State Water Resources Control Board Raises the Bar on Instream Flows
Last Thursday, the State Water Resources Control Board proposed flow standards that could double the amount of natural freshwater flows in the lower San Joaquin River and its major tributaries during critical months of the year. Sounds good, but is it enough? The San Joaquin River has been named one of America's Most Endangered Rivers by the conservation group American Rivers.
The San Joaquin River, which flows from Southern Sierras into the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta and then the Bay, is left with less than 20% of its flow at times and can run dry for up to 100 miles. Historically, an estimated 130,000 salmon spawned in the Tuolumne River, a tributary of the San Joaquin; last year, the number plummeted to below 500. Peter Drekmeier of the Tuolumne River Trust says, "The situation is desperate, and the State Water Board is finally stepping up to do something about it."
The proposed standards call for a range of 30-50% of the natural river flow (called "unimpaired flow") in the system, with a starting point of 40% during the critical period of February-June. The increase in flows will create a healthier river system for the San Joaquin and its tributaries (the Tuolumne, Merced, and Stanislaus rivers), benefiting salmon and other native fish and wildlife that use the river, as well as improving water quality in the Delta and the Bay.