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River accord ups spring flows in SJ River

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POSTED April 13, 2010 3:12 a.m.
San Joaquin City - or what few traces are left of it - is stuck in the middle of nowhere along the river it was named after to the southeast of the Airport Way crossing.

It is where in 1849 pioneers established the southernmost terminal for river boats ferrying supplies to the southern mines in the Sierra foothills. The added flow of the Stanislaus River just around the bend made it possible for river boats to navigate that far south on the river virtually year round. After the Gold Rush, San Joaquin City was a key terminal for the movement of wheat until such time as the railroad took over as the main conduit of commerce.

The significance of the combined strength of the San Joaquin and Stanislaus rivers to keep the river alive is still a big factor today. But instead of the moving of goods it is all about moving enough fresh water to keep the San Joaquin River as healthy as possible before it enters the Delta.

Such water flows are especially critical in 30 days each spring when pulse flows are essential for quality and fish.

For the past 10 years, the San Joaquin River Agreement between the five eastside irrigation districts - including South San Joaquin Irrigation District - as well as the Bureau of Reclamation and other parties has made sure adequate water flows just a stone’s throw from the site of the historic San Joaquin City.

Known as the Vernalis Adaptive Management Agreement (VAMP), the accord has worked flawlessly to meet the requirements established by the State Water Resources Control Board for critical water flows.

That accord - which expired last year - has been extended for at least one year.

The SSJID board is expected to ink the extension to the agreement today when they meet at 9 a.m. at the district office, 11011 East Highway 120.

Essentially it requires South San Joaquin Irrigation District and its partner in the Tri-Dam Project - Oakdale Irrigation District - to continue to release up to 11,000 acre feet in water toward the flow requirement at the Vernalis measuring station. And when the districts don’t have the available water in early spring due to how the Bureau operates New Melones Reservoir, it is borrowed from the Modesto Irrigation District and released into the Tuolumne River where it joins the San Joaquin River above its confluence with the Stanislaus River.

In return, the two districts repay MID with water that is released through the OID system during the irrigation season. The SSJID typically pays $30,000 to the OID to cover its share of the costs when such a transfer is needed.

A recent court decision has allowed water to start flowing on the southern part of the San Joaquin River that had gotten so low at times that you could walk across the once mighty river.

The San Joaquin River Agreement prevented the river from meeting the same fate between Vernalis at the Old River Channel just north of Mossdale Crossing where the Delta officially begins.

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