Public can comment on La Grange Dam studies

The public will get another chance Monday to weigh in on La Grange Dam, erected on the Tuolumne River decades before the far larger Don Pedro Reservoir came along.

The Federal Energy Regulatory Commission launched studies on fish and other concerns after its 2012 ruling that La Grange needs a license. The dam has stood since 1893 without such approval, but officials determined that its environmental effects need much more scrutiny.

The Modesto and Turlock irrigation districts operate La Grange, which is about two miles downstream from Don Pedro, their main water storage site. The larger reservoir is undergoing separate renewal of a FERC license granted in 1966.

The districts are appealing the La Grange ruling, but the licensing process must proceed in the meantime, MID spokeswoman Melissa Williams said. Monday’s meeting will be a chance for state and federal agencies and other interested parties to comment on what the studies should cover.

At a similar meeting in June, environmentalists urged protections for salmon and other river fish that have been blocked at La Grange for 121 years. A key issue is providing a means for salmon to get around this impoundment and Don Pedro so they can once again use upstream spawning grounds.

At the same meeting, farming advocates said river water is needed to keep agriculture thriving in and near Stanislaus County. La Grange also produces hydropower, a cheap source for MID and TID customers, although the output is tiny compared with the Don Pedro turbines.

FERC oversees reservoirs that have hydro plants and can require changes in how they operate because of environmental and other concerns. The Don Pedro relicensing started in 2011 and is expected to cost the districts about $50 million. The La Grange process has been estimated at $14 million.

Monday’s meeting also will deal with studies on recreation and historical and archaeological sites in the La Grange area.

La Grange can hold up to 500 acre-feet of water, compared with 2.03 million in Don Pedro. The smaller reservoir regulates flows into the main canals for MID and TID.