The Friant Water Authority held its Thursday, July 23, 2020 board meeting remotely on WebEx by Cisco. It was scheduled to begin at 10am. There was some problem with the meeting starting late and the Cisco system wouldn’t allow anyone in or make note that the meeting was late. I ended up sitting around until past 10:40am before word was out. Points off for Cisco having a wait notice. The message said the meeting would start at 10 and then rejected all attempts to for hard working, technically challenged folks like me to join the meeting.
It ends up the open session started at 10:15 so what happened in that time until I joined? Probably the house keeping matters such as minutes and consent calendar. I got on the meeting during a vote that passed but didn’t hear the discussion. By reverse engineering the agenda and hearing what was said later I dropped in on the end of Item 12a – the first of the action items. There were some abstaining districts but a resolution was adopted to renew the agreement transferring O&M and repair of the Friant Kern Canal from the US Bureau of Reclamation to FWA.
The next item was a draft of a water quality policy for the FKC. Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod presented the item to the board. For many years there have been concerns from districts on the southern end of the canal about water quality. An ad hoc committee was formed to write a policy that could be implemented. No one will ever come up with something to make everyone happy but this is moving in the direction to do something. FWA itself can’t dictate water quality in the FKC, that has to come from the Bureau. Chairman Chris Tantau asked for comments and there none from the board or folks listening in. The canal starts at Friant Dam on Millerton Lake which is filled by the San Joaquin River. That’s some of the best water on earth and considered Project water because it is part of the Central Valley Project. Under certain circumstances parties can put water from other sources, non project water into the canal and move it around. Evidently some of this water is saltier and eventually builds up in the southern portion of the canal. The policy is very lengthy and complicated. The vote to submit the draft policy to the Bureau was passed. Shafter Wasco ID isn’t a FWA member but as a Friant Division Contractor is allowed to give a nonbinding vote. SWID voted no, it is one of the southern districts.
The next item was presented by attorney Don Davis and dealt with the transfer of real property. As the repairs on the FKC start up it will involve property beyond that already in the canal’s right of way. Private property is one thing but property belonging to cities and counties and other government agencies have be to handled different. This resolution was written to smooth over some of the potential problems that could cause heartburn in the future by some legal voodoo that puts the language in order to help the other government entities. The City of Fresno abstained on grounds of not knowing the cost of this to members. Davis explained this will be a case by case bases and in some circumstances it is quite possible a right of way will be granted gratis.
FWA Executive Officer Jason Phillips started with a breakdown of expected 2021 costs by items. CFO Don Willard helped out. The estimated costs of special counsel, professional support, dues and contributions and the Airborne Snow Observatory are all examples of the material covered. Take the ASO; the Bureau’s commitment to helping pay for this isn’t known. Others besides the USBR chip in. It’s hoped at some time in the near future this excellent ASO program will be taken in under State and Federal funding as it helps everyone. In the meantime it looks like Friant may have to pay to receive benefits by keeping the program going.
Director George Porter of Fresno ID asked why the Temperance Flat issue has funding needs at this time. Phillips asked Tulare ID GM Aaron Fukuda to speak about this. Fukuda is Friant’s main man on this but his mic was stuck on mute.
Tantau asked the board to weigh in on the items what to spend money on now so the draft budget coming out in September will be more palatable. There were many comments on the value of the ASO. There is no doubt this program has helped many districts in water supply estimates. Director Cliff Loeffler pointed out the ASO makes a difference because it can show much more accurately how much snow is in the back country. Buck-Macleod said the ASO figures prevented a possible uncontrolled season earlier this year – which would have been terrible in 60 percent allocation year. Uncontrolled season would have forced the draining of Millerton Lake to make way for flood flows. The ASO showed there wouldn’t be flood flows large enough to warrant an uncontrolled season. Eric Quinley GM of Delano Earlimart ID said although DEID isn’t a FWA member his district supports the ASO. Phillips pointed out there is flexibility on how many flights will have to be funded. One thing to look at is how much precipitation occurs and when. Buck-Macleod said he doesn’t expect a lot of (or maybe any) state money.
Tantau said Southern California Edison is willing to look at funding cloud seeding as are the government folks running the San Joaquin River Restoration Program. He also added flying the ASO consistently adds to the data which increases the accuracy of the predictions.
Alex Biering, FWA Government Affairs Manager said two state legislators and several staff members have come down with what I call the Chinese Commie Virus* and what Biering referred to as COVID-19. In any event all cylinders might not fire at the Capitol when they start up again later this month. Consultant Mike Villines concurred saying the reopening of the state legislation may not happen. There is much talk that few bills will be dealt with this year. He said there will be a budget trailer bill when the season finishes in August. He and Biering have been working closely with State Senator Melissa Hurtado on funding for the FKC. Villines said revenue in California was higher than expected, not very high but higher. The question in Sacramento is how much it can get out of Washington DC.
Johnny Amaral, Chief of External Affairs said FWA has sent a letter of support for Senator Dianne Feinstein’s infrastructure bill. He said federal stimulus bills are being reported as moving forward then not moving forward. He mentioned elected officials like to vote for this type of legislation just before an election. He said Fox News interview Tulare County dairyman Tom Barcellos who is also a board member of Lower Tule River ID. Good for him. He’s a good guy. Paul Souza is the federal Fish & Wildlife manager in California had an opportunity to sit down for a meal with many local ag and water representatives. Amaral said Souza has been a good source of common sense. Both Amaral and Phillips will be part of the show at the upcoming ACWA virtual conference. They said the conference has been prerecorded. Interesting.
