http://www.gtipros.comThe Friant Water Authority met at the World Ag Expo facility in Tulare on Thursday, March 28, 2019. It started out good, really good. Chairman Chris Tantau called the meeting at 9:00 am and Director Cliff Loeffler led us in a prayer. There were maybe half a dozen or more directors and staff from other districts that contract from the Friant Division of the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Central Valley Project in attendance. Diversity’s great if you’re trying to burnish your pop-culture street cred with some politically correct cheerleading squad; but if you’re seriously trying to accomplish worthwhile goals you can’t leave the unity out.
The agenda and consent calendar were knocked out immediately. The board paid its bills and approved a call for funds totaling a little more than $700,000. FWA COO Doug DeFlitch presented the board with the suggestion the Friant Kern Canal not undergo a drawdown for dewatering. At the last engineers/managers meeting there was a request to defer this until 2020, for a couple of reasons. One – this is a wet year and they contractors want to take full advantage of the situation and two – with the subsidence problem still under review a new liner system will cause a dewatering anyway and the other maintenance can be completed then. The board agreed.
Agenda Item 5.D was next. This is a complicated issue dealing with how allocate extraordinary OM&R costs. Operations, maintenance and repair costs need to be paid. The difference between routine and extraordinary OM&R costs have been allocated by different methodology; staff recommends the same methodology be used for both. Executive Director Jason Phillips and CFO Don Willard both expressed the need for updating this situation. The topic has been colored with tensions over the “kink” on the FKC, Fresno Irrigation District’s unwillingness to pay for a fix and the idea of FWA getting title to the FKC from the Bureau. FID’s General Manager Bill Stretch restated his board’s position. He said the northern contractors didn’t cause the problem; it was caused by over pumping in the white areas along the impacted portion of the canal in southern Tulare County. He said he doesn’t find the $400 million plus repair price tag as an extraordinary maintenance cost. FID Director George Porter said no matter how high the standards of repair if the over pumping isn’t addressed the problem won’t go away. Phillips said this recommendation by staff isn’t an automatic funding for the canal fix. He understands there is perception throwing all OM&R costs into the same methodology will be to pay for the fix. But that’s not the game plan. FWA is actively seeking grant money and other funding resources such as legislation both state and federal. Phillips said going after the causes of subsidence could be forming a legal team to get some results. Sean Geivet, GM of Saucelito, Porterville and Terra Bella IDs said there is a lot of work going on by the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency to determine how to fix the cause. He said this to let folks know the districted and white areas in the subsidence section of the FKC are very aware of the problem. Porter said it would be wise for FWA to not get involved with the GSAs at this time. Director Edwin Camp, Arvin Edison WSD said making decisions based on who is impacted and who isn’t is a bad idea. He said unfortunately Prop Three failed or this discussion wouldn’t be happening. But if the Friant contractors don’t stand together they will fall separately. Don’t forget the FWA contractors split into three different groups: the original FWA, the South Valley Water Association and the North Friant Alliance. FID broke off to form the NFA with Chowchilla Water District and a couple of other contractors. The NFA is pretty much inactive at this time and even looking to disband. Although FID is opposed to disbanding. The South Valley WA has interests much more aligned with fixing the kink on the canal as of primary importance.
Harvey Bailey, Director Orange Cover ID moved to separate the proposed $5 million pre-construction costs from the current O&M budget; if I understood correctly. I said this is complicated. A non-FWA manager said he found Bailey’s approach palatable to his district. The motion was in three parts. If I understood the O&M costs are different for Class I and Class II. That may be the heartburn for districts north of the kink. Lower Tule River ID Director Tom Barcellos reminded the board everyone needs to stick together and get ahead of this problem. Barcellos is concerned more meetings and discussion and evaluation and studies will cause a big problem very soon. The motion Bailey gave was seconded and approved. I apologize for not being able to give a better report on what has taken place today. It really is complicated and I invite any knowledgeable person in attendance to please add their comments below. In fact I encourage everyone to always add their comments to reports.
Willard next explained item 5.E. When the Friant Division was developed it was a major change in water rights. The Exchange Contractors had water rights on the San Joaquin River. Water that now goes to Friant. They exchanged those rights for the Bureau to deliver water from the Delta through the Delta Mendota Canal to the San Luis Reservoir for Exchange Contractor use. That was why the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority was created. Friant is liable for a portion of the O&M – this year’s contribution is $1.5 million. Phillips said the relationship between FWA and SLDMWA has been growing in grace and cooperation. The item passed.
Jeff Payne, FWA Water Policy Director reported on the Cooperative Operation Agreement results. As it turns out the reliability of through Delta deliveries to Ex Con post COA ratification or whatever the term was to lock in the COA have increased tremendously. Some media have incorrectly framed this as the Trump Administration putting California in a headlock and stealing water thus requiring resistance. Let me tell you this is absolute bull snort. The COA deal was struck decades ago and updates were scheduled as part of the deal.
Phillips updated the board on the Voluntary Settlement Agreement. The State Board went after the lower SJR and SJR tributaries to release 40 percent or more for through Delta flows. The alternative to this was VSAs. There was talk that Friant hasn’t been giving its fair share. Once again, bull snort. Friant gave up a third or so of its supplies to the SJR Restoration. It looks as though 50,000 a/f of Friant water is already going to the Delta outflow and that will be respected if I understood correctly. Payne brought up another somewhat complicated issue. Friant has a Valley Blueprint and implementing this objective has a lot of moving parts. However, there could be a draft by June 1st and the State Board could consider it by the end of the year. There are 44 signatories to this. We’ll have to get some detail on this.
