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 email@example.com or (209) 578-2390.