Modesto Irrigation District and Turlock Irrigation District, owners and operators of the La Grange and Don Pedro hydroelectric projects on the Tuolumne River, agreed November 21 to conduct studies related to passing salmon and steelhead past both projects. The Districts filed with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) an “Updated Study Plan” for the licensing of the La Grange Project. The filing contains a draft “Fish Passage Assessment” Study Plan that proposes to evaluate the suitability of habitat in the Tuolumne River upstream of Don Pedro Reservoir for reintroduction of salmon and steelhead. The Assessment also proposes to evaluate conceptual level alternatives and costs for moving fish past La Grange and Don Pedro reservoirs.
The decision by the Districts will, once approved by FERC, represent the first instance in which fish passage is evaluated in a FERC licensing proceeding in California’s Central Valley. It is an outcome for which CSPA has tirelessly advocated on the Tuolumne for three years and for which CSPA has advocated more generally in the Valley for over seven years. The decision by the Districts is thus at once a landmark in hydropower licensing generally and in CSPA’s hydropower advocacy in particular. The decision by the Districts comes after a series of events, including a La Grange licensing meeting on October 6 during which CSPA, National Marine Fisheries Service and others advocated that the Districts conduct fish passage studies.
CSPA is convinced that Central Valley salmon and steelhead cannot survive on the Valley floor alone, downstream of the rim dams that block passage on every major Valley river. However, the suitability of any candidate area for upstream reintroduction needs to be evaluated in each particular location. We look forward to working with the Districts to evaluate the suitability of habitat on the upper Tuolumne and to evaluate opportunities for getting salmon and steelhead to that habitat.