Thursday, December 10, 2009

Become a River Guide

One great way to be a river activist is to be a river guide!
***Now accepting applications for 2010 Guide Trainings***

The Rafting Program is supported by 300+ river guides who are active volunteers for Friends of the River. The Rafting Program strives to enhance public awareness about rivers and water resources, to make river running accessible and enjoyable, and to raise money to support Friends of the River's statewide river conservation and water policy reform efforts.

The Friends of the River Rafting Program sponsors guide training at the basic and advanced levels. Basic training teaches you how to be a competent and safe Class III Whitewater Paddle Guide while teaching you to be an effective advocate and activist as well. Classes are conducted both on river and off. On shore classes include seminars on conservation issues, river hydraulics, safety and rescue information, trip organization, and much more. Our training program is performed at cost in order to be as affordable as possible. In return, the Rafting Program asks that you make a volunteer commitment to the Program.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Giving Thanks - a portion of San Joaquin River flows again

San Joaquin River flows stop below Mendota Dam

By Mark Grossi, The Fresno Bee, Calif.

Nov. 21--The first revival flows of the San Joaquin River have stopped about 30 miles downstream of Mendota Dam, well short of fully refilling the dried riverbed.

Reconnecting the entire river probably won't happen until next year, but federal officials collected a lot of information from monitoring wells during the seven-week experimental flow that ended Friday.

Officials believe a lot of water was lost in a section that has been mostly dry for the last half-century.
"As we sort out all the data, we'll have a better feel for how much we lost and how the river reacted," said Jason Phillips, restoration program manager for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. "But there were no surprises."

The river restoration began Oct. 1 under a lawsuit settlement signed by farmers, environmentalists and the federal government in 2006. The San Joaquin dried up and salmon runs died after Friant Dam northeast of Fresno began capturing the water in the late 1940s.

The experimental flow was stopped Friday so Central California Irrigation District can perform a regularly scheduled safety inspection of Mendota Dam, 62 miles downstream of Friant Dam.

The Bureau of Reclamation, which owns and operates Friant Dam, will resume water releases Feb. 1.

To completely refill the San Joaquin, the flows would have to travel an additional 84 miles downstream of Mendota Dam to reach the confluence of the Merced River.

Earlier this week, the water moved quickly -- taking about 24 hours -- from Mendota Dam to Sack Dam, 23 miles downstream. That's because the river already had water flowing in it. Irrigation water is routinely sent from the Mendota Pool down that stretch of the river.

But the river moved very slowly in October, inching along for weeks through a 20-mile dry section between Gravelly Ford and the Mendota Pool. The river did not reach the pool until this month.

Throughout the process, officials and the farmers who own Mendota and Sack dams discussed how the water would pass through the dams. Federal officials said the talks helped to create a relationship that they want to continue as the restoration unfolds.

Trip tests waters of revived San Joaquin

Published online on Thursday, Nov. 12, 2009

By Mark Grossi / The Fresno Bee

FLOATING ON THE SAN JOAQUIN RIVER -- My plastic kayak suddenly ran aground in a place where the San Joaquin River has flowed only a few times since the 1950s.

But I was only briefly caught on a shallow gravel bar about 40 miles west of Friant Dam.
It was one of many unexpected encounters on an otherwise smooth float that began Wednesday with a monstrous barn owl and ended with an iPhone.

The kayak trip was an up-close peek at a section of the rejuvenated San Joaquin that not many people have boated over the last several decades because it usually is dry.

It will be months, if not years, before the river becomes fully navigable, but the day is coming when it might provide an important new recreation amenity for the Valley. But questions remain unanswered: Who will settle conflicts between power boats and kayakers? Who will provide access points?

Special report: A River Reborn This trip became so much more than a quick look at a reborn river.
The San Joaquin's split personality -- lush and green below Friant Dam but desertlike beyond Gravelly Ford -- is far more vivid when viewed from a boat.

Such a view wouldn't even be possible except for a federal restoration program that increased the amount of water released from Friant Dam starting Oct. 1. The construction of the dam more than half a century ago left a dry riverbed downstream.

