The Exchange Contractors board of directors met on Friday, July 2, 2021, at its Los Banos headquarters online with GoToMeetings. I saw a press release this morning – “The Bureau of Reclamation and the Friant Water Authority scheduled a teleconference contract repayment negotiation session for costs of extraordinary operation and maintenance work on the Friant-Kern Canal Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project.” This is going to take place at 9:30am on Thursday, July 15th and the release also stated, “The public is welcome to listen during the session and comment after the negotiations close.” Can you imagine?
Another upcoming meeting you can attend remotely is the California State Board of Food and Agriculture. Tuesday, July 6th at 10:00am it will be discussing local drought impacts in communities as well as efforts to address safe drinking water during drought. The board will also hear from state officials on the status of Groundwater Sustainability Plans related to the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act.
Things got started at 9:00am with Chairman Jim O’Banion calling the meeting to order. The agenda, minutes and public participation were mowed through. The financial report was approved as was the water report. A quick summation of Water Master Adam Hoffman’s report – it’s dry. Obviously Hoffman has to work hard whether it rains or not and certainly his report was far more articulate and informative than the summary above.
Ex D Chris White gave his report saying staff has been able to meet with Nancy Vogel and give her a tour. He had a Zoom meeting with Assemblyman Adam Grey and more on that during the legislative report.
Jarrett Martin, General Manager Central California Irrigation District reported on SGMA matters saying there was a meeting with the GSAs within Ex Con and discussed what was happening. He also reported on the four GSPs released by DWR after review. Martin said DWR is planning to review the more complex plans last – which makes sense.* Since there are a butt load, I’m sorry that was crude, a trash can full, of GSAs and subbasins impacting Ex Con so its GSP will be complex. He also said DWR is taking a different approach on bad actors. It sounded like he said DWR will be putting pressure on the entire subbasin and not just the offending GSA.
It sounded like Mike Stearns, Director Firebaugh Canal Water District asked how the Merced ID and Merced County are dealing with wells in its GSP. It wasn’t clear to me but if I understood, both White and Martin said Merced ID has been very proactive and is heading in the correct direction.
White said staff has been moving along with the salmon salvation efforts on the San Joaquin River. He had a more technical term than that but it was a good tee up for the next report.
Policy & Programs
Steve Chedester, Director of Policy & Programs reported there have been issues with the design of the fish recapture facility on the San Joaquin River for the salmon restoration program. Now the US Bureau of Reclamation will take over the design. The Bureau’s goal is to get the schedule back on track. Hmm? Chedester said the Reach Three of the program has its own challenges near Sac Dam. It sounded like there are plans for a fish screen that literally is a screen going across the river’s channel. Seems like it would clog up with weeds and such. The screen would move the migrating fish into a fish ladder I believe. There are designs for water turnouts that won’t disturb fish or anything else. There is a proposal for a facility where water soaks through a sand filter and come up the other side of the bank into a reservoir that can then be utilized and moved into channels and such for irrigation or other uses. This is part of the proposed strategy for the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint in the Delta.
Chedester said the Los Banos Creek project has some attention. Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office has called with questions and that bodes well for getting a piece of the infrastructure pie. Martin said there is some infrastructure funding for water banks in Madera.
Bay Delta Report
Consultant Dave Cory was instructed to give only good news and that order had to be waived unless the board was satisfied with a 30 second, hey it’s Friday, report. So Cory had to talk about nitrate management. There are two options but for ag the management zone is the only real option. There will be a San Joaquin Valley Drainage Authority meeting next week to discuss the nitrate regulations. Next month a lady named Tess Dunham will be speaking about her work with Priority One zones and how what she’s learned from that can help the westside.
Salt control is another concern for dischargers. Cory said Ex Con has already made up its mind on how to deal with this issue. There is a comprehensive salinity management program dischargers can opt in for.
Cory reported the Irrigated Lands program needs the coalitions to turn in their plans to the Regional Board this month. He said there are a lot of moving technical and policy parts to put together to get that wrapped up.
The Del Puerto Dam project is coming along. White reported there is a plan to get the new dam into the federal funding line and it’s looking good. I think he said the design for the dam itself has an RFQ released and responses will be narrowed down and then a RFP will go out. The goal is a 30 percent design so costs can be estimated with much better accuracy. One problem is there are big powerlines that much be relocated.
Next White shared what Ex Con’s state and federal consultants are up to. He said there was a tour with Nancy Vogel from the Natural Resources Agency to see the Del Puerto Dam site, the Los Banos Creek project and some subsidence areas east of the SJR. There was also a stop near Firebaugh to take a firsthand look at drainage.
On the federal side infrastructure talks are being peppered with water in the west needs. The Biden administration nominated Camille Touton to head the Bureau. The infrastructure bill is continually morphing. There might be $7 billion for storage. Congressman David Valadao introduced a water bill, HR 4017. The gist of the bill wasn’t detailed.
