San Joaquin River Has At Least One Figure Content From The Impact Of Heavy Rain And Water Release: The Fish

San Joaquin River photo by Chris Cocoles

Having attended college and lived in Fresno and worked my first job in journalism 20 minutes north in Madera, I can’t count how many times I crossed the once might San Joaquin River (I took the above photo in fall 2021 when I was in town for a Fresno State football game.

Drought and other factors have taken a toll on the San Joaquin’s once plentiful salmon stocks, particularly now non-existent spring-run Chinook. But as longtime Fresno Bee columnist Marek Warszawski wrote over the weekend, the torrential rainy season that has wreaked havoc on Central Valley agricultural interests, the increased water flows in the San Joaquin could be a boost for salmon. Here’s Warszawski with more:

In a normal spring, salmon would not be able to swim up the Eastside Bypass flood control channel, the most direct route, due to a sheer 5-foot drop on the downstream end. This year, Portz believes ascending the channel won’t be a problem. And if fish stay in the river, neither will obstacles further upstream.

“Sack Dam is underwater, so that’s no longer an impediment, and Mendota Dam has got all their stop logs pulled” allowing water to flow over, Portz said. “Those fish have two ways to get to Friant Dam currently: up the river channel and the Eastside Bypass.”

Because high flows are treacherous to work in, program staff won’t monitor how many adult salmon have returned until this fall when they count the number of redds (gravel spawning beds). The highest number in program history — 209 — came during the last wet year in 2019.

“We’re just going to let them swim up on their own to the base of Friant Dam and hang out all summer long,” Portz said. “We won’t know until September, October when they start making the redds if we were successful or not. So we’ve got to just be patient and hang on.”