After nearly four years of work, the Turlock Irrigation District expects to submit its draft application to relicense Don Pedro Reservoir next month.
Since its creation in 1924, the Don Pedro Reservoir has served as the main source of irrigation water for TID growers. The district operates the dam through a license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which is set to expire; the dam has not been relicensed since 1966, just before construction on the New Don Pedro Dam started.
The district embarked on a project to relicense Don Pedro in 2010. That work is expected to wrap up in April 2014, with November's draft application to represent a first look at a near-final product.
“It is a summation of everything we know to date, and we have learned through this process,” said Steve Boyd, TID Assistant Genral Manager of Consumer Services.
That process, using a so-called integrative approach, brought special interests to the table early in the process. Parties made their cases, studies were done, and solutions were sought.
That problem-solving process is good for the district, Boyd said, because it avoids last-minute complaints which can hold up relicensing. And it's good for environmentalists, boating groups, and conservationists alike, as they actually get their problems addressed.
“Our concern is real,” Boyd said. “We want to mitigate to help them.”
After talking to myriad interested parties, FERC approved more than 30 studies for TID to perform, looking at everything from Red-Legged Frog populations to the presence of Native American artifacts and the boatability of the Lower Tuolumne River. TID will be forced to mitigate any problem areas, going so far as to prevent invasive Bermuda grass from growing close to protected elderberry bushes.
The studies found some good news, too. Bald eagle populations have surged in recent years; environmentalists had feared they would decline, with habitats disturbed by noisy powerboats.
“In some places recreation scares them away, but they're unaffected here,” Boyd said.
One notable study looked at the effects of predation from non-native fish species on native salmon. That study found predation to be a “significant issue” in salmon production, far more so than water flows.
That finding is important to the district, as environmental groups are fighting to see more TID water sent down the Tuolumne River, rather than redirected to farmers. The environmentalists have long argued that additional water alone would drastically increase salmon populations – a point of view proven inaccurate by the predation study.
The FERC has requested a second, more in-depth – and more expensive – study on predation, following the groundbreaking first study. That study won't be complete until July 2014, after the final license application is due in April.