Fish vs. People
Print version of chapter
Midway in the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation
District?s long and frustrating struggle to win
a Federal Power Commission license for the construction
of New Don Pedro Dam and Reservoir, and exasperated
Modesto Bee managing editor Ray Nish protested
in a front-page editorial that "fish vs. people"
had become the basic issue, "though camouflaged
in figures of water releases demanded against
those proposed and the number of fish estimated
as against those counted."
It all had started out quietly
The three entities on the Tuolumne River, the
Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts and the
City of San Francisco, long had known additional
storage capacity was needed to make full beneficial
use of the river?s flow. This had to be done or
they stood to lose the rights to water needed
in the future.
When the river partners began to implement the
idea, however, their timing proved to be wrong.
Serious planning for the massive water and power
project began about the same time that state and
federal agencies initiated major efforts to revitalize
salmon fisheries. In Congress a modest proposal
to aid California?s salmon runs was taken over
by the House of Representatives Merchant Marine
and Fisheries Committee and blown into a nationwide
program to enhance conditions for anadromous fish,
such as salmon which migrate from the sea to fresh
water to spawn.
The clash of the two objectives ? capturing and
putting to work all of the water resources of
the Tuolumne on the hand and rebuilding the river?s
dying salmon fishery on the other ? created cliff-hanger
situations in which delays of a few hours would
have killed entirely the $115 million project.
Yet, the New Don Pedro Project seemed to have
almost as many lives as a cat.
Although there undoubtedly had been talk of building
a New Don Pedro earlier, the first official report
came in 1931 when the California Division of Water
Resources discussed its feasibility. Certainly
by that time farmers and officials of the Modesto
Irrigation District were aware of the need for
additional storage. Normal rainfall had been recorded
in only one year since completion of "old" Don
New Don Pedro remained on the "back burner" for
another decade, however, until the U. S. Army
Corps of Engineers looked to the Tuolumne for
additional flood control and the City of San Francisco
was being pressed to develop resources authorized
under the Raker Act.
Formal agreement to proceed with the project
was reached by the three local agencies in November
1943. Three months later the Corps of Engineers
recommended to Congress that a flood control contribution
be made to the districts? multipurpose water and
power project in lieu of building the proposed
300,000 acre-foot, single-purpose federal flood
control dam at Jacksonville. Congress concurred
with this recommendation in December 1944.
In 1945 the California Legislature authorized
construction of the project. Everything seemed
"Go" for a 1,200,000 acre-foot reservoir.
Preliminary steps were under way in 1947 as mapping
the Tuolumne River canyon to select the best site
began. For a decade Modesto and Turlock district
staffs proceeded with project planning, slowly
but without interruption.
In 1951 when application for project water rights
was made, the California Division of Fish and
Game was notified routinely. No objections were
Two years later, aerial mapping proved the maximum
storage potential was 2,030,000 acre feet. With
this amount of water, normal irrigation could
be maintained through dry cycles such as experienced
between 1922 and 1935 even if 340,000 acre feet
of storage capacity were reserved for flood control.
The state Department of Water Resources issued
the water rights in 1953.
"We, of course, felt this was the go-ahead sign
and proceeded with engineering and design studies,
exploratory work to determine the best site for
the dam," MID Engineer Clifford Plummer later
commented. "There were several possible locations
and we spent hundreds of thousands of dollars
in engineering and exploratory work."
In June 1955 geologist Roger Rhoades identified
five potential dam sites downstream from Don Pedro
Dam. After two more years of mapping, he recommended
the use of a site where he had bored a 767-foot
exploratory shaft. This was the location ultimately
The project?s survival was not without threats
during this decade.
Local sportsmen mounted opposition to the project
because they feared that construction of a dam
could have an adverse effect on salmon fishing.
Since the California Department of Fish and Game
had not expressed concern or any other reaction
when the state approved the project?s water rights
in 1951, the districts continued preliminary planning
of the dam.
San Francisco was pushing ahead on a $200 million
expansion of the Hetch Hetchy system and New Don
Pedro was crucial to that effort. In the Valley
Plummer began to advocate increasing the reservoir
storage capacity to the maximum 2,030,000 acre
feet. As Modesto and other cities grew, Plummer
argued prophetically, the day could come when
they might have to draw upon the reservoir for
domestic water supplies.
Stanislaus County Supervisor Robert Adams told
a state Senate interim committee that by the year
2050 the county?s water needs would be half again
as much as that available even after New Don Pedro
and other planned projects were built.
