Modesto Irrigation District directors see dire straits of Don Pedro Reservoir

jnsbranti@modbee.comJanuary 15, 2014 

— With three of its five members newly elected, the Modesto Irrigation District’s board of directors took a field trip Wednesday to see firsthand where the district’s water gets stored: Don Pedro Reservoir.

It was a beautiful, sunny day for a tour, which isn’t necessarily what water guys want during what’s supposed to be the dead of winter.

The MID directors ended up seeing a whole lot of brown shoreline and not nearly as much water as is typical for the reservoir. Don Pedro is only about half full, and that’s not good for the middle of January.

The 1,040,207 acre-feet of water there now is about 300,000 acre-feet less than average for this time of year, MID records show.

That might not be so bad if there were a lot of snow in the Sierra waiting to melt, but MID officials say the snowpack is only about 18 percent of normal. And there are no storms in the forecast.

Don Pedro Reservoir serves MID and the Turlock Irrigation District, providing water to farms in much of Stanislaus County and northern Merced County. It also supplies drinking water to Modesto residents.

So water levels there are important to the region.

Unfortunately, not all the water in the reservoir is accessible. The MID directors were told that 309,000 acre-feet of the water there is “dead storage” because it is lies too low for the reservoir’s pumps to get at it. That means there’s about 731,207 acre-feet of usable water there.

Many additional details about Don Pedro Reservoir, the dam that holds the water in place, the electricity it generates and the river that feeds it will be discussed today during a special meeting on the proposed relicensing of the operation.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission relicensing process began several years ago; 30 studies on assorted topics have been generated by MID and TID to convince regulators to allow Don Pedro to continue operating.

Today’s public meeting will review recent studies related to the reservoir and the Tuolumne River, including salmon and steelhead spawning sites, bald eagles, water temperature and how the reservoir would be operated for water storage, hydropower and other uses under the new license. It will begin at 9 a.m. at MID headquarters, 1231 11th St., Modesto.

Bee staff writer J.N. Sbranti can be reached at jnsbranti@modbee.com or (209) 578-2196.

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