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More $, Less Water

One sure thing you can bet on is that at the end of all this spending the districts will receive less water.

Jan 10, 2013

Last week we told the story of relicensing Don Pedro Dam which is "now in the midst of the multi-year process of renewing an existing FERC license, with costs expected to reach $25 million." Environmentalists have discovered that relicensing gives them the opportunity to take more water from farmers. Just downstream from Don Pedro is La Grange Dam which was built in 1893 and has never needed a license until now. Why does it need a license? A rather strange loophole in the law that found "circa-1850 accounts of gold-seekers boarding converted whaling boats in Stockton and heading up the San Joaquin and Tuolumne rivers." A license is required if a river stretch at issue has ever been navigable. Now, that's creative thinking!

According to the article below, the Modesto Irrigation District (MID) expects to spend about $25 million seeking the Don Pedro license; the Turlock Irrigation District (TID) is likely to put out a similar amount, while San Francisco's share is somewhat smaller. All told, the license should cost more than $50 million." The $25 million cost quoted above was from last week. How it got to $50 million, we don't know. It's also unclear at this point how much the La Grange License will cost. But, one sure thing you can bet on is that at the end of all this spending the districts will receive less water. 

 

  Modesto, Turlock irrigation districts in talks over La Grange dam  

By Garth Stapleygstapley@modbee.com


Modesto Irrigation District leaders took formal steps Tuesday to address a potentially costly and worrisome federal order on a small dam.

The MID and the Turlock Irrigation District, which own La Grange Dam and its little power plant, must seek a hydroelectric license from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, an FERC director ruled last month.

The MID board Tuesday, behind closed doors, authorized administrators to work on the issue with the TID and special attorneys.

The districts are in the middle of a multimillion- dollar, multiyear effort to renew a 50-year license for Don Pedro Reservoir, which provides the districts' primary water storage and 50 times as much electricity as small La Grange Dam a bit downstream on the Tuol-umne River.

Built in 1893, the smaller dam diverts water to the MID's main canal on the river's north, and to the TID's on the south, but didn't need a hydroelectric license before the Dec. 19 order.

FERC licenses try to balance power needs with those of fish. The districts could lose the use of some water in the Don Pedro relicensing process; seeking another permit for La Grange Dam theoretically could further erode the districts' supply in another costly and lengthy effort.

The MID expects to spend about $25 million seeking the Don Pedro license; the TID is likely to put out a similar amount, while San Francisco's share is somewhat smaller. All told, the license should cost more than $50 million.

More water for salmon?

The districts last week got similar-sounding but unrelated bad news when state water officials proposed more flows for salmon — meaning less for farmers — on the Tuolumne and Merced rivers.

That recommendation, to be weighed in August by the State Water Resources Control Board, would boost flows from February through June, when young salmon are heading to the Pacific Ocean. The districts try to store as much snowmelt as possible during that period for summer irrigation.

The districts are fighting the state proposal, saying fish would benefit more from streambed restoration, reducing predation by nonnative striped bass, changing ocean fishing rules and improving hatchery practices. But the fishing industry says even more water is needed in the rivers.

A milestone in Don Pedro licensing comes Jan. 17, when the districts will issue what's called an initial study report summarizing progress on 34 studies.

The districts have scheduled public meetings Jan. 30 and 31 to present findings and answer questions.

An agenda suggests that the session with broadest public interest, based on a "socioeconomics study," will be staged first, just after a short 8 a.m. introduction Jan. 30. Meetings both days will be held at the MID office, 1231 11th St.

Other sessions will feature reports on fish, weeds, eagles, bats, whitewater rafting and much more. One study, for instance, turned up no California red-legged frogs or tiger salamanders.

MID board members on Tuesday said they hope more people, particularly farmers, will take interest than in past meetings on the subject.

"I would highly encourage everyone to go," said board chairman Nick Blom.

Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at gstapley@modbee.com or (209) 578-2390.

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