The Friant Water Authority met at the World Ag Expo facility in Tulare on Thursday, September 27, 2018. Chairman Kent Stephens called the meeting at 9:00am and Director Cliff Loeffler lead us in a prayer. Alvar Escriva-Bou and Sarge Green spoke about the Public Policy Institute of California’s “Replenishing Groundwater in the San Joaquin Valley.” This is very much like the PPIC talk given by Ellen Hanak to the Kern Groundwater Authority.
Recharge in the Valley
Green who is also with the California State University Fresno’s WET Center gave the board an overview of the study. The finding is; there’s not enough groundwater and there won’t be enough surface water deliveries to make up for this. However, all is not lost. Ag is the leader in the effort to increase recharge. The wet year water is in the tributary group. The tribs are under fire from the State Board and that has yet to play out. Local rivers can only solve about a quarter of the overdraft. The key lies in the Delta. The infrastructure issue such as subsidence on the Friant Kern Canal and deliveries to recharge basins is the limiting factor. Clear rules and ease of transfers as well as water accounting are also much needed help in getting more recharge.
SGMA is the new driver. Partnerships are starting to form and that needs to be expanded. He cited the increased cooperation between the Cities of Fresno, Clovis Fresno State and Fresno ID with the North Kings GSA.
Escriva-Bou spoke next saying moving water through the Valley is very important. He said releasing water earlier and spreading in the fall could be very helpful. Jason Phillips, Friant CEO said perhaps a water bond will help address the 2.5 million a/f of overdraft. Could a million acres be fallowed in the Valley? If we don’t get it together.
Director Eric Borba said there are farmers who don’t believe in recharging before 2020. He also said the politicians believe the groundwater belongs to the state. The nobelse oblige in Sacramento don’t believe recharge is a beneficial use. Jeff Payne, FWA added the PPIC has been pushing for a fix on the Friant Kern Canal. He also said this information will be available on the FWA website.
Subsidence on the Friant Kern
The Consent Calendar was next and Director Kole Upton had a correction and the calendar was passed. COO Doug DeFlitch spoke about the Subsidence Correction. He said Phillips instructed him to lull the board into a stupor with presentations before hitting them with the budget. With that Engineer Bill Swanson of Stantec told the board the goal is to present some options at next month’s meeting. Three areas of the FKC have been designated upper, middle and lower reach. Although the upper reach doesn’t start until the canal siphons under the Kings River. The most pressing problem is subsidence on the middle reach. One of the considerations is when the canal was first built in the late 1940s there was a study on how much friction the canal lining caused the water flowing over it. This was reevaluated in the 1960s. Even this newer data is being included in the plans of potential solutions. Friant has instructed Stantec to design the solution to provide the maximum amount of conveyance possible. This is more expensive but it is being used as a gauge to desired results.
Swanson said hydrogeologist Thomas Harder has developed a very sophisticated model for the Tule Sub Basin where the worst subsidence along the canal is occurring. This model showed even after full SGMA compliance there is continued subsidence. He showed four different scenarios with four different ramp downs of pumping rates. The hydrology assumption was 12 wet years mixed in with 18 dry years for the average. One scenario showed the FKC dropping another 10 feet by 2040. In the late 1970s the US Bureau of Reclamation identified this area as very subsidence prone but defined in a much more limited physical area. The scenarios where divided in four parts: near term 2 feet drop, midterm optimistic 4 feet, severe midterm 8 feet and severe long-term subsidence will be 12 feet. These numbers are averages and Swanson said the work that has gone into this has been intense. There isn’t much time to prepare this information into great detail.
Swanson and Stantec are the same folks who got their jam on to prepare the Temperance Flat Prop One application. Evidently they live for pressurized deadlines. Phillips did let it slip Swanson ducked out of a Hawaii vacation to be here today and will be flying back after the meeting.