The river's green section from Friant Dam to Gravelly Ford is familiar to many boaters. Officials continuously release water from the dam for riverside property owners, and the river never died here.

But 38 miles downstream at Gravelly Ford, the flow dwindles to nothing in most years. Now, with extra water flowing, that stretch is waking from a half-century of slumber. West of Kerman, the San Joaquin is a gorgeous desert river meandering around cobble islands -- piles of large stones -- as screeching swallows fly in every direction.

Bee photographer Mark Crosse and I started at Skaggs Bridge Park so we could see the transition from sycamores and eucalyptus to cobble and sand.

About two miles down from Skaggs Bridge, we passed through a wide pond where we saw two Fresno fishing enthusiasts, Peter Jew, 36, and Edward Juarez, 31, on the shore. We wanted to chat, but our boats were quickly moving into a swift bottleneck in the river.

We had to navigate around sycamore limbs and arundo -- a dreaded invasive giant reed plant from Asia. Suddenly, we heard a rush of wings. It was the monstrous owl, making a mad rush for a new perch and scaring me silly.

We stopped on a cobble island at Gravelly Ford for lunch and tried to imagine what it looked like here in 1982, when a string of El NiƱo-influenced storms created November runoff more than twice as high as it was Wednesday.

When we moved on, I tried to spot a bald eagle nesting site that a biologist had described to me. I saw only migrating geese, honking wildly as they flew by. Their calls soon were drowned by the sound of a powerful motorboat.

The guy driving the boat slowed politely to keep the wake down and let us pass. The motorboat was surprising because I had expected the water to be too shallow.

Three young men along the banks apparently didn't expect to see us. They were carrying rifles, seemingly hunting -- perhaps on private property -- for ducks or dove. So we asked which type of bird they were hunting. Suddenly, their rifles no longer were in sight.

"We're just looking," one called out.
We moved onward.

By then, Mendota was in the distance, but we would not get that far. Our pullout point was several miles short of the Mendota Pool, which is next to Mendota.

We weren't sure we could boat much farther anyway. The blades of our paddles were sometimes hitting the river bottom. When we hung up on that pesky sand bar, I climbed out and pushed my boat back into the flow.

Then I solved my last dilemma with the help of an iPhone -- tucked away in a sealed plastic bag. There were no landmarks that I recognized. I needed the GPS program to locate our pullout place along the river. I was surprised at how well it worked.

We were about seven miles from Mendota when we hauled out the boats.

Which leads me to one piece of advice for other boaters: Until the Mendota Pool, there are few places to get out of the river beyond Gravelly Ford without crossing private property.

Ask around, check Google Earth, carry a GPS unit.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Friends of the River Protests “Paper” Water

Friends of the River has filed a protest with the State Water Resources Control Board against the Bureau of Reclamation’s filing to extend its water rights permit for the giant Central Valley Project (CVP). On June, the Bureau filed a petition with the State Water Board for a time extension on CVP permits for approximately 96 million acre feet of water. The current “paper” permits exceed the amount of water available in California’s hydrologic system. The Water Board estimates that the state has granted rights to eight times more water than California normally receives in a year.

The Bureau would like until 2030 to find a way to put this “paper” water to use, although the agency claims that it is not possible to predict what the beneficial use for the water will be between now and 2030 and it is not possible to determine what the ultimate water diversions will be in 2030. In addition, they cannot provide any recommendations for licensing the water for the CVP they are currently using under a permit.

The CVP water rights permits are associated with the Bureau’s massive system of federal dams and canals located on several Central Valley rivers. These facilities include Shasta and the Red Bluff Diversion Dams on the Sacramento River, Folsom Dam on the American River, New Melones Dam on the Stanislaus River, and the Friant Dam on the San Joaquin River.

Friends of the River’s protest argues that the Bureau needs to develop the information necessary to change its existing use to a license (with all the environmental conditions that come with it), and provide more information on the other permits they are attempting to hold on to for the next 20 years. It is not in the public interest to have a water rights system that allows the Bureau to hang on indefinitely to millions of acre-feet of “paper” water that simply does not exist in most years. Friends of the River’s goal in the CVP water rights proceeding is to ensure fair and beneficial use of California’s water. 

