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Friant Water Authority June 24, 2021

Bermad irrigationThe Friant Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, June 24, 2021 remotely on that danged old Cisco Webex from the Visalia Convention Center. The agenda did say “. . . members of the public may participate remotely as noted below or in person.” That’s the way to do it. Good for them. The agenda stated the meeting would begin in closed session at 8:30am and open session would begin at 10:00am. The closed session agenda listed four real property negotiations all in Tulare County – that sounds like right of way for the Friant Kern Canal repairs and one contract negotiation for the repairs with the US Bureau of Reclamation. Other items included “significant exposure” to two potential matters of litigation and pulling the trigger on three potential cases of “initiating litigation.” This is a potential window of where the directors’ mindset is after an hour and a half before open session.

The Meeting

At 10:08am Chairman Cliff Loeffler opened the meeting in prayer asking for wisdom. Amen brother. Attorney Don Davis said there was no reportable action out of closed session.

Next Mike Wade and Wendy Locklin (sp?) from the California Farm Water Coalition gave a presentation on the Cultivate California efforts. Wade started by giving a talk about his background. He said his father and uncle started a precision sheet metal business in Mountain View. His father had grown up in a sod house in Canada. After starting a business in Silicon Valley (Wade used to ride his bike by Steve Job’s house on his way to school) his parents decided to move to Merced County. This is where Wade got his ag experience. Eventually he ran the Merced County Farm Bureau and has been with the CFWC for more than 20-years.

Wade said Western Growers, Farm Bureau and others started the Cultivate California during the last drought to educate urban areas about where the food comes from. Also, why water is such a vital portion – I guess there are folks who don’t know or worse don’t understand it takes water to grow food. Anyhow, Wade said Cultivate California is reaching 16 million people. This is done by linking food to farming with social media. The message is sent through recipes and ties it all back to the need for water. He said California agriculture is the best. He’s been all over the United States and there is no where else with the quality, diversity and ability of California farms. Urban food bloggers have been courted both in the field and online. Food bloggers have a credibility with their audience that enhances the message. Wade then pitched a cash call.

Locklin spoke next saying she grew up in Bakersfield and has worked in the ag sector her entire life. She was the executive director of the Family Farm Alliance at one time. She asked Friant to become a cosponsor of Cultivate California and donate from its public education fund. She said Cultivate California can be customized to include Friant issues. This was in public comment so there was no board action on the request.

Public Hearing

Davis led the board through a public hearing on the right of way for the repairs of the FKC. There have been offers made to property owners and Farmland Reserve Inc. and FLS Enterprises LLC own a part of this property sought. Davis said Farmland Reserve and FLS have been negotiating in good faith but they’ve reached an impasse. So, FWA is looking to enact a, I guess you’d call it a public domain taking. He said this doesn’t mean negotiations are finished but the clock is ticking. The offers were made last September and the property owners have been noticed of this hearing. CEQA requirements have also been met. Davis said all the findings, the boxes have been checked, to find a legal necessity to condemn the land.

Director George Porter of Fresno Irrigation District asked if this is a matter of the amount of money offered and if the acquisition of the property will drastically impact the landowners’ ability to farm. Davis said it isn’t as much an issue of price as it is moving a turnout, if I understood correctly. A spokesman from Farmland Reserve said there still are some concerns with the 35-acres in question about moving end-posts and such. He said Farmland Reserve supports the project and agrees for the need to repair the canal. He said Farmland Reserve wants a turnout for when 215 supplies are available. The property is in a white area. His request was for a turnout and that was all he had to say.

Davis said the Bureau is driving a lot of the negotiations and doesn’t consider the turnout replacement as a part of the project. Davis reiterated Farmland Reserve has been at the table working in good faith. There is a turnout on the property, it’s a temporary facility for Warren Act water like 215 but it isn’t considered a permanent turnout like a district would have. Director Kent Stephens asked what is the physical nature of the turnout? Friant COO Doug DeFlitch said it is a kind of siphon and not a through the bank gate. It appeared most of the board was in favor of allowing the turnout even though the Bureau doesn’t go along. That’s my impression. This property is in the area where subsidence has caused the need for canal repairs in the first place so a way to allow for recharge of more surface water would be a good thing. But, this is water and sometimes it can be the most counter intuitive of subjects.

The public portion of the hearing closed and the board was asked to approve the resolution regarding the land acquisition. All of the district approved adoption of the resolution.

