The Exchange Contractors board of directors met at its headquarters in Los Banos on Friday, January 4, 2019. It was cold and clear. There is rain proposed for next week, so that’s good. Chairman Jim O’Banion called the meeting at a civilized 9:00am with the flag salute. That was also good because overslept. Minutes aren’t always fun but today there was an interesting typo. Firebaugh Canal Company’s Director Mike Stearns wasn’t available so his alternate Director Darcy Villere was sitting and pointed out there is no such animal as Devin Newsom in either Washington or Sacramento. Can you imagine? Anyway, the minutes were changed to Gavin Newsom. After everyone introduced themselves a long over-do, official appointment of Chris White as Executive Director took place.
Joann White gave the financial statements and they were approved. The board approved the resolution to adopt the annual statement of Investment Policy. Next the out stretched hand item was dealt with. ACWA solicited the largest amount and there were other worthy contributions the board agreed to including the downtown Los Banos salute to veterans.
Watermaster Adam Hoffman gave his report saying there is about 200 cfs of San Joaquin River water reaching the Mendota Pool from Friant. He said there is good news coming from San Luis Reservoir with both state and federal storage improving greatly. Millerton Lake on the SJR and Pine Flat on the Kings River are holding steady. The Jones Pumping plant was able to pump almost a quarter of a million a/f over December. The new Cooperative Operating Agreement was helpful. It’s rumored White and Steve Chedester may have had something to do with that. Hoffman said there are more storms coming in and if there is enough the WINN Act could kick in.
Under White’s report it was said Chedester had great success with getting some traction on fish screens at Mendota Pool and Sack Dam. White reported Ex Con is reaching out to Sacramento Valley districts and bringing board members from up there down here for tours. Ex Con is also working with lobbyist Dominic DiMare to bring state legislature members to the area. Staff is also researching health insurance and joint cell phone plan for the four entities and Ex Con. The board and staff went up to Tehama Colusa and Glenn Colusa to get a look at the fish screens on the SJR. Next month Firebaugh Canal Water District will host lunch after the Ex Con meeting.
Next White introduced labor attorney Carrie Bushman by phone. Ms. Bushman went over some new provisions from recently enacted state law that necessitated a change in the employee handbook. A big change is the accrual of sick leave. Before, sick leave was a benefit and optional to an employer. Ex Con does provide this. However, there can be a problem of a healthy person saving it all up and then taking a month off before retiring. Bushman helped Ex Con craft a new policy that allows it to stay compliant with state law. California mandates employers provide sick leave for someone with a sick family member or a victim of crime. Overall it sounded to me like a good deal for both Ex Con as an entity and its employees without getting too far out there by California standards. There was some questions and discussions amongst the board.
John Wiersma, General Manager of San Luis Canal Company reported there was a technical committee meeting regarding the subsidence in the Red Top area. He said the Triangle T Ranch stayed way under pumping levels. He said the construction work at Sack Dam is well on schedule to finish ahead of time and there have been a remarkable lack of interference from regulators. He said his staff worked hard to keep it between the lines. The project also came in under budget.
Jarrett Martin, engineer Central California Irrigation District reported PG&E is starting to bring power to the pumps needed to get water pumped back into the canal system from the water resources project.
Attorney/consultant David Cory reported on state and regional board matters. He said Regional Board member John Constantino was pushed out by the governor’s folks for having a tie to oil and gas through his firm. The new guy, missed his name, is an unknown. It was a brief report from Cory.
White gave a legislative update saying DiMare is looking to bring some of the newly elected legislators on a tour of Ex Con next month. On the federal side with Nancy Pelosi as Speaker of the House small change of a WINN Act extension. Former Valley congressman Jeff Denham is continuing to be looked at as the next Secretary of the Interior.
