Settlement Reached Over San Joaquin Flow, Salmon
A settlement was reached Friday in an 18-year-old court battle over how much water should be allowed to flow from a dam on the San Joaquin River to restore the salmon that once lived there, attorneys said.
Terms of the settlement won’t be released, and the agreement won’t take effect, until all parties -- environmental and fishing organizations, farming interests and irrigation districts, federal agencies and the court -- approve them, attorneys said.
When Friant Dam started operating in 1949, it transformed San Joaquin Valley’s main artery from a river thick with salmon into an irrigation powerhouse that nourishes more than a million acres of farmland in some of the country’s most productive agricultural fields.
But the 314-foot barrier also dried up long stretches of the river downstream, making it more a home for tumbleweeds and lizards than for spawning salmon.
In 2004, Sacramento U.S. District Judge Lawrence Karlton agreed with the Natural Resources Defense Council, which contended that the Bureau of Reclamation, the federal agency that built and maintains Friant Dam, had broken the law by not letting enough water flow down the river to sustain the salmon population.
Since then, environmentalists, federal water authorities and the farm interests that depend on that water had been trying to reach a settlement and avoid a court-ordered solution.
“We’re very encouraged that all these parties were able to work diligently over the last nine months to come to a place that seems to be a reasonable compromise,” said Ron Jacobsma, general manager with the Friant Water Users Authority, a party in the case.
The irrigation district distributes San Joaquin River water to thousands of farms in the Central Valley.
Kate Poole, senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council, said the approval process for the settlement would take up to six weeks.
“We are hopeful that these approvals will be obtained rapidly,” she said in a statement.
That would allow the parties to begin “working together to restore the San Joaquin River in a manner that will benefit not just the environment, but millions of people around the state, including Northern California salmon fishermen, Delta farmers and Southern Californians who will drink cleaner Delta water.”