The Semitropic Water Storage District board of directors held its Wednesday, June 9, 2021 meeting on GoToMeeting from its Wasco headquarters. Looking over the agenda before the meeting there’s nothing unusual save a 2:00pm hearing for the “Notice of Filing Preliminary Roll, GASC & GPSC and hearing of any objections. . .” I guess we’ll find out what GASC and GPSC stand for eventually. Some of you readers may recall a recent hearing before the State Board’s office of administrative hearings involving the full appropriations of Kings River water. Semitropic filed a petition to get some of that wet stuff and the hearing was last week. There’s more to come. SWSD hasn’t had that topic listed in open session and it wasn’t agendized today. Maybe they’ll talk about it a little now that the hearing process has started.
The actual board meeting was scheduled to begin at 12:30pm and I set my laptop’s time to my I-Phone time because I figure most of us share telephone time frames. At 12:30pm General Manager Jason Gianquinto spoke up saying they were still waiting for the rest of the board to show up. Evidently either in person or online. He also asked if he could be heard, which was nice because you can get nervous waiting around with no sound. It makes you think you might miss something important or for those of us a little more narcissistic or paranoid it makes you wonder what they’re saying about you with the mics muted. But that wait time is what Uncle Bill made Microsoft solitaire for.
About 12:37pm Chairman Dan Waterhouse called the meeting to order and thanked everyone for attending this hybrid meeting if online and in person attendance. And Semitropic recited the flag salute for the first time in quite a while. They also have a new camera in their boardroom that had a few directors concerned about their bald spots.
Gianquinto announced a longtime employee named Dave and I did not catch his last name will be retiring at the end of the month. He is well known for bringing dog treats with him so all the farm dogs love him. There was no other public comment.
A couple of CPAs were there and gave a report. They were up and at it so fast I didn’t catch their names either. One of them said staff was a joy to work with. It has, he said, been challenging doing an audit under the conditions imposed by a virus that leaked from a lab in a country whose name it is racist to utter. It sounded like Semitropic has done a fine job in managing its books and financial dealings and the audit came out clean. The board approved the audit. Good for them.
The next items on the agenda were listed as action items, meaning the board would most likely have to take a vote unless the item is tabled or dies from a lack of a motion and second. Approving the agenda and minutes were next and the board was OK with that. The board then approved the financial reports and agreed to pay its bills. Controller Bobby Salinas gave those reports.
Next Salinas led the board through the budget update. He said the districts does a review in May as by then the banking picture is clearer. He mentioned the General Administration Service Charge and the General Project Service Charge. Perhaps this is what GASC and GPSC stand for? I spend a lot of timed deciphering the initials/acronym code. Something was said about private wells being used more this year and calls for banked water are high. There was something said about the district’s wells being limited for pumping into the California Aqueduct due to water quality concerns. The board discussed the budget update and approved.
The Lateral C emergency declaration was no longer needed and removed from the agenda as the project has been completed. GEI engineering has been helping with the Cox Canal project. That has been extended due to virus problems. GEI wants a change order because the project is taking longer. District Engineer Isela Medina recommended paying the $87,000 additional costs. The board approved the expenditure.
Medina next talked about a landowner request for a turnout. The cost of the project is higher than originally estimated. Pipe cost has been driven up by the virus, the Texas power outage during the freeze and demand. The board approved.
Gianquinto said there needs to be a clarification to district policy on wheeling groundwater from replacement wells. A committee looked at it and determined if the well is truly a replacement well; a very close location to the original well and similar depth, pump size, water quality, etc. then it can be connected as a replacement well. If there are notable changes to the new well it will be considered a new well and subject to the latest water quality limits. Director Rick Wegis suggested if the landowner decides he doesn’t want a new or replacement well but the district needs it perhaps the district can drill, own the well but the landowner could have an opportunity to purchase the well in the future or buy into well capacity. These agreements are usually 20-years in length. The board gave Gianquinto direction to write up the policy.