Army Engineers offered an additional $5 million
contribution to the project if 600,000 acre feet
could be set aside for flood-control storage in
the larger dam. The extra financial assistance
was tempting, but studies revealed that annual
losses in power revenues would exceed $200,000
if the corps? allocation was increased. The districts
declined the offer.
The pace was stepped up dramatically in November
1958 with the hiring of the Bechtel Corporation
to make preliminary engineering studies and determine
the most economical size and type of construction:
rock fill, arch or gravity concrete.
Bechtel made hydrologic and geologic studies
at five sites between Don Pedro and La Grange
and in July 1959 recommended construction of an
earth-and-rock fill structure storing 2,030,000
acre feet at the site on which the dam ultimately
was built. The price tag then was estimated at
$90 million. This project phase was approved and
final design work began.
It was then agreed that San Francisco would pay
approximately half the project cost and the Valley
irrigation districts the balance. As New Don Pedro
Project Coordinator Charles Crawford explains:
San Francisco?s contribution was based primarily on the right of the city to release water to the districts when it can be stored
in New Don Pedro in advance of the time
when releases from San Francisco?s upper
works normally would be required under the
Raker Act. San Francisco, in turn, would be permitted
to intercept or divert equivalent quantities
of natural stream flow later in the year
when it otherwise would have to be passed
on to the districts. Once received from
the Hetch Hetchy system, the water became
the property of the districts.
This arrangement was one of the hurdles which
the districts had to overcome in subsequent Federal
Power Commission and federal court entanglements.
Indications of possible trouble ahead again surfaced
in March 1960. Sportsmen?s groups protested San
Francisco?s proposed pipeline from O?Shaughnessy
Dam downstream 12 miles to a powerhouse at Early
Intake, the head of the Hetch Hetchy aqueduct
to the bay area. This, sportsmen claimed, would
dry up a prized trout-fishing section of the upper
At the same time, San Francisco was fighting
the State of California, claiming the State Water
Plan reneged on a promise not to infringe upon
the city?s domestic water market in bay area counties.
These early skirmishes, however, failed to reveal
the full scope and intensity of the battle that
At year?s end the San Francisco Public Utilities
Commission, which has jurisdiction over the Hetch
Hetchy system, funded preliminary studies and
called for a $100 million bond issue to finance
the dam and other Hetch Hetchy improvements.
The roof was to fall in later in 1961 as these
and other plans advanced.
Aerial mapping in January confirmed that the
selected site would provide storage capacity of
2,030,000 acre feet. By May 1961 core drilling
at the chosen site was about one-third completed.
Bechtel was proceeding with design work under
a $3.7 million contract for the design and supervision
of New Don Pedro?s construction.
It was proposed that most of the 16 million cubic
yards of material to be placed in the dam would
come from 750 acres of river bottomland piled
high with gold dredge tailings. These had been
an eyesore on the landscape since the 19th
Century. Their removal from the Tuolumne River
flood plain, the districts felt, would be an environmental
plus, both from scenic and fishery considerations.
Anticipating Fish and Game Department interest
in spite of the lack of reaction in 1951 when
water rights were issued, and to insure that the
use of the tailings would have no adverse impact
on the fishery, the districts submitted a preliminary
report to the state agency.
At that point, the state made its first demands
for water releases to enhance salmon spawning
Noting that initial requests were for the release
of 200,000 acre feet of water annually, MID Director
Milton Kidd commented that state fish and game
people "haven?t been timid" in asking fish releases
equal to half of the 1961irrigation supply. Kidd
maintained it should be the obligation of the
federal government to supply enough water to keep
the rivers such as the Tuolumne, Stanislaus and
San Joaquin from going dry. He suggested the use
of water from the U. S. Bureau Reclamation?s proposed
East Side Canal for this purpose.
Negotiations were undertaken in an attempt to
avoid additional delays which would result from
formal state fish and game intervention in forthcoming
Federal Power Commission proceedings.
With the water rights issued by the state Department
of Water Resources and with State Districts Securities
Commission approval in hand, the districts on
May 1st applied for a Federal Power
Commission power project license. The application
was an inch-and-a-half thick document containing
nearly 50 pages of maps, drawings and tabulations.
Although negotiations were continuing on the
fish releases, the state agency did intervene.
Formal FPC hearings on the license were postponed
in the hope that the districts and state would
reach a mutually satisfactory agreement.
