San Joaquin River Restoration May Be Delayed

Fresno, CA The Federal Bureau of Reclamation was scheduled to release a small amount of water from the Friant Dam but there are some hang ups.

Late Wednesday afternoon Action News learned the release could be postponed because the agency is waiting on a permit from the state.

The postponement would delay a long awaited and controversial change along the waterway.

In some places, the San Joaquin is almost a river by name only, this stretch looks more like a babbling stream, and there is about an eight mile strip of dry river bed near Firebaugh where the river is completely dry.

Dave Koehler said, "To have a healthy Valley and sustain agriculture and sustain the economy in the Valley you need to have a healthy river."

Soon the Federal Bureau of Reclamation will conduct experimental tests-- ultimately releasing an additional 10 to 15 percent more water from the Friant Dam-- in order to restore the waterway.

"These are experimental and we are responding to legislation settled in a law suit a few years ago."

The controversial court settlement between farmers along the Valley's east side and environmentalists has two goals-- one is to restore the native Chinook Salmon population-- the other is stop water from flowing out into the delta and to re-circulate it back to farms.

"Part of the restoration goal is to pick up that water further downstream to eastside farm community who use that water," said Koehler.

"This is the beginning of the ... manmade drought"

But farmer Denis Prosperi and his group Families Protecting the Valley disagree with the project saying the two goals cannot be met.

Prosperi says he initially agreed with the settlement-- but everything changed after federal laws protecting the delta smelt shut off pumps to farms on the west side of Fresno County that would have been used to reroute water to farmers in the east .

Prosperi said, "When it turned into no chance for the recirculation or no chance for the re-management goal to be possible we realized this is going to be devastating to the east side of the Valley."

Federal water officials say a series of test releases will be conducted over the next three years to determine exactly how much water in needed to restore the river.

The Bureau of Reclamation expects the permit to come at some point Thursday. If it doesn't officials say the initial release should happen by Friday.

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