From the beginning the San Joaquin River has been there for people, and now people (a diverse group of many people!) are coming together for the river. Wild salmon are only part of the reason.
Sponsored by Audubon California (which, along with TU, is part of the San Joaquin River Partnership) the “I’m For the River” campaign is a collaborative effort to increase awareness of, and support for, the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, and encourage people to contact elected officials and speak up for the river.
“The restoration of this river will do much more than just bring back salmon and provide water for agriculture,” says Meghan Hertel, the San Joaquin River Project Manager for Audubon California, “It will also provide our families a place to play and connect with nature, wildlife a place to nest and feed, flood protection for our communities, jobs related to restoration and recreation, and much more. It’s for all these reasons that ‘We’re for the River.’”
The 366-mile long San Joaquin – which flows from the high Sierra Nevada’s through the San Joaquin Valley, into Suisun Bay, San Francisco Bay and then the Pacific – is the largest river in Central California and is a major source of irrigation and drinking water. It’s also among the most heavily dammed and diverted rivers in California and subject to tremendous water-supply, navigation and regulation works by various federal agencies, which have dramatically reduced the flow of the river since the 20th century.
But even before the California gold rush of 1849 drew European settlers, the river was used by a lot of people. Home to an estimated 70,000 indigenous people of the Yokut and Miwok tribes, the San Joaquin Valley sustained the greatest concentration of people in North America at the time. The river and its tributaries also once sustained the most southern run of salmon on the continent, including spring and fall runs of Chinook estimated at about 15,000 fish annually. Dams have since cut off most spawning streams in the headwaters and reductions in streamflows have had tremendous impacts (in some places, the river has run dry). In the fall of 2009, only 2,236 salmon returned to the entire river system to spawn.
In the spring of 2009, Congress authorized the San Joaquin River Restoration Program as a cooperative federal and state project to restore the river from the Friant Dam to its confluence with the Merced River. The restoration program has two main goals: to restore river flows for self-sustaining salmon populations, and to provide water supply for a vibrant agricultural economy. That same year, the San Joaquin River Partnership was formed – made up of an array of scientists, volunteers and conservation organizations, including TU, with decades of experience — all eager to participate in bringing the River back to life. By working with private landowners, government agencies, and community organizations, the Partnership seeks to support the full implementation of the San Joaquin River Restoration Program, including the restoration of flows and habitat sufficient to support a natural, self-sustaining salmon population.
In other words: A lot of agencies, organizations and people are coming together and standing up for the San Joaquin – and it’s a good time for everyone to join in and say, “I’m for the river!”
We urge you to get involved and write a letter today! To learn more about the “I’m For the River” campaign, send a note to elected officials and see a sample letter, click here: I’M FOR THE RIVER!