Subsequently, U. S. Secretary of Interior Stewart
Udall also filed notice of intervention and asked
the power commission to wait until federal and
state fish and wildlife agencies had completed
their investigations of salmon resources. Charging
that the districts? plan "do not reflect any provisions
for the maintenance and protection of the king
salmon run," California Attorney General Stanley
Mosk joined in the request for a year?s delay
to allow the State Fish and Game Department to
prepare its evidence about the adverse effects
of the project. This in spite of the fact the
Fish and Game Department had known about the project
for 10 years.
Speaking for both districts, TID Engineer Roy
V. Meikle told FPC that a delay in the issuance
of the license until 1962 would be "catastrophic"
because "ever-working inflation" would force new
cost estimates and bond issues. Inflation, he
contended, could possibly kill the project by
making it not feasible economically. This threat
was to be raised over and over as the battle waged
for the next four years.
For MID officials the bottom line was that when
the irrigation districts, including Waterford,
and the City of San Francisco take their allotted
water from the river, "There just isn?t any left."
While sympathizing with the attempt to improve
the salmon run, MID Engineer Plummer further questioned
whether a local area should have to pay the whole
bill since the fishing industry had state and
national dimensions. Anyway, Plummer argued, the
project would enhance the fishery automatically:
With more water stored, more water would be released
downstream, even during dry years.
Meanwhile, opposition mounted from sportsmen?s
groups throughout the state, including the Associated
Sportsmen of California, California Wildlife Federation
and the Aquatic Resources Committee.
At the request of the Hunting and Fishing Club
of Central California, Congressman John J. McFall
urged the House of Representatives Special Subcommittee
on Assigned Power and Land, chaired by Sacramento
Congressman John Moss, to hold hearings on the
New Don Pedro Project. Senator Clair Engle, who
earlier had tangled with the City of San Francisco
over the enforcement of Raker
Act provisions, also took up the matter with
The districts had set November 7, 1961, as the
date for their bond elections to finance New Don
Pedro. Less than a month before the balloting,
Stanley Simidian, representing the Hunting and
Fishing Improvement Club of Central California
and the Associated Sportsmen, told the Modesto
City Council those groups would oppose the bonds
unless guaranteed water releases demanded by state
and federal agencies were accepted by the irrigation
districts within the next few days.
As a last-minute suggestion, Congressman McFall
urged that the FPC license be issued with the
fishery question to be resolved during construction.
His proposal caused a violent reaction from sportsmen.
The FPC responded that in all probability Udall?s
request for a delay and a mid-1962 hearing would
The November 7, 1961, bond elections resulted
in record-breaking affirmative votes. In Modesto
97.2 percent of the voters favored the project
and the bonds, 11,231 to 328. Turlock?s percentage
was slightly higher, 97.8 percent or 5,754 to
126. Three years of drought had made the need
for additional storage all too obvious. In San
Francisco the vote was 11-to-1 in favor of the
Hetch Hetchy bonds.
The fish and game cloud still hung over the project,
The day after the election, U. S. Senator Thomas
Kuchel of California warned the districts to seek
agreement with the state Fish and Game Department
if they wished to avoid a hearing and more long
delays in construction. MID Engineer Plummer told
the senator, "It?s been the state fish and game
strategy to wait until the last minute before
they object. Then, the department feels the districts
are so involved that they cannot back out. If
fish and game requests were granted, we would
have to stop irrigating in July."
Bechtel reported that if the state?s demands
were met, the project would not be feasible economically
because electrical energy revenue losses would
reduce the capital value of the project by more
than $15 million.
Furthermore, Bechtel noted: "Overshadowing this
financial loss is the loss of water yield of 139,000
to 157,000 acre feet of irrigation supply?to an
amount less than that historically diverted and
In substance, the question was asked, "Why build
a dam and end up with less water?"
The conference with Senator Kuchel signaled the
renewal of full-scale efforts by the irrigation
districts to overcome fish and game opposition.
Construction already was at least a year behind
schedule. Bechtel was cutting back on design work
because it could proceed no further until the
fishery issue was resolved.
Although the MID had a long history of surviving
controversy, the next four years were to be the
most frustrating of battles as delay after delay
steadily forced project costs up against its fiscal
In addition to the issue of whether there was
enough water to enhance spawning salmon, the districts
challenged the authority of state and federal
agencies to force the districts to "give away"
to fish their basic water rights.
Plummer charged the state was "trying to create
a perfect set of conditions for the salmon in
the Tuolumne River which they?ve never had."
