The Friant Water Authority met at the World Ag Expo facility in Tulare on Thursday, June 27, 2019. After Chairman Chris Tantau opened the meeting at 9:00am things began with Director Cliff Loeffler opening the meeting with a prayer. You can’t beat that for start. Public comments included Arvin Edison Water Storage District President Edwin Camp showed a photo of FWA Executive Director Jason Phillips’ Tesla’s bumper stickers. Camp said Phillips is good at working both sides of the aisle. The photo showed a magnetic Elizabeth Warren for President bumper sticker. It turned out to be pick on Jason day, or as I like to call it, make fun of Phillips. They even put a photo of Phillips on the podium. The next public comment came from San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority Executive Director Federico Barajas who said he also worked at the US Bureau of Reclamation after Phillips left and had to clean up his mess in Klamath and the San Joaquin River. It doesn’t write out as funny as it was but truly Barajas got some good laughs out of that one. His main comments were to convey his and his board’s pleasure of the cooperation between FWA and SLDMWA. I had heard earlier before the meeting there are many times when it’s ok to leave diversity to the wacko left but everyday folk need unity to get things done. Finally, engineer Bill Luce presented the Water Warrior’s Sword of Victory to former AEWSD GM Steve Collup, who’d already won it once. Luce was temporary Executive Director of FWA for a spell and he ended up with the sword and passed it on to Collup. Luce is leaving for the old south later this month. Phillips thanked Barajas and said he’s looking forward to speaking with SLDMWA Chairman Cannon Michael about a make fun of Federico day.
It was good the meeting began with some light-hearted stuff because the first action item after approved the minutes and paying the bills under the consent calendar was CFO Don Willard’s $737,000 cash call. That was actually easy and the board agreed.
The next item wasn’t so easy. COO Doug DeFlitch reported engineering consultants Stantec needed more money to work on the Friant Kern Canal subsidence project. The Professional Services Agreement budget would be increased from $6.5 million to $12 million. This caught the ear of Fresno ID’s Director George Porter. FID has been critical of having to pay for subsidence repairs and this is a large amount. As with almost all things water there is more to it than you’d think. The scheduling of the payments has changed, the scope of the task has changed and if I heard correctly DeFlitch said there is some money available to back fill the budgeted expense. The board approved with FID being the lone no vote.
Next DeFlitch presented the board with some updated FWA Employee Rules. There are changes to state law that needed to be incorporated into the existing employee policy. Attorney Don Davis said he’d reviewed the changes and he was good with it. He added this is a resolution needed to make this an official act. The resolution passed.
The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority used to run the Temperance Flat Dam Prop One circus act. OK it’s not a circus act but the were Sacramento clowns involved. The SJVWIA worked its fingers to the bone to get things moving in the grant area. The time came to pass on that responsibility to others. So Friant and others have picked up the ball and the JPA needs to be reformed by amendment. That was unanimously passed. Phillips added he appreciated FID allowing its conference room to be used for those meetings.
Austin Ewell spoke next about the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint. He’s going up to Sacramento this afternoon to speak with the powers up there about the very real possibility of the Blueprint being the de facto plan for the Valley in Governor Gavin Newsom’s Water Resilience Plan for California. Good for him. We’re going to be hearing a lot more about the SJV Blueprint. Ewell said there is a Pepperdine professor conducting a socio-economic study of the SJV. Things have gotten so out of hand a comprehensive plan to secure the needed resources to keep the Valley healthy is being created. The reduction of groundwater and surface water supplies is going to hamstring the communities and possibly irreparably damage the very social fabric of California’s last functional outpost, the Central Valley. I don’t think I’m exaggerating – I know folks in San Francisco who keep galoshes at their door to protect their shoes from human feces when walking down the sidewalks. As Phillips put it, you’ve got to bring in more water or retire land. He said the biggest critics can very well be the entities with water contracts and that is why it is important for Friant, San Luis Delta Mendota and Kern County WA be at the table. I’m proud to say Fresno State is involved in developing this blueprint.
Willard had the fun task to expound upon the FWA budget. This is one of those topics deeply submerged in accounting minutia. Accounting minutia, although fascinating is best digested with a heaping helping of the facts presented accurately. That’s why I suggest should you like more detail you take advantage of the public accessibility of source documents.
