The San Joaquin River and its main tributaries — the Merced, the Tuolumne, and the Stanislaus — originate on the high slopes of the southern Sierra Nevada, and flow through the fertile San Joaquin Valley south of Sacramento. For millennia, the cool waters of these rivers sustained the southernmost runs of king salmon and vast wetlands that supported millions of waterfowl, herds of tule elk, and even grizzly bear.

Today, four million people live in the San Joaquin watershed. These rivers support some of the most productive and profitable agriculture in the world, irrigating more than two million acres of arid land. The rivers also provide drinking water to more than 4.5 million people (including the City of San Francisco), and support numerous endangered or declining species.

From the headwaters, including Yosemite National Park, to the mouth at the San Francisco Bay-Delta estuary, these rivers support a thriving billion dollar recreation industry that includes world class whitewater rafting, bass tournaments, waterfowl hunting, and a native rainbow trout fishery.

San Joaquin River | © J Cook Fisher
Increased flows are necessary to double salmon populations in the river and improve water quality in the San Joaquin Delta
| Photo © J Cook Fisher

Take Action

But years of managing the San Joaquin River for agriculture, hydropower, and flood control have taken their toll on the river. Dams, levees, and excessive water diversions have hurt river habitat and opportunities for recreation and community access.

More than one hundred miles of the mainstem river have been dry for over fifty years, and water diversions along the tributaries take more than 70 percent of the natural flow. The river’s salmon and steelhead populations are on the brink of extinction. Excessive diversions, groundwater overdraft, and unsustainable water management have also made communities vulnerable to increasingly frequent and severe droughts.

American Rivers is working with partners to restore the health of the San Joaquin River so that it can continue to sustain agriculture, communities, and fish and wildlife.

Learn More:

About our film:

At 85 years old, organic raisin farmer and lifelong river advocate Walt Shubin is not slowing down. He has dedicated the last 65 years of his life to restoring California’s once-mighty San Joaquin River to the wild glory he remembers as a young boy. Driven by his passion for the river, and despite worn out knees and joints, he takes us on a journey to help us understand why this river is so important to all of us, too. The film “Walt” was directed by Justin Clifton.