In 1988, the Natural Resources Defense Council Coalition filed a claim under the Endangered Species Act, stating that the Friant Division’s water contracts lacked an Environmental Impact Statement and that Friant Dam was not releasing enough water to keep the fish below the dam in good condition, putting it in violation of California Fish and Game Code Section 5937.
This eighteen year old lawsuit was resolved in 2006 when a settlement was reached between the NRDC Coalition, Friant Contractors and the Bureau of Reclamation to restore the salmon habitat below Friant Dam. The two stated goals of the settlement are to restore self-sustaining salmon populations to the San Joaquin River (Restoration Goal) and to mitigate impacts on San Joaquin River water users (Friant) due to the restoring of the river flows (Water Management Goal). In March of 2009, federal legislation was passed implementing the settlement, in addition to providing water right and other protections for downstream third parties such as members of the RMC. Unilaterally, the settlement was to be implemented in two stages, beginning with interim restoration flows in 2009, and full restoration flows scheduled for 2014.
According to the settlement, Spring-Run Salmon are to be reintroduced to the San Joaquin River by December of 2012. The water release schedule called for water to be released from Friant Dam, ranging from 70,000 to 550,000 acre feet. In 2013, the first phase of river channel improvements were to be implemented, followed by the second phase of improvements in 2016. These will include both water releases and structural and channel enhancements. All improvements were planned to be completed prior to 2025.
Implementation of the settlement was originally estimated, by the Settling Parties, to cost between 250 and 500 million dollars, it will reduce the Friant water contractor deliveries on average by about 170,000 acre feet a year.
The current estimated cost of the program is $1.2 to $1.6 billion, the federal funding for implementation is limited to approximately $96 million until 2019, unless new appropriations are received. As of spring, 2012, not one Phase I construction project has broke ground, no improvements for fish passage have occurred and pursuant to the settlement agreement, ESA protected salmon are to be reintroduced by December, 2012.
It is evident that the initial implementation schedule was unrealisticlay ambitious, the financial cost of the program was grossly underestimated, mitigation measures were absent, and therefore the salmon reintroduction must be delayed until the Phase I projects and mitigation measures are completed. Based on these facts, even settling parties now realize a revised implementation schedule is necessary to provide a realistic road map for the implementation of the program and is due out sometime in 2012.
For more information please visit the San Joaquin River Restoration site: www.restoresjr.net