Local irrigators had vested interests in the
water through many years of use.
Furthermore, there weren?t that many salmon running
up the Tuolumne.
While state fish and game spokesmen were demanding
flows below New Don Pedro sufficient to support
a run of 65,000 salmon, historically the average
run was 28,000. That excluded the two years in
which the San Joaquin River above its confluence
with the Tuolumne had been dried up during construction
of the federal Friant Dam. Salmon counts in recent
years had declined to a low of 500 or less.
In the meantime, Harlan Trott of the Christian
Science Monitor commented on February 13,
1962, that there was "as much politics as fish"
in the fight as far as the state was concerned.
Trott speculated that water released from New
Don Pedro for salmon spawning would reach the
intake pumps of the new South Bay Aqueduct of
the state?s Feather River Project, adding:
Custodians of San Francisco?s water system
are concerned about spending $45 million
for its share of New Don Pedro if it means
releasing a substantial volume of fish water
that will flow into the state?s South Bay
spigots after the fish are through playing
In June 1962 the Stockton City Council endorsed
the releases demanded by the state as a means
of reducing river pollution caused by Stockton
cannery wastes in the summer and to help clean
up the San Joaquin-Sacramento Delta by flushing
out the San Joaquin River.
When Governor Edmund G. Brown endorsed an interim
solution proposed by Resources Director William
Warne, the hopes of MID directors, soared, although
they agreed it would be a "calculated risk." The
proposal became the basis for a detailed, 12-page
agreement between the districts and Warne?s Department
of Fish and Game that was approved on June 5,
The agreement provided that in normal years releases
would total 105,000 acre feet and in dry years
they would drop to only 54,500 acre feet. The
situation would be reviewed after 20 years.
During the interim it was agreed the districts
would support the Bureau of Reclamation?s proposed
East Side Canal Project, which would carry water
from still-unbuilt Auburn Dam down the east side
of the San Joaquin Valley. It was anticipated
that East Side Canal water could be used to enhance
the fishery if the districts could not meet the
The agreement, Plummer told the Stanislaus County
Board of Supervisors, would provide fishery conditions
far superior to those which existed before or
after any dams were built on the Tuolumne. This
would be especially true, he said, since use of
the dredge tailings between La Grange and Waterford
would leave better gravel beds for spawning fish.
While certain that they could win an FPC fight,
the districts wanted to compromise in order to
build New Don Pedro as quickly as possible.
The agreement won the approval of most Stanislaus
County groups, but was condemned as a "giveaway"
by the California Wildlife Federation, Associated
Sportsmen of California, Aquatic Resources Committee,
Salmon Unlimited and Golden Gate Sportsfishers.
They were unhappy about the lack of summer releases
when the river frequently went dry and because
releases were guaranteed only for 20 years.
When the proposal was submitted to the California
Fish and Game Commission for ratification, it
was rejected on a 3-2 vote as the direct result
of considerable pressure from commercial and sports
fishing organizations. While a majority of commission
members though there should be further negotiations,
Plummer said, "We don?t have anything left to
negotiate. We?ve given everything we could give."
This decision forced the issue into a full-scale
Federal Power Commission hearing procedure and
meant another delay of at least a year. It was
estimated that delays were costing the project
sponsors $3 million a year in increased construction
A bitter Abner Crowell, president of the Turlock
Irrigation District board, declared, "They tell
me the love life of a salmon is accomplished best
in about 12 inches of water. They won?t spawn
if it is too deep or too shallow, too hot or too
cold. This agreement ? which the state commission
turned down, mind you ? would guarantee an even
amount of water during spawning season and at
ideal temperatures during normal years of runoff.
This is something Mother Nature herself doesn?t
Under the headline "Are Federal Dams Built for
Recreation or Reclamation?" a California Farmer
magazine article subsequently reported a new trend
of several dam projects being delayed by recreation
and fish and wildlife mitigation disputes.
The partners on the Tuolumne River watershed
were caught in a new era.
New state fish and game proposals were rejected
by the districts, with Crowell declaring that
they would put negotiations back to their starting
point. He asked, "Where were they (Fish and Game
Department) from 1951 until now?"
The Federal Power Commission scheduled hearings
for October 16, 1962, in San Francisco. MID critic
Frank Andrews had tried vainly to have them postponed
until after the November election.
