By Danielle Katz
There is a river that in its midst grows silent. It does not stagnate into a reservoir, nor trickle to a dreary end like the Colorado. Instead, it is siphoned laterally and horizontally into a complex web of aqueducts that mutes the river until some water is siphoned back in 30 miles or so downstream. At least that’s what the maps and all the people say.
But does it really? What really goes on in this paused juncture of flow? What is it like on the ground when the living pulse of something is transmitted somewhere else?
That is what I want to know, to feel, to see, to hear, in the full visceral realm of experience and understanding. The river I seek out is the San Joaquin. Listed by American Rivers as the most #endanderedriver of 2014 it has haunted me since I first paddled into its waters.
In 2011 I was traveling the length of the Tuolumne River with the Tuolumne River Trusts annual Paddle to the Sea. I’d come down from the mountains of the watershed and paddled right into the arms of the river without knowing much. I knew the San Joaquin was tied to declining Bay Delta health, I knew it was one of the largest rivers in California with the age old story of too much infrastructure and not enough water, I knew it played a critical role in supplying the water that grew the food I ate, and I knew its well being played a major role in any attempt to help revive the Tuolumne’s ecosystem. But beyond that I knew very little.
In 2012, Rivers for Change picked the San Joaquin as one of the rivers for our 12 Rivers in 2012 campaign. The importance of this river increased with research, but so did my level of confusion about it. Wading through a wealth of information about lawsuits, restoration mandates, required flows, salmon re-introduction, high ground water tables, salinization of crops, stops in water releases, new dam proposals, and on and on, each piece of information I gathered from one source seemed to contradict with another. Regardless of how much material I collected, none of it seemed to answer the only thing I could think about; how can a vibrant, healthy river flourish upstream AND downstream around an unknown gap of bone-dry river? Especially when you are trying to reintroduce salmon.
While Rivers for Change traveled much of the river in 2012 we weren’t able to complete it all due to low water levels that left more than 60miles too dusty to slog through. A few months ago a reporter from CNN was put in touch with our organization about planning a Source to Sea on the San Joaquin. Jumping at the opportunity to assist with a source to sea that helps voice the complex issues and stories the river and the people around the river face is a at the heart of our founding principles and such a gift to be just a little part of. It’s also a wonderful chance to close the gap on that unknown section of river that has haunted me.
Note: Slightly higher flows are being released at the moment (due to downstream farmers and old water rights being called upon) and thus more of the river is accessible than in 2012. However a 30+ mile stretch remains dry. . . or so we think.
For More background information I recommend:
Read why CNN reporter John Sutter is kayaking the river here:
And catch up on reading Rivers For Change blog from Part 1 on the San Joaquin from 2012 here: http://www.riversforchange.org/will-the-san-joaquin-flow-to-the-sea-part-1/