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San Joaquin River Group Background

Map of San Joaquin Valley Project Area and Vacinity. (PDF)

In May 1995, the State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) adopted a Water Quality Control Plan (WQCP) for the Bay-Delta. It included water quality and flow objectives for the San Joaquin River Basin. The objectives were a source of dispute because of the lack of scientific information regarding the relationship of flow to salmon survival and because the San Joaquin River stakeholders were not represented in the negotiations that established the objectives (1994 Bay-Delta Accord). An association of water users on the San Joaquin River system filed suit against the SWRCB, challenging the flow objectives contained in the WQCP. fish.jpg (12147 bytes)

In an effort to settle this issue out of court, the San Joaquin River interests collaborated with other water users, environmental, and governmental interests to identify feasible voluntary actions to protect the San Joaquin River's fish resources and implement the SWRCB's objectives. Initial meetings started in 1996 culminated in an agreement with the Delta water export interests, known as the Letter of Intent to Resolve San Joaquin River Issues.

Fishery biologists from state and federal agencies and other stakeholders outlined a program of study to gather the best available scientific information on the impact of flows and State Water Project/Central Valley Project (SWP/CVP) export rates on the salmon smolts in the lower San Joaquin River. In addition, the VAMP will try to determine what impact the Head of Old River Barrier has on salmon smolt survival. The result is a scientific adaptive fishery management plan commonly known as the Vernalis Adaptive Management Plan (VAMP).

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Development of the San Joaquin River Agreement

The San Joaquin River stakeholders recognized the value of implementing VAMP and taking other actions to help implement the 1995 WQCP. This recognition led to the development of the San Joaquin River Agreement (Agreement). A Statement of Support for the San Joaquin River Agreement was signed by most of the parties to the negotiations, committing them to the program once all environmental and regulatory procedures required by the NEPA, CEQA, and SWRCB were complete. By February 1999, these requirements and a federal Record of Decision had been completed with the culmination of an EIS/EIR for Meeting Flow Objectives for the San Joaquin River Agreement, 1999-2010. The SWRCB adopted D-1641 on December 29, 1999, subsequently revised on March 15, 2000, providing for implementation of the Agreement.

Water Rights Implications

In what can only be considered a major triumph by those who took on the challenge, the SWRCB adopted pertinent provisions of the Agreement on December 29, 1999. The SWRCB also adopted Resolution 99-117, which certified its Final EIR for implementation of the 1995 Bay-Delta WQCP. After the issuance of D-1641, some 21 parties filed petitions for reconsideration. The petitions were reviewed and considered by SWRCB staff and were the subject of a hearing held on March 15, 2000. As a result of the petitions filed and oral comments made at the hearing, the SWRCB adopted several minor changes to D-1641 and issued a Revised D-1641 on March 15, 2000, in accordance with Order WR-2000-02.

The provisions of the Agreement constitute the sole method by which the flow-dependent objectives of the 1995 WQCP for all water users in the San Joaquin River Basin are to be met. While the effort to develop, present, and defend the Agreement was contentious, the parties to the Agreement never wavered in their commitment to its value and importance. The adopted provisions are a viable method by which (1) the current Bay-Delta flow standards can be met, and (2) appropriate and sound scientific data can be gathered to design future flow-based regimes.

In D-1641, the SWRCB agreed with the parties to the Agreement that the established framework which comprises the VAMP will ensure that relevant, comparable data can be gathered and utilized in future proceedings regarding salmon smolt survival. D-1641 also adopted a variety of changes to the place and/or purpose of use of the water rights held by certain irrigation districts. These changes, sought under California Water Code Sections 1707 and 1735, were needed to ensure that these districts could fully comply with all aspects of the Agreement without subjecting themselves to a possible claim that their right to some or all of the water made available for VAMP had been abandoned or otherwise permanently lost.

The year 2000 was the initial year for implementing the Agreement.  The following elements were attained: a target flow at Vernalis of 5, 700 cubic feet per second (cfs), a Delta export pumping target of 2,250 cfs, installation of the fish barrier at the head of Old River, and completion of the year 2000 fish monitoring program.

 


Dennis W. Westcot, Project Administrator
San Joaquin River Group
716 Valencia Ave.
Davis, CA 95616-0153
(530) 758-8633
westcot-sjrga@sbcglobal.net

For information regarding this web site, contact the Modesto Irrigation District.