The Friant Water Authority met at the Wyndham Hotel in Visalia on Thursday, January 25, 2018. This was the first meeting at the International Ag Expo in Tulare. Chairman Kent Stephens called the meeting at 9:00 am. Director Cliff Loeffler lead us in prayer and it is raining outside, not heavy but wet. So, that makes everyone happy. Director Kole Upton, Chowchilla Water District used to be the chairman of FWA and he told the board he was happy to have CWD back in the fold but why would Friant move the meeting further away. (It’s been meeting in Visalia for decades.) CEO Jason Phillips said there just happens to be an evaluation form in the packet and that would be a good comment. Mrs. Cliff Loeffler (sorry didn’t catch her first name) spoke about the USDA’s census. It’s a voluntary process but many important things can come from it; like better representation on the next federal farm bill. Also, the February FWA meeting will be held here at the Ag Expo on March 1st.
Phillips said more than 100 years ago the US Bureau of Reclamation was born to help finance the construction of water infrastructure. The time may have come for the title of the Friant Kern and Madera Canals to transfer title to the users, i.e. Friant contractors.
Austin Ewell is a bright, young attorney from Fresno who now works for the Department of Interior. He said while he is from the government and although he is here to help, he didn’t bring the rain. But Ewell is going to do his government thing to help the title transfer to be as easy as possible. He understands getting something as big as this through congress for example, is a lot of work.
Next James Hass from the Bureau’s Washington’s office. He is the title transfer guru. He gave a history of the title transfer saying it was a congressional effort and cumbersome, often inaccurate, lengthy (up to 16 years in one case from New Mexico) and expensive. Now, Hass said the focus is on non-complicated projects. He listed several concerns such as: single purpose, no competing interests, not hydrologically integrated, financial and legal issues should be relatively simple. The taxpayer has to be protected as interstate compacts and Indian tribes.
There were plenty of questions, but the first steps are; the Bureau establishes a title transfer team, completes an analysis of assets under consideration, an initial estimate of transaction costs and the Bureau prepares and estimate of valuation. There are more moving parts to this than one might be considered on the surface. For instance if a bee keeper has a lease on the federally owned right of way that income would be charged against Friant. Michael Hagman, Lindmore ID GM asked about how the fact the Friant Service Area has more than just the FWA represented would the transfer include everyone. Hass deferred to Phillips who said all of the Friant contractors will be at the table. As I understand it FWA is responsible for the canal’s O&M but everyone on the canal pays for this.
Hass said it is a good idea for all the home boards to adopt a resolution of support. This isn’t a legal requirement but experience shows it does smooth things out. There has to be a NEPA assessment but historically this hasn’t been particularly onerous. He said there has to be a National Historic Preservation Act study. In the future after title has been transferred easements can be easily done – easier without having the Bureau involved. There are other advantages and some flexibility on how to structure this deal. So, in the future all the ducks are now in a row, legislation has to be developed and pass Congress. Hass did say there is a district in Oklahoma that has become the poster child for not getting the legislation passed. But really it’s an easy deal in most cases where the US Government agrees to transfer title. Once the law has been passed all that has to be done is a walk through with Friant, the Bureau and the State of California. To be clear – this is only the canal. Friant Dam’s title will remain with the Bureau.
I recently learned of a loan known as a PL190. When the canal was built the participating contractors received this loan to help pay for the district’s infrastructure. I wanted to know if the title transfer of the FKC would have any impact on this. Many districts have paid off the PL 190 years ago but not received title yet. Hagman said this has been an advantage for many districts. He said whenever some one wants to mess with his system he refers them to the Bureau and that problem goes away. Finally, Hass has some other good news that Water Smart Grants are still available even after title transfer. Stephens thanked Hass and Ewell for their time and publicly stated all Friant entities will have a seat at the table for the title transfer.
Loeffler gave the financial and audit report and even talked the board into paying its bills. Doug DeFlitch, Friant COO said the audit should be completed within two weeks.
Jeff Payne, Friant Director of Water Policy reported on the Temperance Flat project. He said the MOU is progressing well. There are 11 members and four additional interested parties from the west side – Westlands, Ex Con, San Luis Delta Mendota and San Luis WD. He’ll be holding a meeting on the west side to help answer some questions on the MOU. Payne said the Prop One grant before the California Water Commission has created a lot of questions. He said it is an uncommon role for the State of California to invest and that contributed to low rankings for all 11 projects. He didn’t see any pack room politics in the rankings. Also, ICF Inc. has been retained to help Friant with science matters like fish in the Delta.
The Bureau’s main man in Fresno, Michael Jackson was next and Phillips said the real reason Friant wants title transfer is to spend more time working closely with Michael Jackson. Jackson thanked him. Jackson said San Luis Reservoir is full and the state won’t play along with allowing the feds to encroach on its storage space. The 150,000 a/f cap on carryover for the SLR. There is still a possibility of a 50 percent allocation, or less. Maybe more if there’s more rain and snow. Jackson was asked about the lack of a formal letter from the Bureau about how much the districts would like to carryover in Friant and he said his office will get on it.