Title Transfer of the FKC
Tantau next brought up the item dealing with title transfer on the FKC and Madera Cana. He said if the whole Friant Division isn’t behind it, it won’t happen. Attorney John Bezdek and DeFlitch got into the weeds with this. On March 12th President Donald Trump signed S. 47, the John D. Dingell, Jr. Conservation, Management and Recreation Act. This allows the Secretary of the Interior to administratively approve the title transfer of USBR facilities. Before this bill became law transferring title required a literal act of congress. Engineer Dennis Keller sent out a letter regarding the problems of title transfer. Bezdek said Keller didn’t address the benefits. There is an MOU with the Bureau and it is being updated. Bezdek said several districts that have undergone title transfer were interviewed and it was found they had a much better deal financially and relationally after the transfer. Phillips came to FWA after a long career in management with the Bureau. He said the owning the title would allow Friant certain benefits it doesn’t now enjoy; financially Friant would be eligible for funding it is now denied. Bezdek said there is a real possibility a really large roll of red tape, I’m talking 20 or more feet in diameter, will sit on the shelf if the Bureau doesn’t hold title when the subsidence fix is implemented. He talked about the headache of getting just an appraisal from the feds. That alone could take two to three years. Former FWA Chair and Director Kent Stephens asked how long will transfer take if it starts now. Phillips said the time frame can meander all over the place determining how much work is put into it. He said Senator Diane Feinstein kindly offered to help and Phillips said he had to tell her his board has yet to approve the transfer. Bezdek said there a couple of fundamental questions that have to be answered by the Bureau and DeFlitch said there are many – he didn’t say how many – agreements that needs to be addressed. This is mostly a real estate matter dealing with right of ways, easements and such.
DeFlitch said there are new waters after the SJR restoration agreement. Staff tried to put these new waters: Unreleased Restoration Flows and Restoration Water Account in a cost recovery methodology. There was a workshop recently and instead of putting forth a staff recommendation he would like to review the desires and suggestions put forth at the workshop and come back next week. There will be another workshop on April 12th.
The Bureau’s Rufino Gonsalves gave his report on CVP operations. He said DWR has been making its snow survey and we’re at more than 150 percent above average. He said there are another three inches of rain at least early next month. Area Manager Michael Jackson said Friant is still in uncontrolled Season and will stay there through the first week of April. He said the Western Growers Association had Jackson as a guest and speaker. He said he heard DWR Chief Karla Nemeth gave a good talk regarding SGMA and subsidence. He was impressed with Nemeth. He said the $750 million Power Ball was won somewhere last night (I haven’t checked my ticket yet) and he was ready to provide favorable terms for the FKC fix. Good for him and now if I win I’ll have yet another option to consider. He also said he anticipates the uncontrolled season will last past April 10th but he won’t swear to it. Camp was at the Western Growers and said he didn’t know Jackson was such a good speaker.
Phillips introduced Johnny Amaral. Amaral has left Westlands Water District to join FWA. He’ll be working on legislation, public affairs, SGMA and other matters such as the Valley Blueprint. He’s from Visalia and now lives in Exeter. Phillips also introduced Austin Ewell. Ewell was with the Department of Interior and is also working on the Blueprint.
Ewell said the Friant Executive Committee had a meeting last December and realized how closely Friant’s future is linked to the rest of the Valley. There isn’t enough water but how to get enough to sustain ag in the Valley. He said there was a great deal of outreach and it will take more than just ag in the Central Valley. There have been monthly meetings of technical support, governance, public relations and other committees. April 5th will be the next meeting. Ewell said Nemeth and California Secretary of Ag Bill Lyons are aware and encouraging of this effort. Phillips said he’s met Lyons three times and he is overwhelmed by what challenges SGMA is presenting. Phillips said Lyons and Nemeth are being good advocates for ag. He said scaling the Blueprint to what can be done is an important part of this effort. Tantau said although FWA started this ball rolling it isn’t the only one spending money. Donations are being accepted.
O&M and more Kink Repair
It may not seem like it when you read the previous portions of this report there is a working O&M portion to the FWA and DeFlitch said there are repairs going on along the FKC. The North Kern WD had a blowout at its siphon and asked Friant to slow the roll because of how it’s hooked up the Calloway Canal was about flood. DeFlitch said it worked out well. And the 300 cfs capacity increase repair with new liners is going along swimmingly. Janet Atkinson and Even Perez of Stantec Engineering gave an update. Atkinson said a draft feasibility report has been issued to the Bureau and Friant earlier this month. She said she’s had a lot of good meetings with the Bureau. Perez showed a slide of how many documents have to dealt with on the fix – I counted 17 from the power point slide. Perez said two of the repair alternatives are both economical feasible and doable construction wise with positive benefit/cost ratios. Loeffler commended the Stantec team for helping breakdown this highly technical matter so laymen like himself can understand. Alternative One widens the canal and Alternative Five creates a canal along the side – I think.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2019 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.