San Joaquin River restoration likely a sore point in dry season

Fresno BeFebruary 21, 2012 

This is the year east Valley farmers have dreaded. It's one of the driest seasons in the past 100 years, and they must share precious water with the federal government to restore the San Joaquin River.

It's a tender subject among the 15,000 farmers who irrigate with the San Joaquin. For 18 years, they fought a losing legal battle against restoring the dried river and finally agreed to cooperate in 2006.

Every year of the legal fight and every year since the agreement, they have worried about this kind of dry year during the restoration. The snowpack is a third of what it should be, and their livelihood is at stake.

"Yes, it will be hard this summer," said Cathie Walker, who farms 600 acres of citrus in Tulare County with her brother, Kevin Riddle. "These trees can't go without water."

Neither can the river restoration project, which is scheduled to reintroduce salmon into the river in late December. The restoration began in fall 2009 with experimental flows of water released from Friant Dam. By 2010, the dried portions of the river had been refilled.

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