The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, July 15, 2021, on Zoom. Things got rolling right away with Chairman Cannon Michael calling the meeting to order at 9:30am. He directed attorney Becca Akroyd to take roll and there was a quorum. The consent calendar was passed and Director Bill Diedrich praised staff for the comprehensive, informative and professional nature of the reports. He said something like, “Staff gives me the information needed. If I don’t read it, it’s on me.” Good for him.
J. Scott Petersen, SLDMWA Director of Water Policy reported the Water Resources Committee recommends changes to the Master Science Coordination Agreement with the State Water Contractors. He did a good job because before I could write the previous sentence he’d made his case and the board agreed.
Another Water Policy recommendation Petersen gave was to support S2185. This federal bill will fund several water priorities such as extending the WINN Act, help funding for the B.F. Sisk Dam on the San Luis Reservoir and many other projects. The board approved.
The Finance & Administration Committee recommended approving recalculated rates for the Yuba transfers. Pablo Arroyave, Chief Operations Officer had some good news, very rare this year. He said new rates for ag allocations have promised savings for SLDM members. Westlands Water District GM Tom Birmingham asked if the federal Jones Pumping plant has been used for moving water to the state’s California Aqueduct and if they are being billed for that service. Arroyave said it isn’t clear if the state will be billed or if the state will reduce its charges in kind. Diedrich asked if any of the M&I requests have been determined by the State Board. Santa Clara Valley WD Director John Varela said his staff is working on this but has no info at this time. The board approved version one of the rate agreement. SLDM Controller Joyce Machado said this can be prepared in short order. I noticed when Bethany Byron GM Rick Gilmore was voting his video would show him outdoors. Maybe he’s getting some Delta breezes and staying cooler. Good for him too.
Legislation & Other Forms of Government Mischief
Michael asked for a report from the Dream Team. I didn’t understand who he was referring to but Petersen spoke. So. Petersen reported on Biden administration appointments – the US Bureau of Reclamation and the Army Corps of Engineers, as well, the EPA and other uber-regulators. It sounded like US Fish & Game and other Department of Interior types are going to undo much of the progress made in updating the ESA and other onerous regulatory overreaches.
Petersen said there are trillion dollar packages floating around the Capital. I’ve heard folks ask how they are going to pay for the single largest spending in the nation’s history. I can tell how – taxes. The Army Corps of Engineers is getting billions of dollars – if any of that fund will be directed towards speeding up the average 20-year time span for an ACE project to be completed – I didn’t hear about it.
Petersen talked about the state. Governor Gavin Newsom continues to add counties to the drought impacted list. The State Board is looking for written comments for several things. One is a “proposed general order for clean water act section 401 water quality certification and waste discharge requirements for restoration projects statewide and supporting draft program environmental impact report.”
Another comment solicited by the State Board not mentioned in this report is a resolution dealing with racism, it’s a whopper. Take time to take a look. Public comments are due by noon August 2nd.
The State Budget was next and I heard Petersen said it’s been called an unprecedented, once in a generation opportunity. I believe he was referring to the complexity and unexpected funds realized this year. I believe it’s also accurate in some ways to refer to it as a precedented, once a year opportunity for elected officials desiring to spend money instead of paying off debt but that’s not how he put it. I’m telling you Petersen can give a report like a national anchorman. It’s quick, it’s clean, an example of what Diedrich was referring to earlier and I am troubled when trying to keep up and provide details.
Consultant Dennis Cardoza said much of what is being referred to as “social infrastructure” is going to be offensive to ag and he recommended letting the non-governmental ag organizations fight it since the water agencies are trying to get funds from the other infrastructure bills.
Executive Director’s Report
Executive Director Federico Barajas told the board staff has been working on many things. He asked Arroyave to fill them in. Arroyave said SLDM has been working with the Bureau on subsidence on the Delta Mendota Canal. He expects a more detailed report by next month, certainly by November at the latest.
Barajas asked the board if they’d like to invest in upgrading the district’s ability to continue presenting meetings on Zoom. The meeting will be in person starting next month or will it? Michael asked what additional costs would be and was told about $8,000 to fit the room for a full Zoom experience. Akroyd said the Brown Act will allow online and phone attendance by directors but that would have to be announced like it was before the virus if I understand. Varela said SCVWD held an in person meeting for only directors and it was surreal. Their board and upper management were present but not general staff or the public. He urged SLDM to continue allowing public online access.
