How Much For S.J. River Restoration?
So, it looks like the Bee knows when the government says something will cost $900M and maybe $2B, it means it will cost $2B.
Sep 06, 2012
The Fresno Bee-
Modified Sat, Sep 01, 2012 11:59 PMSkeptical farmers often ask a big key question about the $2 billion revival of the San Joaquin River and salmon runs: How can cold-water salmon possibly survive here as the climate heats up the river?
Prominent fishery biologist Peter Moyle replies that the San Joaquin will be an ideal place for salmon in the future. It will be a pipeline of chilly snowmelt from the high Sierra.
But for years, nobody has been able to settle that debate with science. Now, using a $1.5 million National Science Foundation grant, the University of California at Merced is working on at least part of the answer -- a profile of the future San Joaquin River.
The study will guide authorities who manage reservoirs, recreation areas and hydroelectric lakes as the climate warms. It also will give farm water leaders and districts new insights on the timing of snowmelt decades from now.
But for 15,000 Valley farmers who irrigate with river water in Fresno, Madera, Merced, Tulare and Kern counties, this is all about salmon.
Their doubts about the salmon have haunted the restoration since 2006. That year, farmers, environmentalists and federal agencies agreed to end a lawsuit and revive dried sections of California's second-longest river.
Farmers agreed to give up some irrigation water and restore salmon because they were losing the lawsuit. But many say the restored salmon runs will be doomed in the next 50 years anyway.
Farmers instead prefer warm-water fish, such as bass, in the restoration area.
"I'm not sure the salmon runs are the best investment for society as a whole," said farmer Kole Upton, who helped negotiate the river restoration settlement.
But since the lawsuit settlement requires the salmon restoration, there is little choice.
In the opinion of biologist Moyle, salmon restoration is a very good idea. He is considered a foremost authority on California fish, spending more than four decades studying them.
"The San Joaquin historically had one of the biggest runs of chinook salmon in the world," he said. "It's because the highest of the high Sierra is on the southern end of the mountain range. You get more snowmelt."
The peaks, some ranging higher than 14,000 feet, still will be getting snow as the climate warms, he said. Some of the cold water will remain in deep pools just below Friant Dam, allowing spring-run salmon to safely live for the summer and migrate later in the year, Moyle said.
In Northern California, UC Davis research at Butte Creek has suggested salmon might perish there by the end of the century. Scientists continue to look at ways the dams and river systems can be managed to keep cold water around for the fish survive.
But the mountains around Butte Creek, a tributary of the Sacramento River, are lower in elevation than the Sierra around the San Joaquin, Moyle said. The Butte Creek watershed will not have much snow in the future.
The UC Merced study of the San Joaquin will look at many aspects of climate-change impacts on the river, including water temperature, says environmental engineering professor Thomas Harmon, who leads the investigation.
"Climate change could very well affect the flow of water for salmon," he said. "We expect to see some results after the first year of the study. It should be complete in the next three or four years."
Harmon said that there are records on snow, rain, temperature and other factors at hydroelectric lakes in the San Joaquin River watershed above Millerton Lake.
The data will give researchers a picture of conditions at various elevations for lakes such as Edison, Huntington, Redinger and Mammoth Pool, he said.
The Sierra Nevada Research Institute, run by fellow UC Merced researcher Roger Bales, also will provide data from its investigations of the Sierra over the past several years.
With established climate prediction models, researchers can use their analysis of the watershed to project a range of possibilities for the future San Joaquin.
The research is welcomed by the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, which is running the restoration project. The bureau, along with state and federal wildlife agencies, will release young salmon in the San Joaquin this fall to study how they move through the river. The climate change study will add to the background the bureau needs on this project.
Said bureau spokesman Pete Lucero: "All research conducted to better inform decisionmakers about the availability, quantity and quality of water is important."
San Joaquin restoration: $70 million goes down river
- The Fresno Bee
Modified Tue, Mar 06, 2012 01:10 PM
A new federal analysis reveals $70 million has been invested in the San Joaquin River restoration since 2007, but no major projects have been completed.
And as a Dec. 31 deadline nears to restart salmon runs on the previously dry river, riverside farmers say it's time to talk about a delay. They fear property damage from high flows, and they also worry about federal fines if protected fish stray into their irrigation canals.
"There's no shame in adjusting the timetable," said farmer Cannon Michael, who owns land near the river on the Valley's west side. "What's the point of starting if the river is not ready?"
Over the past four years, the money has gone in many directions, such as salaries, planning, extensive environmental studies and drilling monitoring wells near the river. There are dozens of details involved in preparing for projects across more than 150 miles of the river.
But major physical changes in the river, such as a bypass to route fish around the Mendota Dam, have not yet taken place.
The financial accounting adds another layer to the controversy already swirling around the river restoration.
Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Visalia, has stirred debate with ambitious water legislation that includes downsizing the restoration and focusing on warm-water fish, instead of salmon.
Warm-water fish would require less water, leaving more for farmers. The bill passed the House last week, but faces an uncertain future in the Senate.
Nunes weighed in on the restoration spending analysis by the federal Bureau of Reclamation, saying it is a good reason to stop sending money to the Interior Department for the current plan.
"I have news for them: They are cut off," he said. "Not a penny of additional federal dollars is going to this ill-conceived venture. They should spare the fish the suffering."
The restoration ranks among the largest in the country with a cost estimate ranging from $250 million to more than $1 billion over the next dozen years. The river has not flowed naturally since Friant Dam was finished in the late 1940s and salmon runs died off.
Federal officials plan to build one major project this year for the restoration. It's a fish screen to prevent salmon from swimming into Arroyo Canal, a major diversion for west-side irrigation water. The project will include a new fish ladder at Sack Dam to help salmon get beyond the dam.
But new salmon runs still will have to be guided around Mendota Dam with the bypass canal, which has not been built. Protective screens will have to be installed over other canals and sloughs to prevent fish from making the wrong turns. A new hatchery will be needed to raise salmon.
The course of the river also must be decided for the Valley's west side. The Bureau of Reclamation has not yet indicated whether it will retrench a largely unused section of the river or shunt the river flow into the East Side Bypass channel.
Study, design and engineering for these projects can take many months, even years, officials say.
Since fall 2009, the federal government has been learning how the river reacts when water fills previously dry sections. As part of the experimentation last year, a small number of salmon were released into the river.
"The river is substantially different than it was four years ago," said Alicia Forsythe, restoration program manager for the Bureau of Reclamation.
But west-side farmers say the major hurdles remain.
Farmer Michael said he and other west-side farmers fear the restoration will be underfunded. They say a half-completed project would expose them to too much risk for property damage.
"I think we should have an honest dialogue," he said. "Maybe the schedule is a little too aggressive."
The Bureau of Reclamation is discussing the Dec. 31 salmon deadline with environmentalists and east-side farmers, who signed the 2006 restoration agreement.
The west-siders were not involved in the 18-year lawsuit over the river, so they are not included in the settlement.
Forsythe said tough questions are being asked among the stakeholders about the upcoming deadline. Is the timing right? Can a self-sustaining salmon run really be restarted at this point?
She said young salmon will continue to be released into the river for study, but nothing beyond that has been decided.
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