Swanson said just reducing the pumping of the most impacted area won’t probably be enough to help stop the subsidence because of pumping in adjacent areas causing underground flow. Sean Geivet, GM of three districts said almost all the subsidence area is in the Eastern Tule GSA. Harder is continuing his modeling to find out more precisely the most impactive pumping. Swanson said there is also the cost element. We could hire 10,000 immigrants to form a 24/7 bucket brigade but would it be cost effective is a big consideration.*
Engineer Wayne Dahl next spoke about some of the possible course of action. There were six examples given that were either gravity or pumping fixes. Canal enlargement was one option. A pump station and redoing Lake Woollomes were other options. More immediately are some short-term repairs; a temporary plastic liner, coating and sealing bridges and mud-jacking as needed to reduce seepage. Swanson expects a categorical exemption with environmental permitting for the repairs. He said this and the other necessary considerations and actions are on track. Other considerations for the near future include right of way and constructability. There could be further needs for easements and some additional permitting. The Friant Kern Canal and its underlying land still belongs to the USBR – so more fun awaiting in the wings. Swanson expects three million cubic yards of material will have to be moved and that brings up logistics. Dahl said it’s a big effort with many big trucks and equipment moving dirt. Friant Dam is 2.1 million yards of cement. Dahl said this type of project can be fun; and don’t forget the Smog Nazis. The air quality permits could be costly. Swanson said there are a number of holes along the canal that could be dens or burrows or who knows? This brings up the biological reviews, almost all the holes are at the toe of the bank slope. So that’s good for construction but the work has to take place at least 100 feet away from the holes. Wow. Perhaps the Tulare County Housing Authority could dig some prefab holes for any kit foxes who might need a new place to live. Here’s something else – the FKC now has historic status and there is a chance the State Historic Preservation Office will get itself involved. There will be a workshop on October 10th to go over this information in more detail. Director Edwin Camp asked if the pump stations will be electric and the answer is yes, the pumps will be electric. DeFlitch said the FWA maintenance crew is working hard and doing well. That was the end of his O&M report.
The CFO report was given by CFO Don Willard, as it should be. The finance committee recommended paying the FWA bills and the board agreed. Also, as it should be. The proposed Fiscal Year 2019 and 2020 Operations & Maintenance Budget was $8.6 million in 2019 and $8.9 in 2020. The board approved this as well. Willard’s just knocking ‘em out of the park. FWA Superintendent Chris Hickernell said a couple of trucks purchased by Friant have had their delivery delayed by Hurricane Florence. This will shift the budgeted payment from last year to this year. The board said OK. The 2019 general membership budget is proposed at $2.6 million and that’s $28,000 less than last year, so the budgets are pretty close. The board OK’d this. There is also a call for funds of $737,000 which the board agreed to. Friant employees will receive a cost of living adjustment of three percent starting next month. This was planned for and won’t jack up the budget. Loeffler said the three percent is higher than in the past but gas prices from taxes alone have impacted families. The executive committee has been working on a policy for reimbursing/compensating directors for attending FWA meetings and other authority business. Attorney Don Davis said this caps at six days per month at a $100 per day. If a member district pays the director it can be compensated by FWA. Or a director can decline a reimbursement. The board directed staff to develop such a policy to present to the board next month. The last listed item under finances was consideration of putting ups some seed funds for a FWA employee incentive program. Friant was refunded $38,000 from the ACWA/JPIA and this would be the money for incentivizing employees to work safer and file less claims. The board approved.