Fixing the Canal
I believe it was COO Doug DeFlitch who spoke next on repairs on the FKC. He said design is at 60 percent completion. There are some questions about the bridges that would remain over the portion of the existing canal that will be abandoned. Tulare County wanted them torn down and removed to prevent further maintenance costs. The Bureau told them tuff stuff, it’s federal property and it will save millions of dollars to leave them until other things are addressed.
How you going to pay it? That is a big question. Phillips said the draft finance plan should be considered a living document but the goal is to have it together by next month’s meeting. A man named Brian Thomas is a consultant hired to help with this and he said there’s a spread sheet type of scenario put together to show what impact on the amount of federal verses nonfederal dollars. There will be a special board meeting finance workshop next week. Phillips said there are so many scenarios and the choice of which to include was a big decision. Unless FWA has $450 million in it’s checking account work probably won’t start on all five construction segments. Nonfederal funding could include Eastern Tule GSA, Friant contractors and others. Phillips said only some scenarios are developed well enough to give districts an idea of what their share will be. He also said all the work being conducted now will be included in the overall costs of fixing the FKC. There won’t be a big expense surprise when things are finished.
One way to finance part of the repair costs has been a Three Zone investment. Zone one is just let it go, Zone two was some investment and Zone three is extra capacity when the project is finished. There have been some interest show. Porterville, Terra Bella, Saucelito IDs and Renewable Resource Group are interested in some Zone Three as is South San Joaquin Municipal Utility District and I think DEID would like some of it too. Good for them. Orange Cove ID was concerned about outside investors that may not have the Valley’s best interests at heart. It’s no surprise Madera ID and Chowchilla WD are not interested in any Zone Three investments.
I don’t know who was speaking but one grower spoke about being careful of outside investors and Director Jim Erickson of Madera ID said that was good advice. OCID GM Fergus Morrissey said he hopes for a real and full discussion at next week’s workshop. Quinley thanked FWA for the good work they have been doing. He said the area along the canal where undisciplined pumping has been taking place by non Friant contracts does need to have an eye kept upon. Quinley also brought up a good point. A similar subsidence situation exists on the Delta Mendota Canal and how Friant conducts itself now could set an example how the DMC is fixed. That in turn could impact how much Friant has to pay for its San Luis Division costs.
Tantau said last year members didn’t want to pay for the repairs and told the board to get creative. Now that outside investors are being considered it sounds to him like folks want to rethink this. The upcoming workshop will be a good venue for sounding this out. Phillips added there is no other example. In the old days the Bureau came along and fixed stuff and billed the contractors whether they liked it or not. Now this is a unique way to go. Morrissey asked staff to please provide a remote access for the public and Phillips said staff will look into this. Good for him.
SJV Water Blueprint
Austin Ewell presented his report saying Fresno State and Stanford University are putting together what sounded like to me a big stakeholder meeting on the Blueprint. Another economic study is underway to refine some preliminary cost estimates for building and repairing water infrastructure. The GSAs are being brought in so they can find out what benefits could come about by the Blueprint and also to get funding for local planning studies.
Fresno State is working with Self Help Enterprise and the Leadership Council for drinking water studies to benefit disadvantaged communities. Phillips said Senator Hurtado is passionate about not excepting a future with millions of acres fallowed and tens of thousands of jobs lost.
Buck-Macleod gave the water operations update saying Delta pumping is going well. It’s a time of year where fish and other critters aren’t considered in danger. San Luis Reservoir’s low point may arrive later than expected. Lake Millerton is at about 300,000 a/f of its 500,000 a/f capacity. It’s doing down about 30,000 a/f per month. The he said/she said between the USBR and the State Board is going better from what I gather based on Buck-Macleod said. Communications are improving somewhat. Patterson and Banta Carbona IDs have facilities that allow some capture of San Joaquin River restoration flows and have been able to bet some. Tantau gave a brief O&M report saying the more you complain the more maintenance you get.
Phillips said he’s ready for lunch and everything he had has been covered. He reminded everyone to RSVP for the November retreat. In response to Tantau’s O&M report Director Dan Brown of OCID said since he’s been complaining the water quality has been better. Closed session took place before this portion of the meeting so presumably the board went to lunch at 12:25pm. And that was that.
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*I’ve received some criticism for referring to the corona virus as the Chinese Commie Virus. True there are reports claiming Asian Americans have been harassed due to the virus’ Chinese origin. It’s a sad day in America when you have to double check any and all news sources, including this one, for truth. The sources I found reporting on the attacks were CNN and the New York Times. CNN is not credible. The New York Times is less credible than CNN. My readers are not children needing safe zones and trigger warnings. So, since I’m referring to the virus as a Chinese Communist and instead of a Chinese American Virsu I’m going to trust my readers are smart enough to not go out and cold cock an innocent person regardless of their ethnic heritage because of something I wrote.
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FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY
854 N. Harvard Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247, Office 559/562-6305 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.friantwater.org
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 form the Friant Division.
Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Doug DeFlitch, CFO Don Willard, Government Affairs & Communication Alexandra Biering, Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.