A Rich History

The San Joaquin River is a symbol of our history and our communities today. NativeRiver Camp Fun American tribes – Yokut and Miwok – long inhabited the San Joaquin Valley and depended upon its natural resources. It is estimated that, in the 18th century, nearly 70,000 indigenous people lived in the Valley, one of the greatest population concentrations in North America.

Today, visitors may come upon the acorn grinding stones and middens, or refuse mounds, that remain from these early human settlements.

In the late 1700s, Spanish explorers marked the first Europeans to visit the Valley. In 1826, when American fur trappers arrived, the Valley was sparsely populated and used primarily for cattle ranching. That changed in 1849, when the population boom of the gold rush transformed California. During this time, the San Joaquin River, a vital link between San Franciscoand the gold country, became a key water highway where riverboats plied the 250 miles between the Delta and Fresno.

In addition to this rich cultural legacy, the San Joaquin is home to an impressive natural history. Historically, the river spilled over the Valley floor, attracting unimaginably dense flocks of wintering migratory birds. Forty-pound Chinook salmon and sturgeon twice the size of a man swam these waters. The last salmon run in the San Joaquin came in the late 1940s, when sections of the river ran dry due to water diversions. Gradually, beginning in the 1860s with the introduction of irrigation, much of the Valley’s open space was converted to farmland, cities, and towns.

The vast working farms in the San Joaquin Valley reflect our agricultural heritage. For some 200 miles on the Valley floor, the river is flanked on both sides by fields that grow nearly half of the nation’s nuts, fruits, and vegetables. Work related to agriculture accounts for more than 30 percent of all employment in the Valley and is a core component of the region and state’s economy.

San Joaquin River Campaign Shoot 120418 045In March 2009, Congress authorized the San Joaquin Restoration Project as a cooperative federal and state program to restore the river from the Friant Dam to its confluence with the Merced River. The restoration program has two main goals: to restore river flows for self-sustaining salmon populations, and to provide water supply for a vibrant agricultural economy. However, the restoration of this river will do much more than just bring back salmon and provide water for agriculture. It will give our families a place to play and connect with nature, wildlife a place to nest and feed, flood protection for our communities, jobs related to restoration and recreation, and much more. It’s for all these reasons that We’re for the River.”