The opponents lined up against the MID , TID and
First, the Banta-Carbona and West Stanislaus
Irrigation Districts and the El Solyo Water District
intervened, contending that, unless operated with
due regard to quality and quantity of their downstream
water supplies, the project could "seriously jeopardize"
Tuolumne County demanded that road relocation
and recreation development and operation guarantees
be placed in the license. The California Wildlife
Federation announced the alliance of 123 sportsmen?s
groups to insure the protection of fish and wildlife
Finally, the California attorney general, representing
the state Department of Fish and Game, and the
U. S. Department of Interior demanded that stringent
fish and wildlife provisions be included in a
The October hearing was presided over by Examiner
Francis I. Hall, who was described as looking
and talking like a "young Sam Rayburn," the speaker
who ruled the U. S. House of Representatives for
years. In opening the sessions which were to last
two weeks, Hall said it was the FPC?s responsibility
to dovetail power, irrigation, flood control,
recreation and fish conservation interests for
the benefit of each.
The testimony of 24 witnesses filled 2,100 pages
of transcript. Two hundred twenty-three exhibits
All the arguments which had dominated the previous
couple of years were heard again. Reporter Martin
Smith, who covered the hearings for The Modesto
Bee, observed, however, that the role of the
U. S. Department of Interior at first was a little
vague. It wasn?t until the third day that the
federal agency made its objectives known: The
release of 148,000 acre feet of water annually,
2,500 more than the state agencies were asking
at the time.
Hearing Examiner Hall criticized the federal
agency for its eleventh-hour involvement, although
adequate notice had been give.
Challenging the federal and state figures as
to the numbers of salmon migrating and spawning
in the river, the districts? expert witnesses
indicated a third of the requested water releases
would suffice. University of Washington Professor
Milo Bell, consultant to the International Pacific
Fisheries Commission and other Pacific Coast organizations,
was the MID ?s lead witness.
The Department of the Interior injected a new
element into the debate: San Francisco?s involvement
in the project. The department contended the city
should be a party to the license even though the
dam would be owned and operated jointly by the
Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts.
The state and federal efforts to obtain financial
data from San Francisco and to force the city
to become a party to the license were rejected.
Hall did insist, however, that before any license
was issued, a firm agreement had to be reached
between the city and the irrigation districts
on the joint financing of the project. In subsequent
years, negotiations attempting to reach this agreement
almost proved fatal to the project.
Although the hearings were over, the debates
Assemblyman John G. Veneman of Modesto accused
sportsmen of "trying to improve on Mother Nature,"
estimating that at the rate of $3 million a year
in increased construction costs the 500 salmon
counted in the river in 1961 were worth $550 a
As the year 1963 opened, Interior Secretary Udall
still was demanding "more tangible information"
about the involvement of the districts? "silent
partner," San Francisco. He contended that the
project would have "a substantial effect" on the
entire federal Central Valleys Project and the
state?s Feather River Project.
The districts countered that the fish and game
agencies were, in effect, requesting modification
of a state-granted water right. If the FPC could
do this, they contended, "there will not be a
water right. If the FPC could do this, they contended,
"there will not be a water right anywhere in the
country, let alone California, which will be secure."
At this point, Bechtel put all of its design
work "on the shelf," where it was to stay for
three years. Bechtel engineers had gone as far
as they could without knowing what releases would
be required or, for that matter, whether or not
the project ever would be built. Releases demanded
by fishing interests could make New Don Pedro
Early in 1963 FPC Attorney Daniel Goldstein,
who had represented the power commission in the
hearings, suggested the release of 123,000 acre
feet of water during fall, winter and early spring,
a figure which would be renegotiated after 20
years of operation. This amount was about half
way between the 146,000 acre feet wanted by the
state and federal agencies and the districts?
earlier-proposed offering of 105,000 acre feet.
On June 4, 1963, FPC Examiner Hall submitted
a 74-page opinion recommending issuance of the
license, but again insisting upon prior agreement
between San Francisco and the irrigation districts
as to the allocation of project costs. Hall also
called for adequate plans for road relocation
and recreation development and operation.
Hall did not recommend any firm figures for water
releases to enhance the fishery, declaring:
Not only may the commission not reduce
(the districts?) irrigation supply available
in the critically dry years below that available
from the existing Don Pedro project, but
in the examiner?s view it ought not to unduly
interfere with the central purpose of the
project to provide the districts with a
more dependable supply during the critical
Hall noted that, "issues relating to San Francisco?s
rights, obligations, etc., under the Raker
Act lurk in the record." He accused the city
of seeking to divert all the water it stores in
the Tuolumne River headwaters, a right which it
did not possess. The city, however, immediately
indicated it could live with the examiner's recommendations.
