The Westlands Water District held its Personnel Committee meeting on Tuesday, January 19, 2021 by Zoom. There is a vacancy on the board of directors and five people have applied to fill it. The Personnel Committee was tasked with making a recommendation to the full board on how to go about filling the vacant director’s seat. The board can appoint a replacement to serve the remainder of the term or hold a special election. Westlands has a nine member board. When I first started attending water board meetings back around the time they shot the last pterodactyl in Madera County I didn’t understand the purpose of committees. Westlands has one of the best committee involved procedures out there. But my first impression back then was, “Why does the board rubber stamp the committees?”
There is a very good reason why a board will give credence to committee recommendations. Instead of each director having to become immersed in the minutia of each facet of running a successful district, committees are formed and expertise is developed. The committee then makes informed recommendations to the entire board. Not always but most of the time the pros and cons are sorted out at the committee meeting and the board can have confidence in the recommendation.
At the last election in November Director Larry Enos lost his seat. After that election Director Don Peracchi stepped down creating a vacancy. The five applicants were: Ross Franson, Kristi Robinson, Larry Enos, Jon Reiter and Ceil Howe III. At a personnel committee hearing Friday, January 15th the applicants were interviewed. All the candidates attended that meeting but for one, Enos. Two of the committee members nominated Enos and the reaction from the public was as predictable as one might think. A director who just lost an election gets appointed back on the board without even having to attend the interview didn’t sit well. The motion was withdrawn and to be fair and complete Enos did show up at the end of the meeting. The decision to make a recommendation by the Personnel Committee was tabled until today’s meeting.
The Eight Minute Meeting
Chairman William Bourdeau called the meeting at 8:00am and read the rights regarding public comment. There were no corrections to the minutes and the big agenda item was recommending a course to replace Perrachi.
Director Todd Neves said he’s given the matter a lot of thought and due diligence. He thanked the growers for sharing their opinions with him. He received a lot of input over the weekend. He said the overwhelming opinion he received was to hold a special election. He said looking back at the last 10 times there was a vacant seat only once was there an election. All the other times the board chose to appoint an applicant.
Neves said Ceil Howe III is his preferred recommendation to the fill the vacant seat. He restated that in the form of a motion, Daniel Errotabere seconded. There were no further comments from the board or the public. A vote was taken and the committee recommended the board appoint Howe.
There was no comment from the general public and the committee meeting adjourned at 8:08am. The board of directors meeting is scheduled for 1:00pm this same day and the personnel committee report is agenda item 8 where the board may appoint the applicant recommended by the committee, appoint someone else or open things up to a special election. We’ll see.
The Board Meeting
Chairman Daniel Errotabere called the meeting to order at 1:00pm by Zoom. Bobbie Ormonde called the roll and everyone was present. Jose Gutierrez asked to move the Los Vaqueros item up on the agenda.
The Board Seat
The personnel committee report was moved up in the agenda. Committee Chairman William Bourdeau said all the candidates for the board seat were excellent. The two personnel committee meetings were robust according to Bourdeau and I have to agree. Bourdeau said the committee recommends appointing Ceil Howe III to the board.
General Manager Tom Birmingham said the proper course at this point is to accept a motion, entertain comment and vote. If the vote is for the affirmative Howe can be sworn in immediately. Director Todd Neves made the motion and there were no comments from the board. Applicant Jon Reiter thanked Bourdeau for tackling a difficult committee assignment. He also thanked the public for the feedback and interest and said he believes Howe is an excellent candidate.
Farid Assemi spoke from the public and thanked the committee and the board for helping to preserve democracy. He said there have been concerns about voting in Westlands and most of the problems have been solved. He said the last time there was a vacant seat there was an election. Now an appointment. He suggested setting a policy to have elections so this conflict won’t occur. Having said all that he supports Howe’s joining the board.
Director Kevin Assemi also thanked the board and Bourdeau for handling a tough situation. He also thanked the public and Westlands growers for weighing in on this important decision.
A motion was made to appoint Howe. Ormonde polled the board and Howe’s appointment was officially accepted by the board. Howe then swore the oath of office and now he’s a board member. Good for him. One thing I found chilling was the addition to the oath swearing the candidate has not a member or part of any party or otherwise that advocates the overthrow of the federal or state government through violence or other unlawful means.
