For several months this year there was water in the full 330 mile length of the San Joaquin River. It's the first step in the restoration of the river. The restoration is the result of a settlement in a lawsuit filed by the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Monte Schmitt of the NRDC says real progress is being made; "This is a big change the river for 60 years has been dry in most places it's a big change there are a lot of concerns."
The big concerns came from farmers who'd become dependent on the water. The settlement called for finding a way to restore salmon to the river, without hurting farmers.
"We had a good first year."
Ron Jacobsma heads the Friant Water Users Authority. He says this year some water was returned and other water transfers made up for much of what they lost. But the long term is a concern. One reason he's taking part in this conference called the San Joaquin River Summit. "That's why we are so interested and concerned about the water management goal aspect of the settlement. So we can get the water back, achieve the balance we're trying to see."
The NRDC's Monte Schmitt is also at the conference. He said "The river will be designed in a way, kind of re-designed in a way that supports all of the goals, restoring salmon, preserving flood protection of the river and the water supply projects."
In addition to restoring the natural environment, extending the river should provide additional recreation. Dave Koehler of the San Joaquin River Conservancy sees miles of opportunity ahead. "For example the opportunities are the wildlife refuges in the western part of the Valley."
Koehler envisions canoe access from Fresno all the way to the wildlife refuges near Los Banos.
The river channel is dry West of Fresno right now because of some of the repair work. The Federal Bureau of Reclamation is in charge. Flows should return this winter, and the goal remains a salmon run, from the Pacific to Friant Dam in four years.