The Modesto and Turlock districts were not so
sure. Their hesitation was labeled as "Yankee
trading" by San Francisco Examiner columnist Russ
Cone. And once the license was issued, there were
to be three more years of "Yankee trading." Only
this time, it was between San Francisco and the
districts as they battled out the division of
State and federal agencies formally protested
Examiner Hall?s recommendations as providing too
little water for too little time. They demanded
firm water-release requirements be established
for the full 50-year life of the license, forcing
the issue to a full hearing by the Federal Power
Commission. This hearing was not held until December
And thus another year of delay passed. Under
the original construction timetables, the dam
would have been nearly completed by this time.
At the hearings before the full FPC, Robert McCarty,
the districts? Washington, D. C., attorney, argued
that the water releases sought by state and federal
agencies were sufficient to supply a city of 800,000
population or to irrigate 31,000 acres of productive
farm land. Otherwise, the arguments on both sides
were about the same as those advanced at the 1962
The Federal Power Commission license which finally
was issued on March 10, 1964, stipulated that:
- The districts must release 123,000 acre
feet of water in normal years and 64,000 acre
feet in dry years for the fishery during the
first 20 years of the 50-year life of the
- Construction could not start until the districts
and San Francisco submit to the commission
a firm agreement fixing the amount each would
contribute to the cost of the project.
The project?s cost now was estimated to be $96
million. Bonds totaling $98 million had been approved
by the voters two-and-a-half years earlier when
cost estimates were considerably lower. The margin
of cost and funds available was narrowing.
Again, no one was happy with the decision.
A rehearing was requested by all three parties,
the districts, state and federal agencies. The
state argued that the fish releases were inadequate
and joined Interior Secretary Udall in urging
that San Francisco should be a participant. The
Interior Department added a new contention that
there was no conclusive evidence that New Don
Pedro was the most economical place for San Francisco
to obtain additional storage capacity.
The districts charged that the FPC had said it
could not interfere with irrigation water rights
but then set up a schedule of fishery releases
which did just that.
The rehearing requests were denied.
The Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts
resigned themselves to living with the license,
especially since the FPC had declared that in
critically-dry years the commission would consider
emergency modifications of the license.
Acceptance was not in the minds of state and
federal fish and game agencies, however.
They took the matter into the federal court of
appeals on July 6, 1964. With the time for filing
Court Appeals about to expire, the irrigation
districts did not want to be left out of the debate.
They were forced to file counter-actions later
the same day.
Four days later, Assemblyman Veneman asked Governor
Brown and Hugo Fisher, California Resources Agency
administrator, to review the fish and game agency?s
decision to appeal the license.
Noting that the 1963 salmon count in the river
was only100, Veneman told the state officials,
"If we don?t build the dam pretty soon and get
some water down the river there won?t be any salmon
anyway in a few years." The Democratic governor
did not accede to the Republican assemblyman?s
Nearly a year later the federal court heard the
case. Once again the state and federal fishery
agencies made San Francisco the target of their
primary attack. They asked the courts to force
the FPC to require the city to join the districts
as applicants for the license. This would mean
that the proceedings would have to start all over
again, resulting in delays of another three or
Meanwhile, as the state fish and game people
fought the project, Governor Brown on May 11,
1965, signed into law an allocation of $7 million
for recreation and enhancement of fish and wildlife
at New Don Pedro. (The grant subsequently was
increased to $8.6 million.) State Fish and Game
Department Director Walter T. Shannon had opposed
the grant, claiming that, since the districts
"steadfastly refused to agree to maintain flows
it is doubtful that any enhancement downstream
of the reservoir can be justified." The California
Legislature had approved the Davis-Grunsky Act
appropriation without a dissenting vote, however.
A week later a three-judge Court of Appeals panel
upheld the FPC ruling, but the end still was not
State and federal agencies appealed to the full
9th Circuit Court and subsequently
to the U. S. Supreme Court.
When these appeals were filed, the MID and TID
renewed their assertions that the FPC ruling would
give that commission authority to take away irrigation
and municipal water rights issued under state
law and reallocate the water for salmon fisheries.
Since state law always had prevailed on water
rights, the districts contended that by upholding
the FPC decision, the federal courts had written
new water rights law.
