Segments in this Video

San Joaquin River (03:09)


California's Central Valley is known as the breadbasket of the world. In 1805, Spanish explorers named the river San Joaquin. Once a vast river over 350 miles long, today it has disappeared in some parts.

San Joaquin River's Origin (01:52)

Thousand Island Lake, in the Sierra Nevada Mountains, is the source of the river. It flows south and then east over Rainbow Falls.

Friant Dam (05:53)

The dam was put on the San Joaquin River in the 1930s. It diverted the water into a desert that became the Central Valley. It prioritized farmers at the expense of wildlife.

San Joaquin River Farmers (06:48)

Bud Rank grew up when the river still flowed beyond Friant Dam and was filled with salmon. His father was among the farmers who fought the dam’s construction in court. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that 10% of the water could flow beyond the dam.

Boats on the San Joaquin River (04:29)

Grape farmer Walt Shubin frequently canoes on the river. It used to be wide enough for steamboats and remnants of docks still remain. The last paddle wheel steamboat sailed in 1911.

San Joaquin River's Dryness (05:19)

In parts of the Central Valley that qualify as a desert, the San Joaquin runs dry. Restoring the river is a difficult challenge because of the water diversion from Friant Dam. Shubin remembers canoeing and swimming on the dry part of the river.

San Joaquin Irrigation System (05:15)

A farm museum in the dry part of the San Joaquin has tools that were used to dig early irrigation canals. As more farmers came to the Central Valley, the state of California built a system.

Delta-Mendota Canal (06:04)

The second canal was built to divert water from Northern California to where the San Joaquin has dried up. It is stored in the Mendota Pool reservoir near Firebaugh and flows through the old San Joaquin. Town residents created a riverside park to keep its history alive.

San Joaquim and Other Rivers (03:22)

About 150 miles away from Friant Dam, the San Joaquim's flow returns thanks to the Merced, Tuolumne, Calaveras, and Stanislaus Rivers. The rivers pull down water from sources in the High Sierra Mountains.

San Joaquim Delta (03:00)

The delta, where the San Joaquim meets the Sacramento River, is filled with wildlife. It is the only place that resembles what the river was like before Friant Dam. From there, the water flows into San Francisco Bay.

Salmon Lawsuit (05:22)

Conservation groups sued the owners of Friant Dam for violating California fishing protection laws. An agreement was reached to return salmon to the San Joaquin River and a test release occurred.

Fight for San Joaquin (06:22)

The water from the test release dried up in six months. Conservationists are still working to bring back the continuous flow. The hope is to bring salmon back.

Credits: Part 1: Tales of the San Joaquin River (01:59)

Credits: Part 1: Tales of the San Joaquin River

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Part 1: Tales of the San Joaquin River

Part of the Series : The Valley and the Lake: Drought, Diversion, Agriculture, and Groundwater in Central California
DVD (Chaptered) Price: $169.95
DVD + 3-Year Streaming Price: $254.93
3-Year Streaming Price: $169.95



As we journey the length of the San Joaquin River, one question will not go away: is it possible that the fate of this one river in the most productive agricultural region in the world, California’s Central Valley, offers a chance to restore the historical balance between nature and the mark of humans on the land.

Length: 60 minutes

Item#: BVL280749

Copyright date: ©2022

Closed Captioned

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