Next a similar hearing was held for the FLS land. Davis said FLS has also been negotiating in good faith but again the clock is ticking. This time there were no issues of a turnout but rather over the valuation of the land. Some of the property is in the FWA member Saucilito ID and some in a white area. Director Tom Barcellos asked about who owns the property and there is a holding company somehow involved but it is all hunky-dory. Porter said his family is going through negotiations with High Speed Rail and it’s been horrible. He wantsAll Water Rights to ensure that good faith negotiations continue with landowners here. Davis said that will happen. There are some issues that can only be decided in court but there have been no antagonistic actions between the parties. Davis said the landowners all understand the need for the repairs and are supportive of the project. Loeffler said in general the terms are generous and FWA wants to emerge from this with goodwill. Someone asked if the canal repairs will finish before HSR and that is pretty much assured. There was no one from FLS and the public portion was closed. Roll was called and once again the board unanimously adopted the resolution.

Action Items

Action Items, items that require a board vote were next. FWA CEO Jason Phillips said new CFO Orvis Wilson will give an overview and not the two hour analysis of the 2022 Operations, Maintenance & Repair budget. Most of the time it’s an O&M budget but Friant must have added the R since they’re working on the canal. This presentation is to give the board enough of a familiarity with proposed budget to allow it to be released in draft form.

Wilson said while his contributions to the budget preparation is an annual matter, he said Davis is working on it year round. Ok. Wilson said there are cost increases in material. Everything from plywood to PVC pipes are more costly. The Airborne Snow Observatory cost is also included. There is a need to get some new motor-graders, whether by outright purchases or a lease program. Wilson said the reason to get the very expensive motor-graders in 2022 and 2023 is to avoid spending that money on a de-watering year. Every few years the canal is dewatered for maintenance and repairs.

City of Fresno Director Brock Buche asked about the timing of the budget and the link to a middle reach capacity budget. Orvis said they are not linked. That seemed to make everyone happy and the board agreed to release the draft budget for 2022 OM&R.

Next Davis reported on negotiations with the County of Tulare and the Bureau on the impacts on the County facilities like roads and bridges from the FKC repairs. He said this is necessary and important. He said it was challenging as there has never been a negotiation like this and the county was pretty good to work with. There are five canal crossings requiring easement and the county granted this without cost. Davis said while FWA and the county are pretty zippy with the deal the Bureau is still massaging the words within the agreement. Stephens asked about if some of the bridges will need to be raised and DeFlitch said no, the canal liner will be raised up to almost the bottom of the bridge but this isn’t in the primary reach of the canal realignment. Davis said some of the canal will be widened to allow more capacity but unfortunately there isn’t much threat of having too much water. The board agreed to the negotiations with the county.

Reports

DeFlitch gave reports on the FKC repairs. DeFlitch said things are chugging along on a very aggressive schedule. He said the Army Corps of Engineer has allowed the permit for the Deer Creek area. The pumpstation design is complete at the 30 percent design. I’m not sure why but 30 percent is a recognized milestone for design. I guess it’s like the point of no return on a flight. There’s enough work done to verify cost estimates and give bidding guidelines?

Phillips said the Bureau will award the bids and July 14th is the deadline for submitting bids. The Bureau has a technical team to review the bids without cost considerations. Once the bids are reviewed and found technically whole the cost considerations are weighed. The Bureau will not be informing Friant about this but it can’t award any bid with a greater cost than already agreed.

Davis reported the agreement with the Pixley ID GSA and Friant has been reached over transitional pumping. He said PID was good to work with. The only difference was PID wants to pay a lump sum up front instead of payments. The amount is in the millions of dollars and Davis said if the lump sum payment schedule isn’t met there are financial penalties that will increase the payoff. Davis thanked FWA’s Johnny Amaral and Eric Limas, GM of PID for their hard work to bring this about.

Water Operations

Ian Buck-Macleod gave his report on water in California. He said June temperatures have been above average and I attest. There’s not any snow left and inflow to the reservoirs is dropping. He said there could be some seasonal monsoon moisture but that’s all and that isn’t a sure thing. This could be the worst year on record for Lake Shasta. Lake Millerton is looking at the fifth driest year on record.

Buck said the Shasta temperature control plan isn’t holding steady and other Sacramento River tributaries are having to make more releases than planned for Delta water quality requirements. On June 15th the State Board mailed out orders for post 1914 water right holders seeking voluntary compliance. This isn’t a curtailment but this is a fairly sure sign there will be some further cutbacks this year. The Jones pumping was expected to be at one unit for 800 cfs and now it’s only 500 cfs. Both the State Water Project and the Central Valley Project exports are so small they’ve both been combined in one pump. That was happening at the State’s Banks plant but was moved to the federal Jones plant.