Phillips gave an update on the Meral Water Bond and said 365,000 signatures are needed to get it on the ballot. At this time the folks backing the initiative think they have well exceeded this number. There is a growing list of endorsers and he encouraged all of the Friant districts to write letters of endorsements. Phillips said the piece of the bond benefiting Friant will be questioned so the more endorsements the better. It shows the subsidence and conveyance issues are much bigger than a Friant problem – it’s a national problem. Phillips said ACWA and the South Valley Water Association have endorsed the bond.
Next Phillips talked about federal and state legislation. He said Steve Collup of Arvin Edison WSD was back in Washington DC and spoke about adding flexibility to water transfers to help with getting water where it’s needed when it’s needed. There is a move to develop a western water bill and Friant wants to be part of bringing a benefit to the San Joaquin Valley. He said he went to Washington and had a jam-packed time of meetings. He also said he recent visit to San Francisco showed some warming to the Meral Bond. An improvement over last year. He wasn’t claiming great support at this time. The enviros are working for SB 25 up in June but after that he expects continued support.
Attorney Don Davis asked the board to welcome back the Chowchilla WD with a minimum ¾ vote. Also, Fresno ID is coming back next month. Stephens spoke in favor of CWD joining and the board unanimously agreed. Next, Davis said, the board will vote to move all the meetings to Bakersfield. That was pretty good. Davis proposed some changes to the by-laws to keep up with the changes FWA has gone through. Such as: there are no provisions in the by-laws for removing an officer. He said the Stephens rein has been a benevolent dictatorship but if that were ever to change a policy should be in place. Nor is there a provision to resign as an officer, a provision to allow closed session talks to be shared with the home boards in their closed session. The board agreed to update the by-laws.
DeFlitch gave his report saying as we heard earlier today title transfer is moving forward. He was on a tour with the feds yesterday and said he believes taking title of the FKC will be like buying a house build in 1940 – lots of little stuff to take care of. He said the Bureau has a ton of agreements with entities along the canal. He expects Friant to reach out to all the members’ home boards. Phillips added it may be time to make a non-binding resolution to take title and being outreach with all the Friant users to make sure there are no major obstacles. Next DeFlitch reported on the pump back project. The efforts are underway to develop the appropriate water quality measures and monitoring. He said the framework is coming along. The last part of his report dealt with the subsidence on the FKC. It is now referred to as Capacity Correction. There are five bridges crossing the canal in Tulare County and the County owns the bridges. There are many needs regarding how to deal with the bridges in light of the subsidence. There will be a technical draft of this sent out next week to managers for review. Phillips asked the managers to please get back on this as soon as possible. He also said there is a retired engineer named Alan Stripini (sp?) who has the needed skills and experience and desire to fix this problem. But he wants to move dirt and not just study the issue. He’s also know to the Friant managers.
Phillips gave his CEO report and said Steve Ottomoeller is retiring next year. Wow, he’s one of the first guys I ever got to know. He’ll be difficult to replace. With that in mind Phillips told the board there are positions that need to be filled. Especially since Kathy Bennet has left Friant. Chief financial officer, human resources, water resource manager and executive assistant were listed. He said Friant could find itself in a $5 million true up that could bit Friant on the butt or end up being a boon to the member districts. He said individual districts could take that on themselves and he’d like to have someone as the CFO keeping an eye on this. There is no one in the HR position. For the past year an executive assistant has been helping out in both Fresno and Sacramento and there needs to be a full time seat created because the temp agency’s person is working more than full time. Ottomoeller is moving to Oregon and Hagman said there is an assisted suicide law so keep an eye on Ottomoeller. This opens up a need for an engineer and further staff positions at Friant. The executive committee has recommended these positions be filled. Hagman and Lindmore ID Director Dave DePaoli was concerned the motion to hire the new workers was written so as to bring up more hiring than needed and the HR committee needed to vet things first. Phillips said rightly so and more than anything else a CFO is needed followed by a human resources director. DePaoli get out in the weeds about the Brown Act and Davis told him just because it’s worded a certain way on the agenda doesn’t mean the motion can’t be refined. Stephens suggested moving forward by dividing things up and getting the HR committee on board. DePaoli wanted to know what all the new positions and hiring’s are going to cost. He was OK with the CFO and recognized the need to fill this spot. Especially since his district hired Bennet which left the position unfilled. Phillips said in the past Bennet would have made sure this would have passed through the HR committee. The board voted to find a CFO and report back on the other positions. That was one long item.
There will be a Friant wide annual meeting in Fresno on March 27th at the Double Tree Inn. He also said ACWA filled its offices and committees with good Friant representation. Sounds like fun. As mentioned earlier or not Phillips was in Washington DC. He told the board all about it and I left for Bakersfield.
And with that the meeting went into closed session three items.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 by Don A. Wright No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of DAW.
FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY
The Friant Water Authority is a Joint Powers Agreement with 11 districts to operate and maintain the Friant Division of the Central Valley Project. Water from the San Joaquin River is diverted at Friant Dam at Millerton Lake to the Madera/Chowchilla Canal to the north and the Friant/Kern Canal to the south. More than one million acres of mostly family farms and numerous communities get their surface supplies from the Friant Division. Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Doug DeFlitch, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.