MODESTO -- People concerned about the Tuolumne River, whether for farming or for fish, immersed themselves Wednesday in a process that will help decide its future.
Roughly 70 people turned out to hear about some of the 35 studies being conducted as part of the relicensing of Don Pedro Reservoir.
The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, which could grant a new license in 2016, will continue the meeting today.
Much of Wednesday's discussion was technical, but participants managed to get their views across about the reservoir, which is owned by the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts.
Some noted the water's importance to farming, food processing and the overall economy.
"Industrial employment is a function of ag production in this region," said Jim Mortensen, who retired from managing the Del Monte Foods fruit cannery on Yosemite Boulevard and now is chairman of the MID's water advisory committee.
He also said cheap Don Pedro hydropower helps keep electricity rates in line for industrial users.
Rep. Jeff Denham, R-Turlock, made a similar point. "If we're going to create jobs in this community, we have to ensure we have a reliable water supply," he said.
Environmentalists say Don Pedro, completed in 1971 under the current license, blocked part of the spawning grounds for salmon and reduced flows needed by the fish and other river life.
Peter Drekmeier, the Bay Area program director for the Tuolumne River Trust, said increased use of drip irrigation could free more water for the river. He cited research showing that this technology increases crop output per acre.
"We might have an approach where we try to get higher yields out of the best soils and let the marginal land go fallow," Drekmeier said.
Tom Orvis, governmental affairs director for the Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, said drip systems reduce the groundwater replenishment that happens when excess irrigation seeps in.
MID board member Larry Byrd said the city of Modesto relies on treated Tuolumne water for much of its supply. Reduced diversions would force the city to increase its use of lesser-quality groundwater, he said.
Some people worried that the new license would require fishery releases in addition to those that have been proposed by the State Water Resources Control Board.
The two-day meeting is part of a process expected to cost the irrigation districts more than $50 million.
Today's session includes studies on plants, land animals, historical sites and the prospects for improving lower-river flows for small boats.
Bee staff writer John Holland can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2385.
HOW TO TAKE PART
The meeting on the Don Pedro Reservoir relicensing studies will continue from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. today at the Modesto Irrigation District headquarters, 1231 11th St., Modesto.
Get more information on the process at www.donpedro-relicensing.com.