Stantec’s Janet Atkinson updated the board the FKC subsidence fix. She said there will be a month or more worth of geotechnical drilling in the area. A utility tracking list is being developed as there will be a good deal of power lines, phone lines and gas pipes, who knows what that will have to be moved. As you may recall the parallel canal fix is the preferred method. The right of way/easement issue is kind of tricky. If FWA doesn’t get title to the FKC, a structure already paid for by the contractors, the federal government model of agreements will be used. That could slow things down. Phillips said he spoke with the satraps in Washington DC and is working to get a solid commitment to a workable schedule. Davis added the credit worthiness of FWA is being established by the member agencies submitting their financial documents to review and this does more than just establish the funding for the canal fix. He named names in a scandalous public shaming of six agencies yet to make those documents available. It was rumored Arvin Edison’s documents were discovered in a parking lot next to a magnetic Elizabeth Warren bumper sticker. Anyway, it’s hoped construction can begin in 2020.
DeFlitch and Phillips spoke about transferring the Friant Kern and Madera Canals title from the USBR to FWA. Phillips said the congressional legislation needed has been achieved. However, environmental compliance has historically been the b-itch but under the President Donald Trump administration things are easier now. Phillips said it will be very good to have the titled transferred in 2020 so repairs can begin. He said there will be very few opportunities to transfer title like there are now. He said FWA can save $1 million per year in USBR fees that can be used for O&M costs. Having title will allow FWA far more flexibility to receive financing. Orange Cove ID GM Fergus Morrissey asked since FWA will end up needing more land as the easements for fixing the canal will the feds get that land. Phillips and Davis said FWA would end up with the land and there are ways to make that easier. The Bureau will continue operating Friant Dam and will still hold the water right. Phillips said the Bureau will want to make sure it contracts are kept whole; i.e. the Bureau is sending an acre foot to Arvin down and non-federal canal it wants to be sure it gets there.
The O&M report was brief. It should be noted a referral to a kit fox den was mislabeled as a Kit Kat den.
Rufino Gonzalez, USBR spoke about Central Valley Project operations. Inflows to Millerton Lake are 157 percent of annual this year. Storage in every reservoir on the San Joaquin River shed is above normal except Redinger and Kerckhoff and they are within two to three percentage points of 100 percent. Gonzalez said the NASA ASO flight data has been right on. Next are honcho Michael Jackson spoke saying he thinks there is more than enough water to predict 100 percent Class One at the end of the uncontrolled season without dipping into next year’s carryover. The biops reconsultation is still on but the deadline was extended to mid-July. He said it is being dealt with at the highest levels. He said although the State of California is suing Westland Water District over raising Shasta Dam the Bureau is still going forward on that project. There is a shortage of deputies under Mid Pacific Regional Director Ernest Conant at the moment but hopefully these positions will be filled soon.
Phillips said he, Friant’s Alex Bieringer and consultant Mike Villines had a very successful lobbying trip to Sack-o-tomatoes that included meeting with Wade Crowfoot, Newsom’s Secretary of Natural Resources. One of the issues was about state financing of the Friant Kern Canal repairs. He noted there needs to be repairs to the FKC, the Delta Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct to keep things rolling. There are actually folks in opposition to repairing these canals. On the federal side there was a trip to Washington DC to get commitments for title transfer and construction on FKC by 2020. Tantau said he was very impressed with Villines and the reception they had in Sacramento. Loeffler said the trip to DC was also worthwhile. He said Phillips was pleasantly surprised to get a letter of support from Senator Dianne Feinstein to Newsom urging state support of funding the FKC repairs. Friant’s Johnny Amaral reported Feinstein and another western senator are preparing a bill very much in the interest of western water needs and wanted Friant to sign on with support. He said FWA doesn’t have a policy in regards to this and he is coming up with some language for that so staff doesn’t get out in front of the board. Finally in regards to the infamous SB 1 it was reported even Santa Clara Valley WD sent a letter of opposition unless amended. SB 1 is the bill that will roll back any enviro standards to pre-Trump levels and is an example of political theater resistance as an exercise in feeling good even it harms a wide swath of California.
Our old friend Steve Ottomoeller reported by phone there is so much water in the Delta Mendota Canal there isn’t capacity for restoration flows at this time. However, things can still be put in place. At this time Tantau invited everyone to lunch followed by closed session. How fun.
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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.