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Don Pedro relicensing, La Grange licensing nearing completion
don pedro pic
The Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts previous license for Don Pedro expired on April 30, 2016, and the relicensing of Don Pedro in conjunction with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been ongoing since February 2011. - photo by FRANKIE TOVAR/The Journal


The original Don Pedro Dam was 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 grower’s 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 the State of 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 Turlock and Modesto irrigation districts held a special, joint meeting Tuesday to receive a brief update on the relicensing of Don Pedro and the licensing for La Grange, which are both expected to enter final stages by September of this year.

The irrigation districts’ previous license for Don Pedro expired on April 30, 2016, and the relicensing of Don Pedro in conjunction with the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission has been ongoing since February 2011. TID and MID first began the process with a series of public outreaches, including FERC-required workshops on all aspects of the project, from the licensing process to study executions and the results of those studies. At the end of 2012, an initial study report was prepared and in early 2014, an updated study report was filed with FERC, which included all 35 of the required studies. These studies ranged from models simulated to determine water temperatures to fish population modeling to record migration of local species.

The final lease application for the relicensing was filed on schedule on April 28, 2014, and when Don Pedro’s original FERC license expired, an annual license was issued to both districts.

“At that point, because additional studies were underway and FERC had granted additional time, there was an annual license issued to the project,” said HDR Consulting Vice President John Devine, who presented the update. “It’s not unusual at all that projects expire before a new FERC license is issued.”

Both districts are currently working under the annual license at Don Pedro, and are currently working on an amendment to 2014’s FLA, following the completion of the relicensing’s final mandated studies. The final FLA is due in September.

In relicensing Don Pedro, the districts’ La Grange project also caught the attention of FERC. In June 2011, FERC reviewed the La Grange project and in December 2012 decided that it should be licensed.

“Up to that point, the 100-year-old project had not been subject to FERC licensing, and I’m not sure if it had ever been considered for FERC licensing,” said Devine.

Both TID and MID disagreed that La Grange should require a license, and filed an appeal at the DC Court of Appeals in 2013. In 2015, the court sided with FERC, requiring a licensing process for La Grange to begin.

The licensing process at La Grange has been similar to that of Don Pedro, including multiple studies and public outreaches. A study that took place during both projects relicensing and licensing was a FERC-required study of fish passage feasibility, said Devine.

In February 2016, La Grange’s ISR was filed, and in early 2017 the project’s USR was filed. Next week, the districts will hear back from FERC about any additional studies the La Grange licensing may require. In September, La Grange’s final application is expected to be submitted.

Moving forward, FERC will take determine if the districts’ applications for relicensing and licensing are complete, and whether or not all information necessary to complete a single Environmental Impact Statement for both projects is provided.

“When FERC is satisfied that they have the information they need, they will issue a Ready for Environmental Analysis,” said Devine.

The REA is a major milestone in the FERC licensing process, indicating that FERC is ready to proceed with the application’s processing. The next major milestone, said Devine, occurs within the following 60 days when the districts may file requests for water quality certification from the State Water Board. FERC cannot issue new licenses for the project until this certification is either issued or waived.

“There are not firm schedules on any of this,” said Devine. “The reason we don’t have dates is because it’s very uncertain what time period FERC would need to complete the EIS process.”

TID Board Member Rob Santos wondered what would happen if FERC issued both projects a license with conditions that neither district agreed with.

“At that point, the districts have a couple of options,” said Devine.

According to Devine, the districts can petition for reconsideration of those conditions and argue their cases why those conditions are not warranted, or the districts can appeal the licenses.

For more information on the Don Pedro relicensing and La Grange licensing, visit or