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Don Pedro relicensing sought
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The Turlock Irrigation District on Feb. 1 officially began the five-plus year project to relicense Don Pedro Reservoir.

"This is kinda a big day for us because we've been preparing for this day for the past two or three years," said TID Interim Assistant General Manager Civil Engineering and Water Resources Robert Nees.

The district requires a permit from the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission to operate the reservoir, which is the source of irrigation water and hydroelectric power generation for TID. Don Pedro's current, 50-year license is due to expire in 2016.

Due to changing environmental conditions and concerns, a new license may require more water releases to preserve fish habitats, allowing less water to remain in the reservoir for irrigation, power generation, and recreation. The final impacts of the new license will not be known until 2016.

The motion will see the district - along with the Modesto Irrigation District, which owns one-third of the reservoir - submit a notice of intent to relicense the Don Pedro project with FERC, the first step in a multi-year process. Licensees are required to file that notice of intent at least five years prior to the license's expiration, but no more than five and a half years prior.

Accompanying the notice is a hefty preapplication document, which thoroughly explains the project's geological location and all known environmental data on the reservoir.

The original Don Pedro Dam was originally constructed in 1921, with a $4.1 million bond. At 284 feet in height, it was the tallest dam in the world upon its completion in 1923. The 15 megawatt powerhouse was also the first in the nation to use two circuit, 66,000 volt aluminum power line.

Despite the record breaking effort, the dam held barely enough water to accommodate growers' irrigation needs for a single season - just 289,000 acre feet. Planning for an enlarged dam began in the 1940s, culminating in the 1966 award of the current 50-year FERC license for the project.

Construction was completed in 1971, sending the dam to 580 feet in height and creating a reservoir seven times larger than the previous effort.

Don Pedro Reservoir is now the sixth largest body of water in California. Don Pedro today provides water to irrigate approximately 5,800 farms within the TID service area alone, plus 203 megawatts of hydroelectric power generation and 160 miles of shoreline for boating, fishing, swimming, and camping.

The district is set to submit the final FERC relicensing application in 2014, which will be the next time the matter comes before the TID Board of Directors. They will see the license a third and final time in 2016, when the new license is accepted.

"It's going to be a real interesting process," said TID Director Ron Macedo.