The Court of Appeals said that since the districts
wished to use public lands for reservoir purposes,
the FPC was well within its rights to impose conditions
on the flows to be released from that reservoir.
The U. S. Supreme Court ended the long legal
struggle over the FPC decision on December 6,
1965, when it refused to review the decision of
the lower courts. Thus, the Federal Power Commission
license became the final word.
Quick action by the districts to reach project
cost-allocation agreements with San Francisco
was imperative. The FPC license gave them only
60 days following the final court decision in
which to come to terms and accept the license.
That deadline subsequently was extended to June
The Modesto Irrigation District accepted the
restrictions but, whether it was "Yankee trading"
or not, the Turlock Irrigation District immediately
raised serious doubts. A Turlock Daily Journal
headline on December 18th said "TID
Coy Over Acceptance Of Pedro License." President
Crowell said, "we have to analyze this very, very
Holding firmly to the position that the FPC license
impaired state-granted water rights, the Turlock
district had taken a second look at the project?s
economic feasibility and began to explore gas
turbine generators as an alternative energy source.
The Turlock directors set at $28.2 million the
maximum contribution they would make to New Don
Pedro and dug in their heels.
The MID feared federal construction on the river,
which MID Director Kidd declared would result
in the districts being forced to change their
irrigation practices. Turlock disagreed and maintained
it had to protect its basic water right by not
giving in to Uncle Sam.
The Turlock Daily Journal attacked the
MID and Plummer for "throwing up a smoke screen"
when he said the federal government would charge
irrigators $3.50 per acre foot for water. This
was the basic rate for Central Valleys Project
On January 19, 1966, the Turlock paper called
upon TID directors not to proceed with the dam.
A month later, the Journal asked in an
editorial headline, "Are We Being Euchred?" If
the federal government can order water released
for fisheries, the editorial reasoned, it could
order water released for any other political purpose.
These could be determined by politics, which were
"run by the whims of the moment and they are not
As things stood, San Francisco, desperate for
additional storage, was most anxious to proceed
and Turlock most reluctant. Modesto, in the middle,
tried to bring the two sides together to resolve
the matter. San Francisco and Modesto shared strong
feelings about not having the federal government
build on the watershed. As MID Engineer Plummer
We would rather the districts build the
dam because we have a lot of problems with
federal government acreage limitations,
the setting of power rates and all these
things. It?s better to operate your own
business and have control over it. Otherwise,
we might be told what to do from Washington.
TID Engineer Meikle, on the other hand, said
losing control of water rights by giving in to
FPC fish release demands was "unthinkable." He
also indicated the TID had all the water it needed
and buying Pacific Gas & Electric Company
power would be cheaper than paying too much for
New Don Pedro.
When it looked as if the TID might back away
from New Don Pedro, the question of who would
pay the more than $1 million already invested
in the project became another sore point among
the three partners. The TID insisted that, if
one partner vetoed the project, all three would
share the responsibility and costs. San Francisco
insisted that the agency that pulled out should
carry the entire burden. With time running out,
this was resolved at Modesto?s suggestion that
the issue be left to litigation if the project
In the end San Francisco?s hunger for additional
storage forced it to give in to the districts.
The city accepted a larger share of the costs
and agreed to supply some of the water needed
for fishery releases.
With new estimates boosting the project?s total
cost to $105,486,100, San Francisco agreed to
put up $48,423,538. Modesto?s share was placed
at $15,881,658 and Turlock?s contribution was
fixed at $28,216,904. The state had allocated
$7.5 million for recreation and the Army Engineers
$5.4 million for flood control.
Acceptance of the Federal Power Commission license
was filed in Washington, D. C. at 11:25 AM on
May 31, 1966, just one day before passage of the
Although the immediate fishery problems had been
resolved, they were to return again and again
to haunt the Modesto and Turlock Irrigation Districts.
Fifteen years later as they reached the end of
their 100th year of operation, the
districts found themselves still involved in discussions
and negotiations concerning the ongoing salmon
Bechtel took the project design "off the shelf"
and immediately returned to work. Although five
years of study and design had been invested in
the project before work had been halted, a great
deal was left to be done before final plans and
specifications could be completed.
Design of an earth-fill dam is more complicated
than that of a concrete structure because it uses
materials which have not been made by man; thus
their properties are unknown factors at the outset.
One of the first steps was to explore the dredge
tailings which would be the basic material for
the dam. This Bechtel did in 1958, making further
studies in 1961, 1963 and 1967.
