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Drought Halts San Joaquin River Salmon Flows



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Flows into the San Joaquin River under a program to bring back native salmon will be stopped now through early September to try and protect upstream fish.

Portrait of chief executive officer Lois Henry

Lois Henry

SJV Water

The flow reduction being instituted by the San Joaquin Restoration Program is in reaction to the rapidly dwindling run-off coming out of the Sierra.

The Restoration Program was created under a 2009 settlement agreement between environmental groups, the Bureau of Reclamation and Friant Water Contractors to restore the river and bring back threatened spring-run Chinook salmon.

The new restoration flow plan was approved earlier this week and releases into the river were already being “stepped down” starting early Thursday morning, according to Restoration Administrator Tom Johnson.

River Will Go Dry Below Gravelly Ford

Under the new plan, the river will be “disconnected” downstream of Gravelly Ford, northeast of Fresno, and Sack Dam, southwest of Dos Palos, and allowed to go dry. Restoration water that would normally flow down those sections will be kept in Millerton Lake in hopes it will remain cool enough to sustain the spring-run salmon through their spawning and early incubation season in early fall.

The plan is to then “reconnect” the river in mid-November through the end of 2021 to aid salmon migration. Saving water now is expected to allow for greater flows later, Johnson said.

This “experimental” flow plan is also expected to use less total water than keeping a fully connected river wet through the summer at just a trickle.

This is the third time since river restoration flows started that they had to be cut back because of dry conditions.

Restoration flows started Jan. 1, 2014, and had to be cut later that year. They were halted again in 2015 due to drought. The river was reconnected from Friant Dam to the confluence with the Merced River in 2016 for the first time in 60 years after its water was diverted to farms and towns in 1956.

About SJV Water

SJV Water is a nonprofit, independent online news publication covering water in the San Joaquin Valley. Lois Henry is the CEO/editor of SJV Water. She can be reached at The website is

Bill McEwen is news director and columnist for GV Wire. He joined GV Wire in August 2017 after 37 years at The Fresno Bee. With The Bee, he served as Opinion Editor, City Hall reporter, Metro columnist, sports columnist and sports editor through the years. His work has been frequently honored by the California Newspapers Publishers Association, including authoring first-place editorials in 2015 and 2016. Bill and his wife, Karen, are proud parents of two adult sons, and they have two grandsons. You can contact Bill at 559-492-4031 or at Send an Email