Five years after commissioning a $500,000 Ditch Optimization Study, Tuolumne Utilities District has received the first data that will go into a final report.

The study's first installment is six maps and nine pages of data. It amounts to an inventory of facts, figures and data concerning the 55-mile canal system. Historic and cultural resources, wildlife habitat values and water losses through seepage and evaporation, among other things, are covered. Also noted are popular trails and plants and animals seen along the ditch banks.

The canals were built in the 1850s to transport water for hydraulic mining. Today, they carry drinking water for most of the county, and trails lining the ditches are used for recreation.

The material was compiled by the Sacramento consulting firm of EIP and Associates. No options for managing the ditches or recommendations on piping are included in the initial report.

After evaluating public comments on the gathered material and and working with district officials, said TUD General Manager Gary Egger, EIP will issue formal ditch-system recommendations in February or March.

"We were a little reluctant to come out with a specific proposal until people look at the data and help shape it," said Egger.

That is why TUD board members and staff will meet Monday to answer questions and take public input. Audience members may also view exhibits on the ditch system, water balance, cultural resources, biological resources and the ditch-optimization-project process.

TUD staff members will answer questions, and comment forms will be available, as will the podium and microphone. For people who don't want to write or speak in front of an audience, board Secretary Casey Prunchak will have a tape recorder for private comments.

"Most of the ditch folks, whatever their issue is, they seem to be pretty passionate about it," said Egger, adding that TUD will take comments for two or three weeks after Monday's meeting

TUD's next step will be working with EIP to develop ditch management plans that balance the canals' water service with recreational and ecological values.