As you may know, there are some people who would like to see salmon swimming in the San Joaquin River again, but I think they will be disappointed this year — again. The only salmon that have been in the San Joaquin lately were carried in a tank in the back of a pickup from the hatchery where they had grown up. After arrival at the river, the fish were tossed in the water by eager conservationists who began to observe them.
The fish probably thought, “What the heck is going on?” There they were with their own private river, with no other salmon in sight. It would be a tale to tell their grandchildren. But alas, that was not to be.
That was then, this is now. Unless we get a lot of rain — and soon — no self-respecting salmon would dip a fin in the San Joaquin River between Friant Dam and the San Joaquin’s confluence with the Merced River. The San Joaquin between Friant and the Merced is too shallow and runs too slowly to attract salmon. Improvements on the river channel that were supposed to have been made to attract salmon have not been accomplished, even though water has been spilling merrily down the river for a few years now.
The drought has made the water more precious, both for irrigators and conservationists, than ever in recent memory. Each side has what it feels to be a valid claim. But these are special times. We have to think of reality. Would spilling water down the river this year attract salmon? The likelihood of that is very slim. Would the water grow crops if it were used for irrigation? Absolutely.
Perhaps next year it will rain more, and the improvements to the river will have been made so the salmon will be more likely to be attracted. But this year it only seems logical to favor the farmers.