A public day-use site on Tulloch Reservoir stalled in planning stages for more than a decade may finally become reality.

Terms of Tri-Dam Project’s federal license to operate Tulloch, issued 11 years ago, require the utility partnership to develop a new public access day-use site on the north side of the man-made lake, a representative for Tri-Dam said this week.

Susan Larson, license compliance coordinator for Tri-Dam, said the site will be on the Calaveras County side of Tulloch, which impounds waters of the Stanislaus River downstream from New Melones.

Tri-Dam completed a $704,516 purchase of land at 7430 O’Byrnes Ferry Road for the day-use site in November 2015, Larson said. Concept plans for the site have been prepared, and Tri-Dam staff are preparing a proposal to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission seeking approval to develop and operate the site.

Concept plans prepared by Frank Walter and Associates of Sonora describe a public access waterfront park and marina with an existing sea wall and existing trees, and amenities including a park with trees, a lawn, picnic tables, a barbecue area, a boat launch pier for kayaks and other car-top size boats, boat slips and spaces for personal watercraft.

Original plan abandoned

Tri-Dam had to put together a Tulloch Shoreline Management Plan back in 2002, and they made an application to use a site administered by the federal Bureau of Land Management on the Black Creek arm of the reservoir in 2004, Larson said. Tri-Dam’s renewed license to operate Tulloch Reservoir was issued by FERC in 2006.

“Tri-Dam understood from FERC that a public day-use site on the Calaveras side of the reservoir would be required, and originally made an application to use the 14-acre site within the Black Creek arm of the reservoir, administered by the BLM,” Larson said this week.

Tri-Dam worked with BLM staff on a plan for the Black Creek arm site, “but after spending several years on that plan, the plan had to be abandoned because no road access existed, and it would have been a boat-in-only site,” Larson said.

Modifications and discussions with BLM and other neighbors took place, and Tri-Dam filed a formal application to develop the Black Creek boat-in site with FERC in 2013. Staff with the Federal Energy Regulation Commission then asked Tri-Dam to look at other sites, and Tri-Dam purchased the O’Byrnes Ferry Road property two years later.

Increasing hydropower revenues

Tri-Dam Project is a partnership of Oakdale Irrigation District and South San Joaquin Irrigation District. Together they developed the Beardsley, Donnells and Tulloch projects in the late 1950s, including dams, tunnels, penstocks, powerhouses, communications systems and general offices. They operate and maintain these facilities in the Stanislaus River watershed in Tuolumne and Calaveras counties.

Audited financial statements for Tri-Dam Project show the partnership had operating revenues of $33.8 million in 2016, more than double the $15.3 million recorded in 2015, due in part to increased hydropower generation in 2016 as the Central Sierra drought subsided, and Sierra Nevada snowpack and runoff increased.

Operating expenses were flat for 2016 at $8 million, according to Tri-Dam. Excluding depreciation and amortization, operating expenses declined $570,000 from the prior year.

Nonoperating revenues improved from $426,000 in 2015 to $753,000 during 2016, due primarily to a grant of $180,000 from the California State Parks Division of Boating and Waterways for construction of a boat wash station at Tulloch Reservoir.

Nonoperating expenses declined $133,000 to $1.59 million due to lower costs associated with river habitat studies and related legal fees incurred to defend water rights on the Stanislaus River.

Tri-Dam’s total net position increased by $9.04 million, from $77.41 million on Dec. 31, 2015, to $86.46 million on Dec. 31, 2016.

Contact Guy McCarthy at gmccarthy@uniondemocrat.com or (209) 588-4585. Follow him on Twitter @GuyMcCarthy.