Central Valley

Biologist hopes San Joaquin River restoration will allow salmon revival

Restoration of long-dead salmon runs in the San Joaquin River near Fresno can easily be achieved, and it might help solve other California water problems, says an authority on native fish.

Biologist Peter Moyle, a University of California at Davis researcher who is known as an expert court witness on fish issues, will discuss the river at the Salmonid Restoration Conference, to be held March 5 to 8 in Lodi.

It is the first time the conference has ever been held in the San Joaquin Valley, said officials from the Salmonid Restoration Federation, a nonprofit advocacy group in Humboldt County.

They said they were attracted to the Valley by an agreement between environmentalists and farmers in 2006 to restore the San Joaquin and its salmon runs. Workshops are planned on environmental, biological and policy issues.

Moyle said the salmon revival might give a shot of fresh water to the troubled Sacramento-San Joaquin River Delta, where the San Joaquin River empties.

The delta is a crossroads for more than half the state's water supply, but it is also a sensitive estuary with suffering fish species.

"The San Joaquin and the delta are linked," Moyle said. "If we improve one part of the system, the rest of it may benefit, too."

The San Joaquin restoration is considered one of the largest projects of its kind in the West. The state's second-longest river was dried in two long stretches after Friant Dam was built in the 1940s.

Increased river flows are expected to begin next year. According to the agreement, salmon will be reintroduced into the river by 2012.

Federal funding for the project has not been secured yet, but Moyle said he is confident salmon runs can be revived.

"I wouldn't call salmon recovery a slam dunk," he said. "But the fish will respond to a living river."

Moyle is known in Central California. He appeared last year in a federal court in Fresno as the lead expert witness describing delta fish population declines.

He testified for six hours in one session, detailing how water pumping in the south delta harmed fish. The judge later made a ruling that will likely slow the pumps this year and cause irrigation water cutbacks for farmers on the Valley's west side.

Reporter Mark Grossi can be reached at mgrossi@fresnobee.com or 559 441-6316.