The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts could take another step Tuesday morning toward a new federal license for Don Pedro Reservoir.
Their boards, meeting separately at the same time, will consider filing a final application with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. The document would include public comment and other information received since they filed a draft application in November.
The documents are massive and complex, but the main issue is fairly simple: How much water should be released into the lower Tuolumne River to benefit salmon and other fish, at the expense of farmers and Modesto-area domestic water users.
The final application does not yet lay out a plan for managing the lower river, said Steve Boyd, director of water resources and regulatory affairs for the Turlock Irrigation District, in a memo to his board. Those details are part of studies that will be submitted after the April 30 deadline for the application, he said. FERC has agreed to the extension.
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The districts expect to spend more than $50 million on the studies and on measures to compensate for the impact on Don Pedro. TID is paying 68.5 percent of the cost, reflecting its share of the water and hydropower.
The term of the new license, expected to start in 2016, has not been set. It would succeed a 1966 license that allowed the districts to build the reservoir, which was completed in 1971.
Supporters say Don Pedro has been a boon to the local economy with its cheap power and water supply, although 2014 is a struggle because of the drought. Critics say fish have suffered from reduced river flows and higher water temperatures, and they would like to see more water for small boats and other recreation in the Modesto area.
The memo said the final application would commit the districts to continued flatwater recreation at Don Pedro and to protecting historical sites, bald eagle wintering areas and “special status” plants near the reservoir.
The relicensing comes at the same time that the State Water Resources Control Board is considering a proposal to sharply increase Tuolumne flows to enhance the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.