Los Vaqueros or the Cowboy’s Reservoir
Errotabere asked for an approval of the minutes and they were approved. Gutierrez introduced Marguerite Patil of Contra Costa Water District to discuss the Los Vaqueros Reservoir project. Frances Mizuno was also present as WWD’s representative on the matter on the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority’s participation in this project.
Patel explained the project is located on the east side of Contra Costa County and is an off stream storage project. It ties in with several existing conveyance facilities and natural water ways such as the San Joaquin River. The State Water Project, Central Valley Project, refuges and regional partners are involved in this project. That’s a pretty wide swath of support. Some of these partners are interested in dedicated storage and some are interested in pooled storage. Others are interested in mostly adding conveyance flexibility to their options. Patel said currently Westlands is in the last category but could upgrade to the pooled storage. If I understood correctly there is still about a year to finalize options.
The cost of expanding the project is estimated at just a hair south of one billion dollars. Preliminary estimates show $1,700 to $2,700 per a/f for dedicates storage, pooled storage at $700 to $900 per a/f and conveyance is averaging $400 per a/f but could be going down.
The permitting, design and agreements are ongoing. It is not necessary to file for new water rights but existing rights will need to be modified. Patil also singled out WWD attorney Jon Rubin as being one of the best folks to work with. Rubin is pretty cool. He’s been involved with drawing up a JPA for the project. The JPA will contract, enter into state and federal funding agreements and CCWD will provide other services. The JPA should be finalized this spring and agreements finalized in the fall. The plan is to bring the project to the California Water Commission next spring for a funding award. Construction could start in summer 2022 with a late 2022 off ramp. For more info go to www.ccwater.com There were no questions from the board or the public.
Bourdeau said it was nice to see Mizuno at the WWD meeting for a change. Birmingham said Los Vaqueros would be helpful in saving flood flows in the Delta that could have significantly improved allocations. He used 2012-2013 as an example. A director asked for a cost analysis and that will be provided in plenty of time for review before a service agreement has to be signed. Mizuno pointed out joining the JPA won’t obligate WWD to further commitments that could cost money. Gutierrez said he sees Los Vaqueros as the premier project in California. Birmingham thanked Gutierrez for his dedication in representing WWD directly in this matter.
The GM report began with Russ Freeman giving the water report saying up to 490,000 a/f feet of groundwater could be pumped this year. The districts’ total usage indicates there will be less than 130,000 a/f in above ground storage at the end of the year. The district’s supplemental program is yielding requests from growers. San Luis Reservoir may not fill this year.
Tom Boardman gave a CVP update saying it’s been dry. Shasta has been holding at two million a/f of storage. Not too far from the 90 percent exceedance the US Bureau of Reclamation projection. To avoid a Shasta Critical it’s going to have to rain above average for the rest of the year. Folsom Reservoir’s watershed is at 50 percent below normal due to dry conditions.
There’s a little rain and snow coming to California this weekend and that should include the Central Sierra. The federal Jones Plant has been pumping on one unit since mid-November. The state Banks Plant has been pumping more and the COA could allow for two units to fire up when the storm comes in. Boardman said there should be a new Bureau forecast within the next week. But the dry scenario doesn’t look good for storage in San Luis, with maybe a quarter of a million a/f shy of filling.
Boardman said it isn’t unheard of for a dry fall to turn wet. That could trigger some smelt related cutbacks to pumping, thank you very little striped bass. Boardman was asked what the allocation might be. He said zero to five percent with maybe an increase to 10 to 15 percent if we get some rain. Bourdeau asked how can this be conveyed to the government as unacceptable. Birmingham said there’s a new administration starting tomorrow and who knows what’s going to happen then.
Birmingham said there hasn’t been much in Washington DC or Sacramento water legislation wise. Kat Boren reported on a new park expansion in Mendota that WWD was a part of. Good for them.
Errotabere said the Family Farm Alliance has written up a good analysis of the implications of the new incoming federal administration. It was reported Spring and Fall in person conferences were discussed by ACWA pending how the vaccine does.
Legal Affairs Committee Chair Frank Coelho said most of the district’s legal costs go to fighting lawsuits from folks he hopes will someday soon be willing to work collaboratively on saving the environment and feeding people.
Coelho is also the Chair of the O&M committee and reported the pipelines in WWD are holding their own.
Neves is the Water Policy Committee Chair and he reported the committee recommends permanently transferring water allocations to WWD Distribution District Two. Freeman went into greater detail saying some water from Mercy Springs WD could be used in District Two as assigned. CEQA isn’t required so that helps. A motion was made to authorize the GM to enter into an agreement to make this happen. The motion passed.