White said Ex Con needs to update its conflict of interest code per the Fair Political Practices Commission. The board reviewed suggested changed and voted for change. No word on hope.Attorney’s Report
Attorney Andy McClure reported almost all water right holders in the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valley received notice from the State Board there may be curtailments. The post 1914 rights holders will be first to have to stop diversions. He said Ex Con is under the Bureau’s water rights and these State Board notices won’t impact this area. There will be a closed session discussion of Ex Con’s pre 1914 and riparian rights.
The State Board has been working on the Russian River using a strategy from the 2014-2015 drought. It sounded like the State Board can determine reasonable use on its own and if it finds the water isn’t being used reasonably it can pull your right to use water. McClure also said his firm took this to court but couldn’t get traction. There is a temporary emergency change order being cooked up by the State Board and it’s being written to be never ending. That’s going to court I bet. You can’t have an open ended temporary anything.
Martin reported hyacinth in the Mendota Pool is a problem and both the state and Fresno County have been spraying. He said there is a mechanical device that works great but is too slow to keep up. The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority is taking an interest in this problem and will be providing help.
Jeff Bryant, GM FCWD said his district is moving along like expected during a year like this. The discharge treatment project using Jose Wheatgrass is suffering from a lack of irrigation water that itself uses irrigation run off and filters out the bad parts with the wheatgrass.
Randy Houk, GM Columbia Canal Company reported nada as he was on mute or something.
There were 10 items listed for closed session. Seven of those items were litigation as opposed to personnel or real property. Of those seven items the Natural Resources Defense Council has its nose and nuts in the middle of two items. The NRDC calls itself an advocacy group but it is actually a very well-funded law firm. It appears to make money two ways – from donations as it is nonprofit, and awards from lawsuits. Most of the litigation the NRDC is involved in has one branch or another of the government as the defendant. That means any awards it receives from litigation against the government is paid for by the taxpayer. Pretty sweet deal for them.
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*David Weisenberger, GM of Banta Carbona ID once told me when he has a big task he divides it into smaller objectives and starts with the easiest ones first. He said completing the easier portions first helps build momentum and often gives him insight for the more difficult parts. That sounded pretty wise to me.
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SAN JOAQUIN RIVER EXCHANGE CONTRACTORS WATER AUTHORITY
DWR SGMA Identifier #5-022.07
The Exchange Contractors cover almost a quarter of a million acres in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus Counties.
The Exchange Contractors Water Authority mission is to effectively protect the Exchange Contract and maximize local water supply, flexibility and redundancy in order to maintain local control over the members’ water supply.
James O’Banion-Chair Central California Irrigation District, Chris Cardella-Vice Chair Columbia Canal Company, James L. Nickel-Treasurer San Luis Canal Company, Mike Stearns-Director Firebaugh Canal Water District
Chris White-Executive Director, Steve Chedester- Director Policies & Programs, Adam Hoffman-Water Resources Specialist, Joann White-Director Finance and Human Resources, Darlene O’Brien- Administrative Assistant, Paul Minasian-Attorney
From the Exchange Contractors’ website: www.sjrecwa.net The San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors hold some of the oldest water rights in the state, dating back to the late 1800s. The rights were established by Henry Miller of the legendary Miller and Lux cattle empire. In 1871, Henry Miller constructed canals to divert water from the San Joaquin and North Fork of the Kings Rivers for irrigation of his vast acreage. Today, several of the original Miller and Lux canals are operated by the Exchange Contractors.
Although Henry Miller’s canals served the irrigation needs of his estate in the western portion of Fresno, Madera, Merced, and Stanislaus counties, in order for more growth on the east side of the San Joaquin Valley to occur, more water was needed. In 1933, the United States Department of Interior undertook the Central Valley Project, a vast undertaking to build dams throughout the great Central Valley including the Sacramento, American and San Joaquin Rivers. When construction of the Friant Dam (north of Fresno) was under consideration, feasibility studies showed that irrigation development of the Friant Project between Chowchilla and Bakersfield depended upon water being diverted from the San Joaquin River at Friant Dam and brought to the east side of the valley, via the Friant-Kern Canal.
To accomplish this, the government asked the heirs of Miller and Lux to agree to “exchange” where they receive their pre-1914 appropriative and riparian water from the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers for guaranteed deliveries of “substitute” water from the Sacramento River by means of the Delta-Mendota Canal and other facilities of the United States. This agreement, known as the “Exchange Contract,” along with the accompanying “Purchase Contract,” were reached in 1939 and that led to the name “San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors.” In normal years, the Exchange Contractors are guaranteed 100% of their contractual water allotment (840,000 acre feet) and in critical years the amount is 75% (650,000 a/f).
The Exchange Contractors, however, did not abandon their San Joaquin River water rights. Instead, they agreed not to exercise those San Joaquin and Kings Rivers’ water rights if guaranteed water deliveries continued through the Delta-Mendota Canal or other facilities of the United States.