The Friant Water Authority met at the World Ag Expo facility in Tulare on Thursday, August 22, 2019. The meeting began at 9:00am but went right into closed session. We began with a prayer by Director Cliff Loeffler and Chairman Chris Tantau said this is Bill Luce’s last meeting. Luce spoke saying he and his wife are leaving for North Carolina this weekend and he said the San Joaquin River settlement has been good for his career. That got a good laugh. FWA Executive Director Jason Phillips thanked Luce for his hard work, intelligence and good cheer. Phillips said he wouldn’t have been with Friant if Luce hadn’t helped him when they both worked for the US Bureau of Reclamation.
The consent calendar was next and Loreen Wheaton of Terra Bella ID pointed out in the minutes Eric Borba isn’t the Terra Bella director and Tantau acknowledged the minutes need to be corrected to show Borba isn’t slowly taking over the world. Also while Josh Pitigliano is a director on Lower Tule River ID Tom Barcellos isn’t his brother Tom Pitigliano. So, another correction of the minutes. This is pretty rate actually for Friant. With those corrections the consent calendar was approved.
Next Phillips spoke about the fiscal year 2020 General Member budget and pointed out some of the highlights. He said FWA hasn’t budgeted for the NASA Airborne Snow Observatory and is pushing for the state and feds to fund that very worthwhile program. The Valley Blueprint has been the baby of Friant and it is now at least a toddler with its own funding sources as more folks join in. Despite what has been circulated here and there the VBp isn’t some cabal of big ag – whatever that means – but rather a regional effort to pull together to make a united stand for water supplies for everyone; not just ag but the much talked about disadvantaged communities. The budget is $2.1 million and that includes funds to work with Mike Villines in Sacramento. Villines is a Fresno native who spent some time in the Assembly many years ago. He’s now working to help move things forward at the state level. Good for him. Villines is a capable and skilled man.
Johnny Amaral spoke on legislative matters saying there could be more flexibility in the policy of dealing with laws. It’s routine for entities like FWA to support, oppose or support with amendment. Sometimes the turn around needs to happen quick and under this policy staff could issues positions with approval of a board officer. At the next scheduled meeting the position would be either ratified or not ratified by the entire board. That sounded reasonable and was approved.
It looked like Friant was about to dip its toe into the waters of the dark side with an action item to start the meetings in closed session. But, Director Kent Stevens added in the motion if the closed session looked like it would go past the 10:00am open session schedule the closed session would adjourn until after open session. Good for him and this reasonable item was passed.
Villines joined by phone and spoke about SB 559, the bill by Senator Melisa Hurtado to help $400 million to the Friant Kern Canal repairs. This will end up as a trailer bill and that $400 million will remain the number. The state funding for the NASA ASO is being pushed with great effort. SB 1 went straight to suspense after yesterday’s Appropriation Committee. The vote will have to happen by Saturday September 1st. There are amendments floating around and effort and energy to bring some rational language to the topic. Villines said the Valley Blueprint is making good traction in Sacramento. He said Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot said it is a good vehicle to further Governor Gavin Newsom’s agenda for water in California.
Friant COO Doug DeFlitch spoke about the problems on the Friant Kern Canal due to subsidence. There is a project developing to fix this and it goes hand in hand with FWA’s desire to have title of the canal transferred to itself. There are right of way, environment, cultural and engineering issues. Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineering gave an update saying there have been detailed scheduling discussions with the Bureau. Attorney Don Davis has been taking the lead on right of way and said an ROP for qualified firms to handle the right of way. Eight firms applied, three only appraisal and the other five had right of way and appraisals. This has been narrowed down with one firm with the full range of services and experience working with the Bureau leading the pack. Davis said Stantec has been designing the repairs so that it remains in the current right of way. What started as 150 parcels has been reduced to 70 something. So that helps. There will be an open houses in Delano and Porterville next week. It’s on the website for more info. Atkinson said there has been a letter campaign to outreach to impacted landowners and others along the route. CEQA and NEPA documentation has made good progress and thankfully Atkinson didn’t go into details. Significant progress has been made in design. Davis said due to the state and federal nature of the relationship there is redundancy yet differences. He had to change the word project to include action in the environmental documents. The state likes the word Project and the feds like Action. He had to go through the documents and make 80 changes to read project/action. Phillips said the Bureau is taking time to give a critical review on scheduling. He said it’s better to be delayed now than later when construction of repairs is ongoing. The fact the FKC is still owned by the Bureau adds a good deal of red tape which adds a good deal of time to the project. There are efforts underway to streamline some of this. Phillips asked all the member agencies to please help promote the open houses.
