There is an historic event unfolding in the San Joaquin Valley: The restoration of 60 miles of the San Joaquin River from Friant Dam to the river's confluence with the Merced River.
A major goal of this restoration project is the re-establishment of chinook salmon on their spawning runs. To get there, chinook returning from the ocean must pass through the San Francisco Bay, then through the San Joaquin Delta and back to those spawning beds in the cold-water San Joaquin River.
That is not, however, the restoration's entire consequence. It is crucial to understand the many additional benefits this project will provide to downstream farms, communities, and the riverside environment of the San Joaquin Valley.
First, farmers in the Friant Dam areas will benefit by being assured that they will have adequate irrigation during dry years, as well as flood protection from new levees during wetter years.
Second, many local jobs will be created in the engineering and construction of these levees.
Third, the water quality for neighboring communities will improve greatly as a result of this newly released river flow.
A fourth benefit of this restoration plan will be enhanced recreational opportunities for valley residents and their children. Kayakers, swimmers, hikers, boaters, fishermen, bird-watchers and picnickers will be able to enjoy the river as their grandparents did more than 60 years ago. As recreation flourishes, more tourists will come to the river and help the local economy by patronizing nearby businesses.
The fifth benefit, which interconnects with the others, will be a vast improvement to the environment along this river. Over the last century, land use and water management plans have eliminated 90 to 95 percent of riparian habitat in California. This inevitably resulted in drastic reductions to populations of fish and other wildlife.
Unfortunately, we cannot regain what has been lost. But we can protect and restore the remaining riparian habitat that is vitally important for feeding, nesting, cover and migration corridors for hundreds of species of birds, mammals and other wildlife.
By working together, we can have a San Joaquin River that supports agriculture, recreation and wildlife. I urge you to call or write to Sens. Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein to let them know of your enthusiastic support for the San Joaquin River Restoration Program.
Also, Rep. Jeff Denham needs to hear from the thousands of his constituents who want the government to honor its commitment to fund this extensive project.
The salmon are scheduled to be reintroduced to their historic run by Dec. 31, but obstacles remain. There is an urgent need to make sure your voices are heard now. If you make your elected officials realize your support for this project, you can help to put into place a legacy for the San Joaquin Valley that will last as long as rivers run.
For additional information, go to www.imfortheriver.org.
Salerno is president of the Stanislaus Audubon Society.