WASHINGTON, D.C. – Interior Secretary Dirk Kempthorne praised the decision of U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence K. Karlton, who today approved a settlement agreement that would restore 153 miles of the San Joaquin River below Friant Dam. Judge Karlton's decision ends one of the longest-running environmental disputes in the nation.
"This Settlement closes a long chapter of conflict and uncertainty in California's San Joaquin Valley," Secretary Kempthorne said. "Now we can move forward together, opening a new chapter of environmental restoration and water supply certainty for the farmers and their communities."
Calling the settlement one of the most important restoration efforts in the West, Kempthorne said the agreement will work to restore salmon runs in the upper San Joaquin River while assuring the continued economic viability of one of the most prosperous agricultural regions in the nation and the world.
"We congratulate the settling parties on this accomplishment and pledge to efficiently carry out the terms of the agreement in the spirit of cooperative conservation, respecting the needs of all who have an interest in the river and its management."
Full implementation of the agreement will require authorizing legislation by the U.S. Congress, including the federal share of restoration costs. Restoring the upper San Joaquin River would be one of the largest environmental restoration projects in California's history, estimated to cost several hundred million dollars. Under the settlement, the costs would be shared among state and federal governments and water users.
The river, the second longest in the state, flows north for about 330 miles from the Lower Sierra Mountains above Fresno to the San Joaquin-Sacramento River Delta and into San Francisco Bay. A major goal of the settlement is restoring river flows from Friant Dam, which was constructed in 1942 to provide flood control, irrigation and municipal water for the valley. The plan calls for releasing significantly larger annual flows from the dam to allow a return of the spring run Chinook salmon while providing an assured source of water to 15,000 farms and numerous towns and cities in the San Joaquin Valley. Rebuilding dry river channels, removing barriers to fish passage and constructing levees also will be major components of the restoration effort.
The settlement agreement, which resolves an 18-year lawsuit, was worked out among water users, led by the Friant Water Users Association, environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Defense Council, and federal agencies, including Interior's Bureau of Reclamation and U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.
More information on the Settlement Agreement is online at www.usbr.gov/mp