MERCED — Three nonprofit organizations are working together to help remove harmful weeds and invasive plants along a 150-mile stretch of the San Joaquin River in Merced, Madera and Fresno counties this summer.
Along with the San Joaquin River Parkway and Conservation Trust, River Partners will be hiring area youth and seasonally unemployed agricultural laborers to help with the project.
It is designed to improve the river environment for people and wildlife.
"The project is a multi-year project," said Julie Rentner, who is River Partners' Central Valley regional director. "We're not sure how many years it will last. That depends on funding.
"It's a project that's not only about removing the weeds," she said, "but also creating jobs for local folks."
Rentner says the project should bring about 100 jobs to Merced, Madera and Fresno counties. Workers started in January and February with the removal of the invasive plants.
The project kicks into high gear today as workers focus on treating weeds along the river corridor from Friant Dam to the Merced River confluence.
"So far, we have four full-time employees and 44 temporary jobs. But over the next year we should have over 100 workers employed," said Laura Jensen, a project manager for The Nature Conservancy's migratory bird initiative.
The main targets of the push to remove invasive vegetation in Merced County are giant reeds and pepperweeds.
"The giant reeds are are tall, grassy plants, but their roots are really shallow," Rentner said. "Their shallow roots make them unstable along the banks, which helps cause soil erosion. Not only does that affect the banks, but it damages the water quality because of the soil in the water."
According to Rentner, there has been no documentation of birds nesting in the giant reeds.
The goal is to remove the reeds and replace them with deep-rooted plants that will help maintain the integrity of the river banks. The new plants are more beneficial to wildlife.
"The pepperweed displaces all other plants," Rentner said. "It takes over the landscape, making it hard to compete for crops that you want to grow."
One benefit of the project will be clearing areas of the river's banks for recreational use.
"Deeply eroded banks and giant grown reeds have resulted in zero access to the river's edge in some areas," Rentner said. "The project will help with fishing and swim areas along the bank."