Next Gianquinto said the GEI data management system hired by the Kern Groundwater Authority has started training on how to use it. The state has a $500 million proposal to repurpose land usage in the budget. GEI’s Larry Rodriguez said the ag water management plan is being incorporated into the GSP. He said DWR has reviewed four GSPs with two that passed and two that didn’t. Cuyama and Paso Robles where not approved due to a lack of clarity of the methodology. They have 180 days to address the faults. Gianquinto added the KGA is going over the failed GSPs with a fine tooth comb.
Waterhouse is the KGA chair and he said he thinks there is money available for a native yield study. He said this isn’t a cheap study and there needs to be funding help on this matter. It isn’t a capital project where most of the grant money goes.
Dean Florez gave the state of the state political report saying Senate Pro Tem Toni Atkins and her gang are haggling with the Gov over the amount in the budget. But Florez said there is still water money in both versions. He also asked Waterhouse if it would be ok to have him provide some guidance on a piece of legislation and of course Waterhouse said yes. On the federal side there is $110 billion, if I hear right for water grants. Florez said he spoke with Senator Alex Padilla about keeping water money together in the fed budget. Grower Kevin Assemi said he saw a Wall Street Journal article about executive orders on water. The article talked about Biden rolling back some of the progress achieved during the Trump administration. He suggested it would be a good idea to stay sharp about this. He said perhaps forming a working group of water districts to combine the efforts.
Gianquinto said Semitropic is willing to work together but if too many groups with too many members can come to cross purposes. He said ACWA is supposed to serve this purpose on the state level. Florez said he can get a meeting set up with some of the Met folks. Assemi said the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint is a good vehicle for this.
It was 2:00pm and district counsel Steve Torigiani explained the board fixed preliminary rates and rolls last month. Comments were accepted but none were offered. Torigiani said the proper public documents were published in the local newspaper and entered into evidence. Secretary, the highly intelligent Marsha Payne said all the documents are assembled and ready to be included in the resolution. The board approved the resolution setting the roll and rates.
Gianquinto said the district is still operating under the virus with the addition of some in person meetings like today. He said the South of Delta federal projects are at zero and he wasn’t sure about Friant. As of yesterday Friant will still get 20 percent.
Governor Gavin Newsom added 40 counties to the drought declaration. This will cause some relaxation in operating the State Water Project. The drought announcement also prevents a premature triggering of SGMA claxons as the aquifer is being pumped. San Diego didn’t request capacity from the water bank.
Medina said there’s additional USBR grant funding for $500,000 for some project that brings the total grant up to $1.5 million. She speaks kind of fast.
Gianquinto said there are a couple of areas in the north of the district where the groundwater level is falling. The districts to the east are also experiencing dropping water levels which puts more stress on the well field. Staff reported well updates and repairs are being conducted. It was said the plastic well shafts are very tough from the outside but from the inside they are rather fragile so lowering bowls has to be a delicate procedure.
Gianquinto said Dale Brogan has been filling in for Dana Munn as GM for Shafter Wasco ID. SWID has started advertising for a new GM this week. And that was that. The meeting went into closed session for a dozen items at 2:23pm.
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SEMITROPIC WATER STORAGE DISTRICT
1101 Central Avenue, Wasco, CA 93280-0877 • 661-758-5113 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Board: Dan Waterhouse – President, Rick Wegis – Vice President, Tom Toretta – Treasurer, Todd Tracy – Secretary, Philip W. Portwood, Jeff Fabbri, Tim Thomson
Staff: Jason Gianquinto-General Manager, Bobby Salinas–District Controller, Isela Medina–District Engineer, Executive Secretary-Marsha Payne, Consultant-Will Boschman, Superintendent-John Lynch & Attorney
About: Semitropic Water Storage District is one of eight water storage districts in California and is the largest in Kern County. The District delivers water to nearly 300 customers for the irrigation of approximately 140,000 acres for agricultural uses. Semitropic also supplies energy to a variety of users and provides groundwater banking and storage services. Established in 1958, Semitropic Water Storage District covers an area of more than 220,000 acres. It began as an irrigation district for the purpose of securing State Water Project supplies to reduce groundwater overdraft. From www.semitropic.com