Fish can't talk, but they have people who regularly speak up for them.
Farmers and others who work in or near agriculture think that the fish often are better heard than the humans whose livelihoods depend on the same rivers and reservoirs.
As evidence, they cite the devastating drought natural and manmade that left thousands of acres fallow and thousands of people unemployed in the southwest part of the San Joaquin Valley several years ago.
The Stanislaus County Farm Bureau, local business leaders and others want to avoid anything resembling such a scenario here. They have made sure that the economic benefits of Don Pedro Reservoir and the Tuolumne River water that runs through it is fully laid out for the federal agency that will set the new rules for the operation of Don Pedro powerhouse.
The farm voice came across firm and clear last week, on the first day of a two-day review of studies done so far. Thirty-five studies are being prepared in all, which only demonstrates what a long and complex process is involved in renewing a license with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.
As we've reported before, the Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts expect to spend millions on this process. Started in 2011, the relicensing effort won't be complete until 2016, when the districts hope to get permission to continue operating the powerhouse for another 40 years or more.
Why would there be concern that the FERC won't appreciate the value of Tuolumne water to Stanislaus County agriculture and residents?
The study process seems loaded in favor of the environment. Studies are being done on Chinook salmon, steelhead, sturgeon, spawning gravel, predation, noxious weeds, special-status plants, the valley elderberry and longhorn beetle, special-status amphibians and aquatic reptiles, the California red-legged frog, the California tiger salamander, the bald eagle and more. That would be a separate study for each one, and in some cases multiple studies.
There also are studies being done on historic properties and on Native American traditional cultural properties. Plus studies on recreation facilities and whitewater boating.
And then there's the single study labeled Socioeconomics. That's the one that will spell out the value of water to agriculture and to urban users, namely the city of Modesto, which gets about half of its water from the Tuolumne.
The socioeconomic study is not finished. A draft is expected in June, according to the economist who is helping to prepare it. He was peppered with questions Wednesday morning, from people concerned that his report might not fully explain the many ways that local residents depend on this river.
Water from Don Pedro irrigates a wide variety of crops, serves Modesto businesses, makes ag land more valuable in our region, generates electricity, provides boating and other opportunities.
Perhaps the problem is that the dam has been there so long that it's easy to take it for granted.
We want FERC to issue a license with terms that promote a healthy habitat for fish and other wildlife and plant life, ample recreation opportunities and that continues to provide sufficient water for our ag-based economy and for municipal and industrial users.
To get the best outcome, every voice needs to be heard.
Information about the relicensing and copies of the studies completed so far are available at www.donpedro-relicensing.com. Contact either the MID or TID if you do not have Internet access and want to get on the mailing list for future meetings.