The main diverters of water from the Tuolumne River could finally reach an agreement with the state on the protection of fish.
The Modesto and Turlock Irrigation District boards voted separately on Tuesday to direct their staff to finalize the deal.
Details have not yet been released on how much water would be released from Don Pedro Reservoir to support salmon and other fish in the lower river.
Only about 20% of natural flows remain in an average year after MID, TID and San Francisco take their share. The volume would roughly double under a plan approved in 2018 by the National Water Resources Control Board but not yet implemented. This idea is supported by environmental and fisheries groups.
The districts and San Francisco have proposed to increase reservoir releases somewhat while improving fish habitat with anti-spill measures such as restoring spawning gravel.
The state council has entered into “voluntary agreements” with some of the other users of the Central Valley rivers. Exactly what led to recent progress on a Tuolumne pact is not public, but the council is expected to release details at some point.
The Tuolumne River Trust has opposed the diverters’ proposal in the past and remains skeptical, policy director Peter Drekmeier said in an email to The Modesto Bee on Tuesday.
“Relying primarily on habitat restoration and little on stream flows simply doesn’t work, and conditions continue to deteriorate,” he said.
The districts have rights to approximately half of the Tuolumne, including part of the city of Modesto’s supply. San Francisco is sending an eighth to the Bay Area and has signed the current deal.
The rest of the water is withdrawn by riparian rights holders or reaches the Sacramento-San Joaquin Delta.
Tuesday’s votes were unanimous in conference rooms about 14 miles apart.
“To me, today is a huge win for our community,” said TID President Michael Frantz. “It’s a win for the Tuolumne River.”
We’ll have more on this developing story today.