Payne reported the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority JPA has had him draft a review of the Temperance Flat feasibility study and write a letter to the Bureau. He said he doesn’t know how much longer this item will be reported on. The SJVWIA is phasing out of Temp Flat and Prop One matters. To fill that void a MOA group is looking to create a new JPA for Temp Flat. This is scheduled to take place by sometime next month. This new JPA will allow the MOA to assume the responsibilities for moving Temp Flat forward. It provides a legal bases to work with the Bureau and the California Water Commission. With that in mind Payne provided the board with a draft JPA. He said the MOA group is for the most part OK with the JPA language. There are some non-moveable, deal killers like water rights staying in place and such principles as that. Davis added there will be an automatic termination clause built in. Upton said back in July the FWA board passed a motion to protect Friant. He said it appears the board is deferring its authority to staff to finalize the JPA language. Davis said it’s written so that if the parties don’t agree the JPA will terminate. Davis said the board is not delegating the policy and principles. Upton said FWA has no need to go to the partners with hat in hand apologizing for its principles. That’s not the case says staff. The partners (last I heard Exchange Contractors, San Luis Delta Mendota and Westlands WD) will have to accept these principles. Now they might have a couple of their own to throw in but everyone needs to be on agreement or the JPA can terminate. Phillips suggested keeping Upton and Madera ID Director Jim Erickson as the representatives to the JPA. This passed.
Rufino Gonzalez said the DWR kicked in funding for another year’s worth of NASA Airborne Snow Observatory flights. That’s good news. He said there was only one summer storm in the high country of the Sierra Nevada this year. That slows down things on the San Joaquin River. The Madera Canal has shut down and the FKC is at a little more than 1,000 cfs. The Millerton Lake inflow for water year 2018 has been 1,067,399 a/f. This on the lower side. He said there is a 60 percent chance of an El Nino this year but what does that mean? Could be a wet year or maybe not.
Area Director Michael Jackson said there still isn’t any word on a replace for the retiring Mid-Pacific Regional Director David Murillo and he didn’t sound like he was prepared to say they will find one before Murillo retires in November. Jackson said Phillips, a former Bureau man said Murillo was one of the top four Regional Directors but there has only been four during Phillips career. While Phillips didn’t deny this he did add that Jackson is one of the best two area directors. That must have made Friant consultant Bill Luce feel good.
Alex Biering gave the government affairs report and showed a nice video of Prop Three, the bond with $750 million to fix the Friant Kern Canal. There was a press conference held at Friant Dam last year to kick this off. Just about every elected official in the Valley is endorsing Prop Three. Biering said the Friant website is keep pace to share about the bond and its benefits. Phillips said he was with the Los Angele Times editorial board last week. He hopes that helped educate them in light of the false info out there. The Sierra Club has been saying Prop Three is just a win fall for billionaire farmers but no one knows which one of the Friant farmers the Club is referring to. It’d be nice to know because I could sure write up some good things about my new billionaire farmer friend.
Biering skipped the state legislative update. Friant has a new logo and working on the branding of the group. She said there will be updates on social media as well as an updated Waterline – it’s now an e-letter. I remember the old Waterline under the direction of J. Randall McFarland. I envied him, the budget to put out such a great publication.
Friant and FSU haves teamed up for a survey of opinions in the Valley about water. FWA has been hosting breakfasts called “Bacon and BS” or maybe “Eggs and Issues.” It’s a chance for folks to meet over a morning meal to learn more about Friant.
Phillips attends all the meal gatherings and is available to address questions. He personally asked the boards to please get the word out for the breakfast sessions. He also urged the board members to please commit to the annual board retreat in November. Depending on the election results there could be a lot to talk about. Title transfer is just one of the issues. DeFlitch said October 15th is the deadline for signing up. Stephens said it is one of the best things for the group. He urged directors, managers and spouses to attend.
Phillips said the federal budget is waiting for President Donald Trump to sign and it has some WINN Act funding for more water storage. That includes $60 million for California and the Department of Interior has been helpful. Friant has been working feverishly to get federal buy-in on the beneficial use of recharge. Guess who opposed it? A group of folks best known by its initials NRDC. Along with the Sierra Club a poster child of greedy, corporate environmentalists. He said all of Friant, anyone who relies on exchanges could benefit from some changes in federal regulations. Attorney John Bezdek said they are still working on some administrative fixes.The meeting then went into closed session.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 by Don A. Wright
FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY
The Friant Water Authority is a Joint Powers Agreement with 15 districts to operate and maintain the Friant Division of the Central Valley Water 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.