Updated: Feb. 22, 2019, 10:23 p.m
Those who have followed the Central Valley-famous “Worth Your Fight” campaign surrounding local river flows may want to attend Turlock Irrigation District’s Board of Director meeting on Tuesday night, as the agency will be providing an important update on the state water board’s recent SED decision and the Don Pedro relicensing process.
Typically during this time of year, TID holds a growers’ meeting prior to the Valley’s irrigation season to let farmers know the local outlook on water. This year, the water agency plans to inform farmers and the community about not only the amount of water the Tuolumne River Watershed has received so far this year, but also will provide information regarding the final license application for Don Pedro, which first began eight years ago, and the ongoing legal battle surrounding the State Water Resources Control Board’s decision to implement 40 percent unimpaired flows along the San Joaquin River and its tributaries for the betterment of fish.
“Due to all of the recent storms and increases in hydrology and precipitation in the area, this is an opportunity for us to give the hydrology report on the storms, their precipitation and its affects on the watershed,” TID Communications Specialist Brandon McMillan said. “Also, due to all of the movement last year with the SED and relicensing, we found this meeting as an opportunity to give an update on both of those topics.”
The SED refers to the state water board’s Substitute Environmental Document for Phase 1 of its Bay-Delta Water Quality Control Plan, which was approved in December despite vehement opposition from a broad coalition of Valley farmer, governments and organizations, TID included.
The result of a nine-year process, the Bay-Delta Plan calls for increased allocation of 30 to 50 percent of unimpaired flows along the San Joaquin River and its tributaries — the Stanislaus, Tuolumne and Merced rivers. The plan also makes allowances for reduced river flows on tributaries where stakeholders have reached voluntary agreements to pursue a combination of flow and “non-flow” measures that improve conditions for fish and wildlife, such as habitat restoration and reducing predation.
A voluntary agreement was reached between Turlock Irrigation District, Modesto Irrigation District and other agencies in Northern California to decrease their water usage on the Tuolumne River and contribute to a fund for habitat improvements — an arrangement that water users, Gov. Jerry Brown and his successor Gavin Newsom hope can make things better for the environment without a strict mandate from the water board.
The Tuolumne River agreement would require TID and other water districts to make habitat improvements, like expanding floodplains and restoring spawning beds with gravel, as well as increase fish flows — but not as high as the state plan mandates. Farmers would also fallow land to free up irrigation supplies.
“Despite TID and our partners on the river essentially coming to finding a workable solution, the Phase 1 was adopted as is,” McMillan said.
Most recently, the San Joaquin Tributaries Authority, of which TID is a member, filed a lawsuit challenging the Phase 1 of the State Water Resources Control Board’s Bay-Delta Plan.
The lawsuit, filed in Tuolumne County Superior Court, contends the State Water Board adopted a wholly different plan than it analyzed, violated state and federal due process laws and unlawfully segmented the environmental review of the plan, among other claims. The lawsuit, along with others, marks the beginning of a prolonged court proceeding surrounding the adequacy and legality of Phase 1.
“Part of Tuesday’s update will be giving information on the process on both the legal side as well as the voluntary settlement terms and that side of the piece,” McMillan said.
In addition to an update on the agency’s battle with the state water board, TID officials will also provide an update on the Don Pedro relicensing process.
TID’s previous license for Don Pedro, which is held jointly with Modesto Irrigation District, expired on April 30, 2016, and the relicensing of the Don Pedro Project in conjunction with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been ongoing since February 2011.
The Tuolumne River Management Plan, nearly identical to TID’s voluntary agreement to stop unimpaired flows, was created after extensive public outreach and over 30 FERC-required studies, ranging from models simulated to determine water temperatures to fish population modeling in order to record the migration of local species.
Recently, FERC released its Draft Environmental Impact Statement for Don Pedro, which describes the positive and negative environmental effects of a proposed action, like the relicensing of the reservoir and the Tuolumne River Management Plan.
“All of the studies that were conducted on the Tuolumne, we used that same science to back up our results and our claims with the state water board,” McMillan said. “For us, it’s been one, large plan.”
TID officials will also give a water report on Tuesday, with an update on Don Pedro’s elevation following recent storms. As of Wednesday, the total rainfall accumulated in the Tuolumne River Watershed in February totaled 13.10 inches — over double the 6.1 inches the area saw last February.
Despite the influx of rain, the spill gates at Don Pedro shouldn’t need opening, McMillan said.
“We were able to make it through that last big storm without getting into that flood control zone,” he said. “We’re still about a foot under that.”
Tuesday’s TID Board of Director meeting will start at 5:30 p.m. in C.C. Wright Hall (formerly the War Memorial) located at 247 E. Canal Dr.