Buck said to expect all the San Luis Reservoir carryover will be used up by the end of August. He said on the Friant side there is still a 20 percent Class I supply. At the first of this month all the salmon restoration releases were stopped on the San Joaquin River. This will hold some water in reserve for fall salmon releases. This is a benefit to Friant supplies in that it keeps the low point away and the releases viable. Loeffler told Buck even though it isn’t good news he sure appreciated the work being done.

External Affairs

Alexandra Biering gave her report saying the California legislature can now pass a budget with a simple majority and a budget was passed on June 14th. She said while the budget has passed how to spend the money is still being negotiated. There was $200 million in Governor Gavin Newsom’s bag of wishes for canal repairs on the FKC, Delta Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct that bodes well. State Senator Melissa Hurtado is holding a get together press conference Monday to push the need for canals to be repaired. Consultant Mike Villines said there will also be a Valley event in connection to these funds. He said the Valley delegation is working very hard on this.

Amaral added until the signature on the paper has dried it is still in question – but the coalition is holding strong. On the federal side there is an effort to get the feds to pitch in a third of the repair costs identified in Hurtado’s SB 559. He said there is progress being made in Washington DC. The senate is looking at $600 billion with $55 billion for water and $5 billion for western water storage. Today the House announced it won’t vote on an infrastructure bill that doesn’t include climate change.

Amaral said FWA will be sending a letter of support for Camille Touton as Bureau Commissioner. He said there was a big hoedown of elected officials and bureaucrats from Washington DC and Sacramento at Fresno State University (pointedly excluding press) where water was discussed. I’d heard about this and there was speculation the time needed to introduce everyone would exceed the time allotted to address the issues.

San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint

            Austin Ewell said the Blueprint was mentioned at the water forum at Fresno State. He also said someone has been selected for public outreach and coalition building to help bolster the Blueprint’s support. The Blueprint is working with a five county drinking water feasibility study and how that relies on surface supplies. Barcellos said there are opportunities for fill stations to serve 100 percent of a communities’ water needs. There are times when bottled water is needed but to supply the 12 and 16 ounce water to the NGOs for distribution would be very wasteful. Good point. Ewell said the new outreach person will keep that in mind.

O&M  

DeFlitch said there wasn’t much to report beyond aquatic weed control. However, he thanked the board and staff for the recent employee appreciation day saying it was a real morale booster.

San Luis Delta Mendota

Wilson reported there is a geo-tech study on Delta Mendota Canal subsidence. He’s expecting a rate increase but it could be a wash due to reduced facility wear and tear due to less supplies. If SLDM does call for a rate increase there is a request it can be spread out over time. A big portion of costs for Friant is dues to SLDMWA. The Exchange Contractors exchanged their San Joaquin River water for water from the Delta Mendota Canal. The agreement that has San Joaquin River water going down the Friant Kern Canal includes Friant paying for part of the SLDM costs.

Loeffler took a moment to praise Friant Superintendent Chris Hickernell for going above and beyond this time of year.

CEO Report

Phillips first words were to thank former Saucilito ID Director Lucile Demetriff for attending the meeting today. Someone said she looked like a rose amongst thorns. Phillips said he’s been able to attend some member board meetings this past month.

Phillips reported Congressman David Valadao has introduced a bill that Friant is working on to help refine its call for better water management. The FSU water forum had a lot of folks show up including Phillips. He said there was once again a drought in California where everyone hears from DWR, the State Board and the Bureau. That should be a message to the state legislators that the GSAs are not the ones to fix the drought response. He pointed out we’re doing the same things we did during the last drought. The same agencies are doing the same things with same tools under the same regulatory restraints. He said if the State lets the Bay Area environmental trust fund crowd run drought policy drought response will never improve.

Phillips said the California Water Alliance held a golf tournament that went well. He said it was fun and well attended by farmers. That prompted Porterville ID Director Eric Borba to state all the farmers, eastside and westside of the Valley need to be working together. Phillips said the FSU event had a Valley water investment plan that was very well done and follows the Blueprint.

With that Chairman Loeffler said all in favor of adjourning stand up and walk away. The meeting ended at 12:19pm. Not so bad.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2021 by WaterWrights.net/DAW

FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY

854 N. Harvard Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247, Office 559/562-6305 Email: information@friantwater.org www.friantwater.org

The Friant Water Authority is a Joint Powers Agreement with 17 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, CFO Wilson Orvis, Government Affairs & Communication Alexandra Biering, Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Superintendent Chris Hickernell, Chief of External Affairs Johnny Amaral, Director of Technology Christopher Hunter and Attorney Don Davis.

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