SJRiverThis summer, the State Water Resources Control Board will establish new flow standards to protect salmon and fisheries in the Lower San Joaquin River and the three tributaries.

The Board’s draft report concludes that about 35% of the natural flow should remain in the rivers, allowing more than 65% to be diverted.

The lower San Joaquin River is one of the two main arteries that sustain the Bay Delta.  Unfortunately, farmers and cities have been allowed to divert massive amounts of water from the rivers that run through the heart of California’s San Joaquin Valley, leaving only a fraction of the natural flow in these rivers in the winter and spring months.

The science is clear — reduced flows, as a result of diverting most of the water from these rivers, is the primary (but not sole) cause of the continued decline, and that more flows are needed to restore the Bay Delta and its fish, including salmon.

Diverting 65% of the flow (keeping 35% of the flows in the river) will not restore salmon.

Scientific information shows that salmon are unlikely to recover at the State Board’s draft flow goals, which are only slightly better than current flow levels.  More flows = more salmon.  If we don’t increase flows substantially, salmon are likely to continue to decline.

We Can Maintain Healthy Agricultural Economy and Healthy Rivers

The State Board found that allowing 40% of the flow down the river would result in a 1.5% reduction in agricultural revenue in the region. And this is likely a worst case scenario.  We should also look at investments in agricultural water use efficiency to generate more water for agriculture while not taking more water from the river.

Increasing Flows in the River Benefits Jobs and People Downstream.

Improving flows and restoring salmon has huge benefits for salmon fishermen, tackle shops, charter boats, fishing guides, and the thousands of jobs that depend on a healthy salmon fishery. Improved flows would improve water quality for Delta farmers and for cities and farms that get water exported from the Delta, and it is critical to restoring the health of the Delta.

Leaving only a third of the water in the lower San Joaquin is not a healthy river.   The State Board can and should do better.