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Scary Halloween Weekend

Email Your Assemblymember and Senator - NOW - To Save California Rivers!
Controversial Delta water policy and water bond bills have proliferated over the last week in the California Legislature like brain-eating zombies. As of Friday, October 30, there were no less than 20 water bills introduced and few of them are any good for California rivers. Many of the new bills are over 100 pages long and the Legislature is expected to vote on them by Monday, Nov. 2!

Thursday, October 22, 2009

EBMUD Approves Pardee Dam Expansion

By Katherine Evatt and Steve Evans

In the face of overwhelming opposition and impassioned public testimony, the East Bay Municipal Utility District (EBMUD) board recently voted 4-2 to include options for a new and expanded Pardee Dam on the Mokelumne River in its 2040 water plan. At the same time, the board voted 6-0 to work with river conservation interests to secure National Wild and Scenic River protection for the Mokelumne River. In response to the vote to expand Pardee, Friends of the River, the Foothills Conservancy and other conservation groups are considering possible litigation.

The EBMUD board approved its water plan after much debate, following hours of testimony from nearly 70 speakers — including foothill residents who traveled to the meeting by bus and EBMUD ratepayers who braved the rain and wind to speak directly to their elected representatives. At the meeting, the dam opponents presented a long list of elected officials, public agencies, organizations and businesses opposed the Pardee expansion.

The EBMUD board was split over whether to retain the dam in its plan, but ultimately approved a motion that retained four different Pardee options. The smallest would avoid flooding any of the Mokelumne upstream of the existing Pardee Reservoir. The largest would drown the river, its cultural and historical resources, the historic 1912 Middle Bar Bridge, whitewater recreation areas, and wildlife and fish habitat up to 1,000 feet upstream of the Highway 49 Bridge. Three of the four options inundate part of river recommended for National Wild and Scenic River protection by the Bureau of Land Management.

EBMUD Board President Doug Linney was one of two board members to oppose the proposed expansion, which he thinks will be an “albatross” around EBMUD’s neck. “It’s a symbol of everything the East Bay Municipal Utility District is not,” he said. Fellow board member Andy Katz voted with Linney against the expansion, while Lesa McIntosh, John Coleman, William Patterson, and Katy Foulkes voted for expansion. Board member Frank Mellon missed the vote.

River advocates found little comfort in the adopted resolution, which states that EBMUD will not build a new dam without support from “upcountry” community, government, conservation, historic preservation, business, tribal, and recreation stakeholders. The adoption of the four Pardee expansion alternatives in the water plan is a programmatic decision. In order to actually build an expanded Pardee dam and reservoir, EBMUD will have to spend considerable effort and money to produce a site-specific environmental impact report (EIR).

Nevertheless, as noted by Friends of the River’s Ron Stork, “The decision means that EBMUD’s political and planning energies have been committed to drowning more of the Mokelumne River. For a District that isn’t growing in land area and has just completed a major expansion of its water supply system by tapping into American River water through the newly constructed Freeman Diversion, the decision to embark on an expensive, environmentally damaging, and unreliable new supply is puzzling and troubling.”

Although EBMUD’s support of Wild & Scenic protection of the Mokelumne River is a step in the right direction, it seemed clear from the companion motion to expand Pardee that at least a slim majority of the EBMUD Board won’t support protection of the portion of the river downstream of Highway 49 that would be flooded by an expanded Pardee.

Friends of the River, the Foothill Conservancy, and other conservation organizations are considering their legal options to challenge the adequacy of the current programmatic EIR for the water plan. It’s clear that EBMUD ignored viable alternatives, such as improved demand management and partnering with the Contra Costa Water District to reserve water storage behind CCWD’s proposed enlargement of the offstream Los Vaqueros Reservoir. In addition, EBMUD’s plan completely fails to address the high cost of dam expansion and the impact on utility rates. Enlarging Pardee is undoubtedly the most expensive water option under consideration by EBMUD and it is likely that EBMUD ratepayers may eventually object to this cost by voting in new board members.

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