Fresno Bee Newsroom Blog

San Joaquin River water releases will increase

This week, San Joaquin River water started pouring out of Friant Dam a little faster than it has been. It’s part of the experimental flows in the river restoration project.

For those who don’t follow the river closely, I’ll explain a little. Water releases from Friant have been going on for decades to supply land owners immediately downstream of the dam. It’s usually just a trickle.

This week, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation is ramping up to 1,050 cubic feet per second — about 2,000 acre-feet of water per day. Later this week, the release will be dropped to 700 cfs through Nov. 6. Then it will dip to 350 until the end of February.

The restoration project, which began four years ago, is supposed to reconnect the dried parts of the river with the Pacific Ocean. One goals in the project is to bring back runs of salmon that died off decades ago.

The releases over the next several days mimic nature by attracting migrating chinook salmon to move upstream for spawning, a bureau spokeswoman said. Biologists and other wildlife officials are studying the river’s reaction to the reintroduction of fish and flows.

Biologists have tagged and planted salmon in the river to follow their progress.

A big concern is seepage downstream beyond the Mendota Pool on the Valley’s west side. The flows have gotten into farm fields and caused damage, growers say.

Federal officials have installed underground water monitoring systems to detect when groundwater is rising in reaction to the extra flows.

Also local land owners have been alerted to call or email federal officials if they see seepage. Bureau leaders say they are prepared to reduce the flow if problems appear.


Mark Borba says:

I read the San Joaquin River water release info in your blog and thought I’d apply some rational economics to this “experiment”. Understand that in 2014 crop acres will go without water. Considering the statewide low-reservoir levels, every drop of stored water is precious. And, given the stated goal of river restoration “to restore a salmon run to the base of Friant Dam…for 200 salmon”, the analysis below indicates the human costs to be huge, if not irrational?

Farming in a desert (the SJ Valley)…crops only produce thru irrigation. Friant water serves many crops, including tree-fruit, citrus, grapes and nuts.

For example, Almonds require 4 Acre Feet per year (using efficient drip irrigation); some of the other crops a bit less.

The analysis below is denominated in lost almond farm-gate revenue, based on yields @ 3,400 lbs/acre @ $3.00 per lb, both common today.

The Valley’s “Economic Impact” is based on a multiplier of 3.5:1, a conservative ratio, given the value-added processing occurring in much of the Valley.

— ECONOMIC LOSSES…for a 3 DAY EXPERIMENT: (@ 1,050 CFS w/Normal releases – 350 CFS = 700 CFS lost = 1,400 AF/day)

1,400 AF “spilled” per day for 3 days = 4,200 AF = 1,050 acres of almonds (at 4 AF/acre/year) out of production in 2014!

1,050 Acres X 3,400# X $3.00/lb = $10,710,000 in gross farm-gate receipts.

Multiply losses thru the Valley Economy @ 3.5X:1 = ….for the first “3-day experiment”!

— ECONOMIC LOSSES…for the 10 DAY EXPERIMENT: (@ 700 CFS w/Normal releases – 350 CFS = 350 CFS lost = 700 AF/day)

700 AF “spilled” per day for 10 days = 7,000 AF = 1,750 acres of almonds (at 4 AF/acre/year) out of production in 2014!

1,750 Acres X 3,400# X $3.00/lb = $17,850,000 in gross farm-gate receipts.

Multiply losses thru the Valley Economy @ 3.5X:1 = ….for the next “10-day experiment”!

— COMBINED ECONOMIC LOSSES…for the 13 DAY EXPERIMENT (Only the water losses above Normal releases @ 350 CFS)

Total losses for 13 days = 11,200 AF to the Valley Economy = ….for a “13-day experiment”!

Isn’t the QUESTION: Can the Valley afford to absorb a $73.2 million job-killing “experiment” in 2014 & beyond?

Mark Borba says:

CORRECTION: Didn’t use the 3.5X multiplier in one of the equations. Result: This is a $100 Million “experiment”!

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