Placement of the rock was a critical factor in
"You don?t just dump it in and run over it a
couple of times," explains Carl Taylor, who was
Bechtel?s resident engineer on the job. "Sixteen
million yards of dirt and rock you just don?t
shove down the hole."
Each layer had to be no more than six inches
high and then compacted thoroughly.
The dam was to be founded on base rock with three
zones within the structure itself. A centrally-located
core of silty clay was to be its heart. This would
be bordered both upstream and downstream with
transition zones of carefully-washed gravel. These
in turn would be covered with shells of coarse
gravel and cobbles from the gold dredge tailings.
More than 12 million cubic yards of material would
go into the shells.
A tremendous amount of study was made to assure
the dam?s safety. An earthen dam is not waterproof;
rather, water flows through it. It is crucial
to the dam?s strength that the flow occurs in
a completely-controlled manner. Testing done some
years after the completion of New Don Pedro revealed
that design estimates were most accurate.
The final design required detailed engineering
consideration of such diverse things as mining
shafts and wind-driven waves, stability of the
rock, and potential floods.
In reviewing the project design, Bechtel engineers
cited only two unique aspects of the project.
First, the dredge tailings providing the basic
supply of material were situated only nine miles
from the dam, which was rated as a very short
haul. Second, the outlet-works slide gates had
to operate with the pressure of 580 feet of water
on them. The highest previous recorded pressure
on slide gates was 360 feet of head.
New Don Pedro was designed so that a flood which
might occur once in 1,000 or 10,000 years could
be controlled. Although the water might reach
within five feet of the top of the dam, the flood
flows would be channeled into spillways capable
of handling 472,500 cubic feet per second, several
times more than the greatest Tuolumne River flood
on record, 1955. In that year 175,000 second feet
of floodwaters would have raged down the river
were it not for irrigation district and San Francisco
dams on the river.
Every conceivable problem was analyzed during
design. Taylor explained:
We don?t want unpleasant surprises during
The New Don Pedro design was subjected
to the most intensive and the most sophisticated
analysis of earthquake effects of any dam
ever built at that time or had been planned
for the immediate future. We ran a complete
dynamic analysis on this structure using
the latest techniques. Then it was reviewed
by people in the field and the University
of California. Both came back and said that
to their knowledge nothing like this had
ever been done before.
New Don Pedro will survive the greatest
credible earthquake that can occur in this
Earthen dams are more sensitive to the site and
thus more tolerant to seismic movement. Consequently,
they can be built where a concrete dam cannot
be constructed safely. Self-sealing action is
built into the dam design through the installation
of various zones or layers of material from the
clay core, which is compacted by the weight of
the 585-foot high dam, to the transition zone
filters and drains of carefully-washed gravels,
and on to the shell of rocks and boulders. If
seismic movement causes a crack, the dam will
tend to seal itself, whereas, Taylor notes, "If
a concrete dam cracks, it?s cracked and that?s
all there is to it."
More than 200 instrumentation devices located
throughout the dam monitor any movement or other
activity. In 15 years there have been no surprises
in the monitoring.
The final design called for a dam 585 feet high
creating a lake 26 miles long, with a surface
area of 12,960 acres and 159 miles of shoreline.
The structure would be 1,900 feet across the 40-feet
wide crest and 2,800 feet thick at the base, covering
in square yards the equivalent of 14 football
More than 16 million cubic yards of material
would have to be hauled to the site and placed
before the job were done. Visualize a city block
which is 300 by 400 feet in size. It would take
a box covering a full city block and 3,600 feet
high to hold 16 million yards.
The outdoor powerhouse with three generators,
each operated by a 77,700-horsepower turbine and
together capable of producing more than 600 million
kilowatt hours per year of non-polluting, hydroelectric
energy, was to be located at the downstream toe
of the dam.
With preparation of final plans and specifications,
design work was completed and the districts advertised
for bids on the general contract May 3, 1967.
The bids would determine once and for all whether
the project would proceed. The contract price
had to come within the limits of the funds available
and the economic feasibility.
The successful bid of Guy F. Atkinson Company
was most favorable and on June 30, 1967, an irreversible
commitment to proceed was made. On that day, firm
assurances were given to the California Districts
Securities Commission that the project would be
built. With this required commitment, the commission
approved the sale of the MID , TID and San Francisco
After a quarter century of planning, sparring,
fighting and dreaming, New Don Pedro Dam and Reservoir
would become a reality.