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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

On June 30th of this year the Fresno Bee reported this story "San Joaquin River Restoration Will Cost $900M" and in the story the actual number was said to be $892M. But, they added that the price could range up to $2B "with the inclusion of lower-priority projects." Then last Saturday in a story with the headline "Climate Change Spawns Salmon Dilemma for SJ River" the Bee reports "Skeptical farmers often ask a big key question about the $2 billion revival of the San Joaquin River."

So, it looks like the Bee knows when the government says something will cost $900M and maybe $2B, it means it will cost $2B. Our interpretation would be that if they say $900M, but maybe $2B, it will actually be $3B or $4B. But, that's just us. Maybe it's because of this story: "San Joaquin Restoration: $70M Goes Down River" where the Bee reports "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." This led Congressman Devin Nunes to comment "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."

Hey, what's a billion or two when the county can't afford to keep criminals in jail, when the city has to ask the police to give back some pay to balance the budget, when the Governor has to threaten school disasters to get a tax increase, and when we have a $16 trillion national debt. Government's new motto: Spend now, ask questions later.

San Joaquin River restoration will cost $900m

Timeline is being pushed back three years.

By Mark Grossi - The Fresno Bee

On the flat west-Valley prairie, the San Joaquin River looks like any other irrigation ditch amid tomato, garlic and onion fields -- except that this ditch has a $900 million future.

The federal government has finally attached that price tag to the historic remake of this river, aimed at reconnecting it to the Pacific Ocean and restarting long-dead salmon runs.

And the schedule for fully restoring those salmon runs has been pushed back about three years from the Dec. 31 deadline this year.

The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation last week released the estimate and the schedule as part of a draft project plan that is already getting heat from farmers and environmentalists. The plan will remain in draft form the rest of the year while the bureau takes comments and makes revisions.

The draft answers old questions about the price range of the 150-mile restoration. In 2006 when the restoration agreement was signed among farmers, environmentalists and the federal government, the price was estimated between $250,000 and $1 billion.

Now, after years of study, the core projects are estimated at $892 million, and the price could range up to more than $2 billion with the inclusion of lower-priority projects.

But the core projects should be enough to achieve liftoff with the restoration, said Alicia Forsythe, bureau program manager.

"Some costs will come in under, some over," she said. "We feel we can do this for the cost we have set out."

There is no salmon restoration in the United States like this one. The 150 miles of restoration -- in the middle of a 350-mile river -- includes dozens of miles along the Valley's west side where the river has been mostly dry for six decades.

The restoration is the result of a settlement to an 18-year lawsuit brought by environmentalists.

Riverside farmers on the west side still fear the new estimate is far too low, perhaps resulting in a half-built effort that might expose their operations to water damage or liability for endangered species. Among the back-burner projects are riverside vegetation, which salmon will need to remain cool in the water.

Another farmer complaint: Much of the $892 million for core projects hangs on politics. About two-thirds of it must come through the federal government and congressional appropriations each year, meaning it is not a sure thing.

Farmer Cannon Michael called the draft "a lot of propaganda and a project that has no money and very little chance of success."

Environmentalists support the restoration, but they also have disagreements with the Bureau of Reclamation over the draft plan. Like the farmers, they say some important projects should have a higher priority.

One such project would eliminate huge ponds resulting from gravel mining along the river, they say. Predatory fish in the ponds could eat young salmon as they migrate to the ocean.

Still, the draft is progress toward a fully restored river that will benefit everyone in California, said senior scientist Monty Schmitt of the Natural Resources Defense Council.

"While there are aspects of the restoration program's draft (plan) we disagree with, it is useful," he said.

East-side farmers have different concerns that also revolve around funding. East-siders worry they might not get enough money for projects that would bring back some of the water they are losing to the restoration.

East-siders are directly involved in the restoration, having signed the 2006 agreement and giving an average of 19% of their river irrigation water for the restoration. The agreement calls for efforts to capture the restoration water downstream and return it to farmers.

The agreement also will help them renovate major irrigation canals, such as the Friant-Kern Canal, which have deteriorated over time and carry less water now.

But until specifics are decided on these projects, it's hard to know whether there is enough money, says Ron Jacobsma, general manager of the Friant Water Authority, representing 15,000 east-side farmers. Only about 10% of the funding available is set aside for their projects, he said.

"We're feeling like we're not necessarily getting a fair proportional share of the funding," Jacobsma said. "We need to know more."

The river revival started with experimental flows in 2009 and faced the Dec. 31 deadline this year for full restoration of salmon runs, as required by the lawsuit settlement. But work on major bottlenecks is behind schedule, bureau program manager Forsythe said.

The biggest of these projects will re-establish the river along the heavily engineered and widely farmed west side, where the river has not run naturally since Friant Dam was built in the late 1940s.

To bring back salmon, authorities must get the fish around Mendota Dam and Sack Dam with bypass channels. Farther downstream, the old river channel must be reconstructed or the river must be funneled into an altered flood channel called the Eastside Bypass.

Some projects are projected to be finished in 2016, others 2020.

"Overall, we view this as a process," said Forsythe. "We were off schedule with projects. We think we have scheduled the right activities."


Climate change spawns salmon dilemma for San Joaquin River

By Mark Grossi - The Fresno Bee

Skeptical 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

River is far from ready for salmon.

By Mark Grossi - The Fresno Bee

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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