The board next was asked to act on the recommendation to approve a project to conduct analysis of providing lands that are irrigable that have been converted to solar or some other no ag use with its water allocation. That’s provided the land was being irrigated in 2020. Birmingham said this will most likely require an EIR. If the board approves moving ahead the EIR will be conducted and the board will be asked to make a decision then. Coelho asked why are some uses included and others not? Birmingham said the conversion should be limited to solar or groundwater recharge to prevent someone putting in an airstrip from profiting by receiving water that would have been used for irrigation. Coelho didn’t think this was equitable. Errotabere said this is the reason this is being brough to the board for input. He said the committee didn’t want land that was never farmed and converted to receive an allocation. Coelho said that would freeze the irrigable acreage to whatever it was in January 2020. Neves said he can see Coelho’s position. Birmingham pointed out to receive benefit the landowner would have to retain title to accrue them. So a solar company can’t come into the district, purchase land and receive a water allocation with it. Birmingham also said the district relies on the Farm Service Administration to determine what is irrigable land. He said the State of California considers converting ag land is an environmental event.
Ultimately staff was directed to continuing fleshing out this policy and bringing it back to the board.
The next item was the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act. Kiti Campbell said the Pasajero recharge project has started. The technical advisory committee is meeting later this month and a report is due to be submitted to DWR. Grower Kristi Robinson asked about multiple meters on her well. Campbell said she’s willing to work with her on the situation.
Director Ryan Ferguson is Chair of the Finance & Admin Committee. There is a proposed recommendation of transferring $111,000 to the Pleasant Valley Pumping Plant budget. The board approved. The board was also asked to approve a budget transfer to the 2020-2021 commute stipend costs for $95,000. This is money used to help work related travel for employees not using a company vehicle. This stipend didn’t exist in pre-virus days because employees could travel together in one vehicle. The board approved.
Ferguson also recommended the board pay its bills and the board did. The last finance item dealt with investments and financial reports. Ormonde said the treasurer’s report was in the packet and she gave the highlights. The board approved.
The Distribution District Two Meeting
The WWD board did a trick and legally became the DD2 board. The meeting minutes were approved and the board was asked to authorize an agreement to permanently transfer water allocations with DD2 and its landholders. I thought that had already happened but I guess not. In fact, full disclosure; my grasp of DD2 isn’t as strong as my grasp of, say celestial navigation but the board approved.
Public comment was next and there were none. This was the public comment for items not on the agenda. A member of the public did ask for a copy of the power point on the Los Vaqueros presentation. The meeting then adjourned and went into closed session to discuss at least some of the 18-items listed. There was no comment on that and the open portion of the meeting ended at 2:57pm and that was that.
DISCLAIMER OF RESPONSIBILITY; Waterwrights strives to provide clients with the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate information available. Nevertheless, Waterwrights does not serve as a guarantor of the accuracy or completeness of the information provided, and specifically disclaims any and all responsibility for information that is not accurate, up-to-date, or complete. Waterwrights’ clients therefore rely on the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of information from Waterwrights entirely at their own risk. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not represent any advertisers or third parties.
ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2021 by WaterWrights.net/DAW
Westlands Water District
3130 N. Fresno Street, Fresno CA 93703 Phone:559/224-1523
Board: Daniel Errotabere-President, Frank Coelho Jr. – Vice President, Jim Anderson, William Bourdeau, Kevin Assemi, Ryan Ferguson, Stan Nunn, Ceil Howe III & Todd Neves.
Staff: Tom Birmingham-General Manager, Jon Rubin-Attorney, Jose Gutierrez-COO, Russ Freeman-Deputy GM Resources, Diana Giraldo-Public Affairs Representative, Shelly Ostrowski-Associate GM Water Policy, Kitty Campbell-Supervisor of Resources, Bobbie Ormonde-VP of Finance & Administrative Affairs
About: Without irrigation, farming in the Westlands area of California would be limited and ineffectual. The history of Westlands is one of continual adaptation, careful water stewardship and advanced technology. By maintaining a fierce commitment to sustainability, the Westlands’ comprehensive water supply system continues to adapt, educate, and surpass conservation goals. Throughout its history, Westlands Water District has demonstrated a lasting dedication to water conservation and recognized that the long-term survival of its farms depends on the effective management of California’s precious water resources. From www.wwd.ca.gov