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Fresno River

Fresno River
Country United States
State California
 - left Nelder Creek, Coarse Gold Creek
 - right Lewis Fork Fresno River, Peterson Creek
Source Confluence of Lewis Fork and Nelder Creek
 - location Oakhurst, Merced County
 - elevation 2,510 ft (765 m)
 - coordinates  [1]
Mouth San Joaquin River
 - location Near Dos Palos, Madera County
 - elevation 108 ft (33 m)
 - coordinates  [1]
Length 68 mi (109 km)
Discharge for below Hidden Dam
 - average 110 cu ft/s (3 m3/s) [2]
 - max 17,500 cu ft/s (496 m3/s)
 - min 0 cu ft/s (0 m3/s)

The Fresno River is a river in Central California and a major tributary of the San Joaquin River. It runs approximately 68 miles (109 km) from the Sierra Nevada Range to the San Joaquin River.


  • Course 1
  • Lakes and dams 2
  • Lower river 3
  • Tributaries 4
  • Towns 5
  • Crossings 6
  • References 7


The Fresno River is formed by the confluence of Nelder Creek and Lewis Fork near the locality of Yosemite Forks. Some maps identify the confluence of Nelder Creek with Oak Creek in Oakhurst as the start of the Fresno River. From this point, it flows south through Oakhurst, west for several miles, then southwest to Hensley Lake. Below the lake, the river flows southwest to Madera, then west to the Eastside Bypass. The river exits the bypass then flows generally northwest to its confluence with the San Joaquin River, just north of Highway 152.

Lakes and dams

Hidden Dam is the only major storage dam on the Fresno River. The dam forms Hensley Lake, a 90,000 acre foot (110,000,000 m3) reservoir. The United States Army Corps of Engineers built the earth-fill dam, which was completed in 1974. Its primary purpose is flood control, but it is also used to regulate flows for irrigation and groundwater recharge. In 1978, the lake was opened to the public for recreation and is a popular boating and fishing destination for locals.

Below Hidden Dam, the Fresno River provides water to Madera Lake via an unnamed distributary. Excess flow from the lake is returned to the Fresno River by the lake's dam. Further downstream, on the northeast edge of Madera, is the John Franchi Diversion Dam, a 15-foot (4.6 m) high, 263-foot (80 m)-wide earth and steel dam that is used to divert water into the Big Main Canal.[3] The dam was built by the United States Bureau of Reclamation in 1964 and is operated by the Madera Irrigation District. From this point, the river is normally dry. The only time water is released past here is when water levels are high enough to spill over the dam.

Lower river

A diagram of the Fresno River's flow through man-made channels where the original riverbed no longer exists.

West of Road 17 in Madera County, the Fresno River's natural riverbed has been subject to much intervention by man and as a result, the natural riverbed has many gaps in it, which are now connected by man-made canals.

At Road 17, the natural riverbed has been modified to divert most flows into a manmade canal, which leads to the Eastside Bypass. Water can also be allowed to continue flowing down the main river channel (north of the man-made canal), but that water now ends up in the Bypass as well.

Once in the Bypass, water can exit via a small channel at a diversion dam and continue west along the natural riverbed the rest of the way to the San Joaquin River. Between the Eastside Bypass and the San Joaquin River, the riverbed (which is almost always dry) has been subject to straightening, but more or less follows its natural course.


In addition to many small unnamed streams, the Fresno River receives the water from the following streams:

  • Oak Creek, considered by some to be the headwater of the Fresno River beginning at Pierce Lake
  • China Creek
  • Miami Creek
  • Crooks Creek
  • Spangle Gold Creek
  • Willow Creek
  • Mud Spring Creek
  • China Slough
  • South Fork Fresno River
    • This is a distributary that branches off to form a small island, then returns to the mainline Fresno River.
  • Berenda Slough


Towns along the Fresno River include:


There are numerous crossings over the Fresno River in Madera and Merced Counties. Crossings are listed here beginning at the source and working downstream:

  • Madera County above Hensley Lake
    • Crane Valley Road (Road 426)
    • State Route 41
    • River View Drive
    • Dupfy Fire Road (Road 8084)
    • Ellerbrock Station Road
    • Raymond Road (Road 415)
  • Madera County below Hensley Lake
  • City of Madera
    • East Cleveland Avenue
    • North Lake Street
    • North D Street
    • North Gateway Drive
    • State Route 99
    • Schnoor Avenue
    • North Granada Drive
    • Westberry Boulevard
  • Madera County below the City of Madera
    • Road 23
    • Road 20
    • Road 19
    • Road 16
    • Road 9
    • Road 1
  • Merced County


  1. ^ a b "Fresno River".  
  2. ^ "USGS Gage #11258000 on the Fresno River below Hidden Dam, CA". National Water Information System. U.S. Geological Survey. 1941–1990. Retrieved 2013-08-03. 
  3. ^ "Fresno River Operations Protocols - Final". Madera Irrigation District. Retrieved 2014-01-14. 
  • Columbia Gazetteer of North America
  • United States Bureau of Reclamation
  • San Joaquin River White Paper
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