What does Don Pedro Reservoir mean to you?
If you answered "not much," better think again.
People who expect refrigerators to stay cold, cell phones to charge and lights to go on have a stake in the reservoir, which provides about 10 percent of the Modesto Irrigation District's power and roughly twice that for the Turlock Irrigation District.
People who like to eat have a stake, especially if they enjoy fruits, nuts, vegetables and meat grown by valley farmers, or milk from dairies.
A half-million people camp, boat, fish, ski and wakeboard each year at the lake 40 miles east of Modesto.
Without Don Pedro, thousands might not have jobs in fields, orchards, canneries and wineries or numerous related industries.
A simple glass of water might come from the reservoir, treated along the way and blended with other sources, if you're a Modesto water customer.
While the reservoir touches hundreds of thousands of lives in some way every day, its owners would be happy if a fraction show up Friday at a meeting meant for regular folks. They'll be encouraged to say why Don Pedro adds value to the valley.
It's part of a five-year process the MID and the TID are going through to win a new federal hydropower license for the reservoir. The current license expires in 2016, and consultants have been piling up data for 35 studies in an exhaustive effort.
Much of the data presented so far might require a degree in engineering, biology or hydrology to understand, but Friday's meeting is geared toward everyday people.
"This is less technical. Anyone can participate," said MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams. "Everyone can weigh in on agriculture, recreation, land values" and more, she said.
The districts, formed to help farmers in 1887, began producing power with a smaller dam in 1923. They got a 50-year federal license in 1966 and increased capacity sevenfold with a dam upgrade completed in 1971 with San Francisco, which benefits from water storage.
Much of the discussion over the past couple of years has focused on releasing more downstream Tuolumne River flows to restore habitat for salmon and other fish. Advocates for farming by far the area's most robust industry, with $3 billion in sales this year for Stanislaus County fear losing some share of water captured from snowmelt.
"We encourage all of the public to attend. It's very important," said Tom Orvis, governmental affairs director for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, at a recent MID meeting.
Don Pedro helps provide electricity to more than 210,000 customers. The MID justifies a surcharge on power bills by saying the dam provides value to everyone, although its contract lawyer recently advised that charging extra could violate a state tax law approved two years ago.
Friday's meeting should capture opinions on all sides for a study assessing "socioeconomic impacts on affected groups and industries resulting from potential changes" in river flows, a notice says.
For nonscientists, Friday's gathering is "one of the big ones," said TID spokeswoman Michelle Reimers although scientists are welcome, too.
The Modesto Irrigation District board meets at 9 a.m. today at 1231 11th St., Modesto. Agenda items include a proposed reversal of the so-called Serpa rule and specifying chain-of- command for the board's secretary, both aimed at decreasing control for outgoing General Manager Allen Short, who will retire Dec. 31. The board also is scheduled to review a report on the expansion into Mountain House and could take action on forming a committee to evaluate irrigation system upgrades.
Bee staff writer Garth Stapley can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.
DON PEDRO MEETING
Friday's meeting begins at 9 a.m. and is expected to end by 11:30 in a second-floor multipurpose room at the MID office, 1231 11th St., Modesto. Online comments can be submitted at www.donpedro-relicensing.com. Others can be mailed to Secretary Kimberly D. Bose, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, 888 First St., N.E., Washington, D.C. 20426.