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Homeowners claim water at Tulloch is theirs

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POSTED August 8, 2015 1:00 a.m.

A decision to lower Tulloch Lake to protect Stanislaus River fish as well as perform mandated tests of the dam’s release gates is not sitting well with property owners near the manmade reservoir including many with $1 million properties.

The Tri-Dam Project — a joint entity of the South San Joaquin and Oakdale irrigation districts — will start drawing down Tulloch beginning as early as Aug, 23. It is currently at 64,000 acre feet or 2,000 acre feet below capacity. It will be lowered 30,000 acre feet and will stay at that level until March.

The release of water from Tulloch will be coordinated with releases by Bureau of Reclamation from their low-level outlet at New Melones Reservoir. 

Together, the releases will reduce water temperatures affecting rainbow trout (below Goodwin Dam on the Stanislaus River. The two irrigation districts are working with Tri-Dam Project and have been meeting and working with National Marine Fisheries Service, California Department of Fish and Wildlife U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, State Water Board, and the Bureau to develop an operation plan to meet Endangered Species Act, the Water Quality Control Plan, and other beneficial uses and regulatory requirements.

Tulloch homeowners not only contend the move will harm fish but also erroneously believe the water in Tulloch Lake is either there naturally or belongs to them.

 An example of that sentiment appears in emails sent Friday to the SSJID and OID.

“Finally while it may be of very little consequence to the decision makers, the impact this will have on the residents in terms of the negative impact on our already devalued properties is going to be enormous, add to that the impact on local businesses that depend heavily on the income from the lake’s recreational facilities,” wrote Fred West. “Please consider that this is ‘our’ water, not the water districts’, not the state or federal government’s, this is our water bought and paid for by us the taxpayers of California.”

SSJID General Manager Jeff Shields said nothing could be farther from the truth.

Shields noted not a penny of state or federal tax dollars went into developing the Tri-Dam project including Tulloch. He noted it was built as an irrigation reservoir on the strength of property owners in the two districts underwriting debt to develop legally secured water rights.

“If anything the districts enhanced their property,” Shields said noted it is highly unlikely a residential community primarily of second homes with some valued at more than $1 million would have been built near Copperopolis hadn’t been for the reservoir was built in the 1950s.

Shields emphasized that it is a reservoir and not a natural lake.

“There is not one other reservoir in the state right now that is at more than 50 percent of capacity,” Shields said. “The reservoir wasn’t created for water skiing but to provide the farmers that paid for it with irrigation water.”

Shields noted the districts have never charged residents recreation fees to use the reservoir or even the local water district for placing outtake facilities at Tulloch.

Due to the extended drawn down, Tri-Dam will use this opportunity to operate and test the spill gates at the Dam, as required by its federal operating license.

“The Tri-Dam Project Board of Directors thinks it’s a good idea since the reservoir has to be drawn down beyond normal winter levels that we test the gates again this year, with hopes that it will not be required for another five years,” said Tri-Dam General Manager Ron Berry.

The Temporary Urgency Change Petition previously approved by the State Water Board only addressed project operations until August. The Tri-Dam Project has maintained water surface elevations at Tulloch as long as it could through the summer of the fourth year of drought.

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