Attorney Paul Minasian reported on some of the problems of coordinating Southern California Edison and the US Bureau of Reclamation on putting springtime water in Millerton Lake. His reason is; he wants the Bureau to hang on to storage in Millerton Lake until it can confirm it has full supplies for Ex Con from other sources. He proposes doing this by putting the Bureau on legal notice every year. I believe I have this correct. He told the board he would depend on the hydrologic expertise of staff to fill in the blanks. Next he spoke of the Delta Tunnels. He said the State Board views this as a Metropolitan WD and DWR project and it is stalled. Minasian said he views the tunnels as important to Ex Con as to Met or the SWP. He doesn’t see getting federal help right now. He said he developed an amateurish decision tree he didn’t even bill for; but it is something the managers need to keep an eye on. He said he expects DWR and the Bureau to get behind the curve and if an earthquake hits what happens to Ex Con supplies. He also said he won’t discuss the State Board’s 40 percent unimpaired flow decision in open session. He says he doesn’t see Newsom as gung-ho in creating a water legacy as Jerry Brown was. He’ll keep an eye on Newsom’s appointments and that will be the tell.
The four entity managers’ reports were next and Jeff Bryant, GM FCWD said they got the most important portion of its infrastructure projects completed. Wiersma said SLCC will host a stockholder’s strategy and planning session soon. Randy Houk, GM Columbia Canal Company said Della Valle Labs are set up to test for nitrates in drinking water. He said it is $400 cheaper than using BSK Labs. The owner of the property is responsible for drinking water quality, not the lessee. He said he got a call from the Bureau wanting to send a couple of folks on the SJR to do archeological investigations. They didn’t call ahead so the gates where all locked. He went out to meet them and found out they were from Alaska. The Bureau sent Alaskan archeologists to Firebaugh to check an alfalfa field for Indian burial grounds. One questions the prevalence of the concept of thrift institutionally. Martin gave the CCID report saying its SCADA system is up and running.
White said there are other tours coming up. He said in closed session there are many items to discuss today; not all of them dealing with lawsuits. And that was that.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2019 by Don A. Wright
SAN JOAQUIN RIVER EXCHANGE CONTRACTORS WATER AUTHORITY
The Exchange Contractors cover almost a quarter of a million acres in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus Counties.
The Exchange Contractors Water Authority mission is to effectively protect the Exchange Contract and maximize local water supply, flexibility and redundancy in order to maintain local control over the members’ water supply.
James O’Banion-Chair Central California Irrigation District, Chris Cardella-Vice Chair Columbia Canal Company, James L. Nickel-Treasurer San Luis Canal Company, Mike Stearns-Director Firebaugh Canal Water District
Chris White-Executive Director, Steve Chedester- Director Policies & Programs, Adam Hoffman-Water Resources Specialist, Joann White-Director Finance and Human Resources, Patty Baldini-Office Assistant, Darlene O’Brien- Administrative Assistant, Paul Minasian-Attorney
The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors hold some of the oldest water rights in the state, dating back to the late 1800s. The rights were established by Henry Miller of the legendary Miller and Lux cattle empire. In 1871, Henry Miller constructed canals to divert water from the San Joaquin and North Fork of the Kings Rivers for irrigation of his vast acreage. Today, several of the original Miller and Lux canals are operated by the Exchange Contractors.
Although Henry Miller’s canals served the irrigation needs of his estate in the western portion of Fresno, Madera, Merced, and Stanislaus counties, in order for more growth on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley to occur, more water was needed. In 1933, the United States Department of Interior undertook the Central Valley Project, a vast undertaking to build dams throughout the great Central Valley including the Sacramento, American and San Joaquin Rivers. When construction of the Friant Dam (north of Fresno) was under consideration, feasibility studies showed that irrigation development of the Friant Project between Chowchilla and Bakersfield depended upon water being diverted from the San Joaquin River at Friant Dam and brought to the east side of the valley, via the Friant-Kern Canal.
To accomplish this, the government asked the heirs of Miller and Lux to agree to “exchange” where they receive their pre-1914 appropriative and riparian water from the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers for guaranteed deliveries of “substitute” water from the Sacramento River by means of the Delta-Mendota Canal and other facilities of the United States. This agreement, known as the “Exchange Contract,” along with the accompanying “Purchase Contract,” were reached in 1939 and that led to the name “San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors.” In normal years, the Exchange Contractors are guaranteed 100% of their contractual water allotment (840,000 acre feet) and in critical years the amount is 75% (650,000 a/f).
The Exchange Contractors, however, did not abandon their San Joaquin River water rights. Instead, they agreed not to exercise those San Joaquin and Kings Rivers’ water rights if guaranteed water deliveries continued through the Delta-Mendota Canal or other facilities of the United States.