Friant Dam photo.
Photographer: Pete Fickenscher, NOAA/NWS/WR/RFC Sacramento.

By Riamy Beuscher, communications intern

It has been nearly a decade since environmentalists and the federal government agreed to revive a 150 mile stretch of the San Joaquin River.

Originally, the task of getting the river flowing year-round so salmon could swim to the Sierra Nevada foothills to spawn was to be complete in 2012. Officials now predict the project will be completed in 2022.

However, the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation says that the section of the river in question will be flowing year-round by the end of the month—a major milestone for the project.

The San Joaquin River spans 366 miles. The river begins as snowmelt high in the Sierra Nevada Mountains and then makes its way through the canyons eventually filling a reservoir at Friant Dam east of Fresno.

The river has been running dry much of the year along a roughly forty mile stretch from Friant to Mendota, a community to the west of Fresno.

Before the Friant Dam opened in 1949, the river filled with up to a half-million salmon every year. Although the dam gave farmers water for irrigation, which significantly expanded agriculture, the salmon migration ended.

For thousands of years, as the salmon spawned and died, their decomposing bodies fed nutrients into the soil, helping to make the valley one of the most fertile farming regions in the U.S. Scientists believe salmon are a keystone species for the area.

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