Attorney John Bezdek spoke briefly about the title transfer. Such a deal usually takes 12-15 years but feds in high places would like to dramatically shorten this process. There have been many instances across the western US where title transfer has been very well received. There is more to be done to get into a position for FWA to take title. This will be a big part of the upcoming board retreat and Phillips hopes to have this in place by next year before the next election and folks high up in the federal government may leave. There are still nine Friant districts with federally owned distribution systems. I think they are all paid off but transfer has never been completed. The feds want all of the Madera and FKC and the distribution systems as a package deal. Now that High Speed Rail is ramping down that might not be a bad idea. HSR was at one time telling district the districts had to pay for changing the water infrastructure at the crossings. HSR was told to go to the Bureau and work it out since the Bureau owns the canals. HSR was never heard from again, at least trying to extort money from the districts. Visalia engineer Dennis Keller has been conducting a thorough vetting and that has been helpful.
The Friant Kern Canal was built to move San Joaquin River water. There are situations when it would be helpful to move water from other sources. Not all water quality is a good as the pristine water from Millerton Lake. All the member districts at the southern end of the canal have had problems with poor water quality. In an effort to avoid legal action an ad hoc group was formed to work things out in house. Stantec has been involved and Ian Buck-Macleod presented the board with a brief update. De Flitch said the goal is a Friant-Kern Water Quality Monitoring plan. Buck-Macleod said constituents of concern are being looked at. Boron is a big deal. A mitigation ledger will be established to track and account for all inflows and diversions from the FKC. There will be a workshop to go into greater detail; like agronomic concerns and how this is going to work. Additional water for leaching will have to be involved. Phillips said all the district personal involved need to attend the workshop. This is going to impact every contractor on the FKC.
Jeff Payne gave the Central Valley Project operations report. But Phillips spoke about the Voluntary Agreements impacts on Friant water. The State Board is in charge of this process and Friant doesn’t want to have to participate under the logic that the San Joaquin River Settlement is a major contribution to Delta flows. The State Board is willing to accept this if Friant gives up 7,000 a/f of recaptured flows annually and will gain 50,000 a/f in doing so by staying out of the VAs for at least 15-years. Payne then spoke and said his wife was home with a two-week old and he thanked Friant for sending flowers and letting him stay in a hotel room last night. Payne reported the cold water pool in Shasta is great and he doesn’t expect any call on Friant water. Michael Jackson, USBR Area Director spoke and said any title transfer will include a new USBR office in Fresno. Good for him. On a more serious note he said there are no changes to the current allocations.
Amaral and Alex Biering were next. Amaral said Congress is still in recess and a visit will take place in DC with the San Luis Delta Mendota crew. There have been many outreach efforts. Senator Diane Feinstein’s Chief of Staff visited the FKC and the same will be done with Congressman Kevin McCarthy’s Chief of Staff. There will also be a tour of the Jones Pumping Plant, the fish screens and the intertie between the Delta Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct so FWA and SLDMWA can get together. Biering spoke and said the Newsom administration is working on the California Water Resiliency Plan with Nancy Vogel from the Natural Resources office leading it. Friant has been able to meet with Vogel and has been successful for promoting the Valley Blueprint. Phillips said the one thing growers could do to maximize impact with the administration is to speak with a unified voice. He said Assemblyman Adam Gray has told him he’s met with water groups that are not ready to speak and that’s not helpful. A solid contingent with a unified voice is the way to make positive things happen.
Austin Ewell spoke on the Valley Blueprint saying the big driver for the VBp is the October deadline. He has met with many people and received great input. Outreach for comments are planned next month. The last VBp meeting was very productive. A governance framework was established with a board and non-profits established. An executive committee has been set up and is looking for a full time manager. Contributions of more than $300,000 have been promised. Some of these funds will be used for the socioeconomic report. This report is including NGOs for input. The next meeting will in September. Phillips said he spoke to the Tulare County Farm Bureau about the VBp socio/economic report and they get it. Davis thanked folks for the contributions and reminded everyone there is an advocacy fund and an education fund. State law allowed agencies to lobby but not contribute to candidates and ballot measures. The VBp isn’t engaging in anything that should prevent members to contribute.
Phillips gave his report saying the Board Retreat is November 18-20th at the base of Morro Rock. Or maybe somewhere else, I didn’t catch it. Also, he said the Bureau is finishing up a CVPIA cost true up and cost allocation. FWA has CFO Don Willard, Bezdek, Payne and Biering are pretty sure Friant is paying too much and is looking at things. ACWA Region Seven only had enough applicants to fill the committee but for one and Amaral has joined the ballot. The meeting then went to lunch.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2019 by Don A. Wright
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.