judge Ruled Friant Damn Illegal

Good news for a local waterway.

Merced Sun-Star: A federal judge ruled Friday that the U.S. government violated California law when it built the Friant Dam near Fresno six decades ago, a decision that could settle a 16-year-old water dispute and restore water flows to the state’s second longest river.

The U.S. District Court judge in Sacramento decided in favor of environmentalists who sued the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation and the Friant Water Users Authority in 1988 over the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River. In the lawsuit, the Natural Resources Defense Council and other environmental groups charged that the defendants violated state law by failing to release enough water to sustain the surrounding environment and wildlife.

Agreeing with the environmentalists Friday, Judge Lawrence K. Karlton wrote, “There can be no genuine dispute that many miles of the San Joaquin River are now entirely dry, except during extremely wet periods, and that the historic fish populations have been destroyed.”

The San Joaquin River supported thousands of spawning Chinook salmon and other fish before the Bureau of Reclamation built the Friant Dam, about 20 miles northeast of Fresno, in the 1940s. The water now collects in Millerton Lake and provides irrigation to about 15,000 farmers and one million acres of farmland east of the river. But the dam diverts so much water that long stretches of the river run completely dry most of the year.