Lower San Joaquin River Flow Restoration

The San Joaquin River and its tributaries are in crisis. What was once a mighty salmon river has slowed to a trickle (only 10% of it flowed to the Delta in 2015!) and barely supports a population of native anadromous fish. This river used to push hundreds of thousands of fish through the San Francisco Bay Delta Estuary into the Pacific, and was an important contributor to the Central Valley fishery that now depends solely on Sacramento River fall run Chinook. Massive rim dams that block fish passage to spawning areas, unsustainable diversions that deplete the river’s flow, and California’s ongoing battle with drought are all responsible for the decline of fishable salmon runs on the San Joaquin.

Map of the San Joaquin and its tributaries, flowing northwesterly into the Delta. CA State Water Resources Control Board, public domain.
Map of the San Joaquin and its tributaries, flowing northwesterly into the Delta. CA State Water Resources Control Board, public domain.

The California State Water Resources Control Board (State Board) recently released a proposal to increase flows on the SJR to 40% of unimpaired flow, which is the flow rate in the absence of dams and diversions. While this is an improvement from the current state of affairs, it is unfortunately not enough to restore wild fish populations. Indeed, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife and the State Board’s own scientists have determined that it will take more like 50% unimpaired flow to stop the downward plummet of SJR salmon, and more like 60% to get restoration on track.

The State Board has released a “Substitute Environmental Document” (SED) that contains the proposal for 40% unimpaired flow, which is actually the linchpin of Phase I of the State Board’s update to the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan. PCFFA, along with other fisheries and river conservation groups, are fighting to convince the State Board that less than half a river is simply not enough.


Sign your fishing or fishery-dependent business onto this letter to the State Board asking to provide enough San Joaquin flow to support restoration of native fisheries.

You can provide public comment on the updated plan at State Water Board hearings on November 2 and 10, 2016 in Sacramento, and November 4 in Modesto. Contact PCFFA for more info.

Written Comments on the Substitute Environmental Document are due January 17, 2017 at 12 noon.  


October 2016: State Water Board’s Revised Draft Substitute Environmental Document . This link has the full document, plus links to fact sheets and other materials

October 2016: PCFFA et al. letter to California Elected Officials re lower San Joaquin River flow restoration

State Board’s webpage for the Bay Delta Water Quality Control Plan Update

September 2016 Bay Institute Report on need for flows to restore Delta Estuary ecosystem and fisheries

April 2013: PCFFA et al. comments on the original Draft Substitute Environmental Document


Water Law Journal article that breaks down the Phase I SED

14 November San Jose Mercury News op/ed on importance of LSJR flows

28 October 2016 Sacramento Bee op/ed on restoring the San Joaquin River system

7 October 2016 SF Chronicle op/ed from Restore Hetch Hetchy E.D. Spreck Rosekranz 

7 October 2016 SF Chronicle article on collapse of the SF Bay Delta Estuary Ecosystem and need for flows to restore it

14 September 2016 Sacramento Bee op/ed by State Water Board chair Felicia Marcus on need to restore lower San Joaquin River Flows