Joaquin daily as a Fresno resident. I have camped and backpacked along most of the river. A river flowing free is a beautiful sight but so is a large reservoir. In wet years, watching the San Joaquin overflowing its banks on the way to the ocean is a sad sight because I know we could be storing more water during these wet years. This overflow is wasted water.

In short, the San Joaquin River is not endangered. The compromise caused by litigation, created unrealistic expectations during dry years. The policies that forced the compromise should be revisited. If restorationists want more water, then help us build more storage. Being pro environment does not mean being anti people.        

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