Birmingham said he doesn’t think this issue was agendized and therefore not something to be voted on today. He said it is a great convenience for the public but he believes elected officials should meet together in the same place. He said it would be good for the public to provide online participation, but he’d like staff to prepare a report on the options available and present that next month. It’s difficult to know what Gav the Gov is planning and until the state makes its intention known we’re all left guessing. Michael said since there is a technical component that will cost money he’d like the get some idea of the costs. Sara Singleton said if there is a decision to continue public online access that should be separated from the board members attendance. Akroyd said SLDM bylaws conform to the Brown Act and would allow tele-meeting provided it’s noticed properly. Barajas said he’d bring back some info at August’s meeting with an action item. It sounds like they are going through the uncertainty everyone else is. Birmingham suggested it is Michael’s decision for next month. So, it will be an in person meeting next month with online access I think.
Arroyave said Highway 152 along San Luis Reservoir will be reduced to one lane at night as construction on the various projects related to the dam gets underway. Varela said the Pacheco Reservoir project is continuing and he’ll get more info to everyone when it comes in.
Arroyave said upgrades on the six Jones pumps such as rewinding is coming along well. He said the Bureau gave the State Board plenty of notice to transfer the Yuba water. It should have started today but there is a salinity problem in the Delta delaying the start. The Oakdale ID, Stockton East ID and South San Joaquin ID transfers depend on the Bureau’s New Melones Reservoir releases. That should take place in August.
Tom Boardman said operators are, as one might expect, working furiously to keep the wheels from falling off. Shasta releases are higher than expected and the carryover has been reduced to 1.1 million a/f. Folsom has only 265,000 a/f in storage at the moment. Releases from that reservoir have been cut back. He said the Delta is operating at relaxed standards of outflow, but the water quality is bad on the Sacramento River side but both it and the San Joaquin River are back in compliance. However, an incoming high tide can add more salt from San Francisco Bay upstream. Once that challenge is met the Yuba transfer could begin. Also, many of the crops in the Sacramento Valley are almost to the end of their irrigation cycles.
Boardman said there is a very limited amount of pumping. Only one pump at Jones is engaged and the yield is being shared with the state as both systems combined can’t take enough water to keep more than one pump running. The feds share of San Luis will be at a negative this fall. Mitch Partovi asked what the Cooperative Operating Agreement debt will be for the Central Valley Project. Boardman said the Bureau is hesitant to give a number. The state owes the feds and although the New Melones releases are not traditionally COA they are helping.
Outside Agency Reports
Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition has been working with the California Farm Bureau and the Family Farm Alliance on the benefits of water infrastructure. He’s working with commodity trade groups to help ramp up a unified message and generate as much earned media as possible.
Diedrich reported this is an election year for ACWA and the Region Six and Seven event is scheduled for October. The next ACWA conference is planned to be in person. Varela encouraged others to be engaged. Petersen said the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint is working on governance.
There were no board member reports and that was it for open session at 10:53am. Not bad. There are two closed sessions scheduled. The first session has 14 existing lawsuits listed and the second session has two anticipated lawsuits listed. I don’t know why the closed session agenda was split but it was. And that was that.
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SAN LUIS & DELTA-MENDOTA WATER AUTHORITY was established in January of 1992 and consists of approximately 2,100,000 acres of 29 federal and exchange water service contractors within the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito and Santa Clara counties. The governing body of the Authority consists of a 19-member Board of Directors classified into five divisions with directors selected from within each division. The main conveyance is the Delta-Mendota Canal that delivers approximately 3,000,000-acre feet of water within the Authority service area. Of this amount, 2,500,000-acre feet are delivered to highly productive agricultural lands, 150,000 to 200,000-acre feet for municipal and industrial uses, and between 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet are delivered to wildlife refuges for habitat enhancement and restoration.
Board – Chairman: Cannon Michael,
Staff – Executive Director: Federico Barajas, COO: Pablo Arroyave, Attorney: Becca Ackroyd, J. Scott Pedersen: Director of Water Policy