The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting on Tuesday, July 20, 2021 in person at its Fresno headquarters. It’s been a while since I’ve sat with a laptop actually in my lap. Kind of nice to know who’s speaking and of course there’s folks in the audience and staff and board members I haven’t seen for some time. There are a few new people or perhaps folks I don’t remember meeting. Other folks I remember but can’t recall their names. But yes, it was good to congregate again.
Chairman Ryan Ferguson called the meeting to order at 1:03pm. The Westlands WD’s San Luis Unit Public Finance Authority meeting was the first task. The agenda and minutes were approved from the July 21, 2020 meeting. I guess it’s an annual fiesta. Bobbi Ormonde, Vice President of Finance & Administration reported the board is following the proper conflicts of interest code. Next was a resolution concerning finance and bonding. The board approved. Directors Daniel Errotabere and Ceil Howe III were not present.
Ormonde presented the board with some option for errors & omissions insurance. The board instructed her to bring back some prices. Apparently this board is a JPA. There was also a bond needed in the event of trouble since the finance authority carries a fiduciary trust and function. The bond counsel said the treasurer needs bonding but not the executive director. The board agreed. The last item was public comment and the meeting adjourned at 1:17pm.
The Other Meeting
The actual WWD board meeting started at 1:17pm. There were no problems with the agenda or conflicts of interest and the minutes were approved. General Manager Tom Birmingham began his report by asking Russ Freeman, Deputy GM Resources to give a report. The district’s June surface water use was less than 40,000 a/f. More than 100,000 a/f of groundwater was pumped and the district expects to pump more than half a million a/f this year. There is a 135,000 a/f transfer available at $1,250-$1,300 per a/f from the Tributaries. Yuba County and Contra Costa water transfers are beginning to slowly move. Sacramento Valley water, about 90,000 a/f for Westlands is expected to become available in September.
Director Jim Anderson asked if there is a projected allocation for August and Freeman said the Yuba water was supposed to start at the beginning of this month so it would be difficult to nail down that amount. Water quality is another concern, both conditions in the Delta and what is available for crops.
Birmingham said there was an emergency change petition for water quality that was granted by the State Board that relaxed the standards. He said either cut back exports or release more water. There is some question as to whether or not the US Bureau of Reclamation will be able to meet its end of season Shasta storage goals. He also said Pre-1914 riparian rights are based on natural water flow and since there isn’t a lot of water flowing it appears there are many diversions that shouldn’t be taking place. The State Board isn’t enforcing what he said were unlawful diversions in the Delta. There is talk about the Bureau nudging the State Board to enforce its rules. WWD attorney Jon Ruben has been speaking with Delta Water Master Michael George about this matter.
Director William Bourdeau asked what would happen if the Westlands growers took water from the Delta Mendota Canal unlawfully. Birmingham said the FBI would most likely pay you a visit. He said Delta outflow and inflow show a disappearance of 4,000 cfs.
Tom Boardman started his water report saying it has been a challenge of late. He said Shasta won’t make the carryover goal of 1.2 million a/f this year. He said the Bureau said it might make 1.1 million a/f but even in 2015 the carryover was 1.6 million a/f. He also said Folsom Reservoir is in worse shape than 2015. Sacramento Valley diversions are expected to drop soon. The federal Jones Plant was down to a partial unit for both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project. Now that some transfer water is taking place one unit is being fully utilized for CVP water.
Boardman said the state put in a drought barrier near the confluence of the San Joaquin and Sacramento River that is making some progress in water quality. Bourdeau said he was just trying to illustrate a point with his comment about taking water unlawfully. Birmingham said it has happened, the FBI has arrested people for taking water from federal facilities. He also said the office of Delta Water Master has been relegated to promoting the Delta water use.
Director Frank Coelho asked how the state contractors are taking this. Birmingham said the State Project is on the same page. Coelho said all the interested parties should get together and do something. Ruben said there are ongoing discussion with the other impacted parties on a response. The State Board has not been willing to impose the rules on the Delta.
Boardman said the CVP has just about used up its share of supplies San Luis Reservoir. Birmingham said there are risks from the situation at the Delta that could harm transfers this fall. He said the State Board has been pressuring the Bureau and it might tell the Bureau it can’t move transfer water. He said the CVP has been more than accommodating to the State Board and there could be a fight. Westlands’ growers are at financial risk for water gained from fallowed Sacramento Valley land.
Shelly Cartwright gave the state and federal legislation report. Sounds like it’s all hands on deck to get federal infrastructure water for the west. There is some money for the BF Sisk Dam raise at SLR. Camille Touton is still waiting for a hearing to confirm her nomination for Bureau Chief. As for the state SB 559 by state Senator Melissa Hurtado it is still moving forward. Cartwright said Diann Geraldo has left the district to pursue a post grad degree and she’ll be handling media for the time. She asked all directors to please keep her in the loop for any media interaction. Birmingham said he went on a tour with Senator Alex Padilla and he thought it went well and looks forward to working with the senator and his staff.
There was a significant electrical malfunction on one of the pumping plants along a canal last Saturday. It caused smoke and the units had to be shut off. He said the Pleasant Valley users and the City of Coalinga were asked to restrict water use and they went above and beyond in helping prevent a disaster. By Monday morning the problem was solved and ag deliveries resumed that afternoon. The Bureau and PG&E have been contacted. There could have been a power surge or drop or some such cause.
Water Policy Committee
Director Todd Neves reported on land fallowing. Actually he had Freeman do it. Freeman said there is a program to fallow land but the district wants to be sure the land can receive benefits should it come back into production. There were a few more moving parts to this program but Freeman knew what they were and did a fine job in presenting it to the board. Coelho asked about the acreage lost from growers installing reservoirs for irrigation. Freeman said the Farm Service Agency plays a role in determining irrigatable acreage. The FSA will take the land out of consideration and the district will remove it from its records. Birmingham said most of these reservoirs are less than an acre and there is no need to pull a permit in the county. Birmingham recommended the policy be deferred for a month as there could be a good deal of conflict created as is. One of the growers Ross Franson said it’s a good program and encouraged the staff to work out the kinks. The board will revisit this next month.
Engineer Kitty Campbell gave the board a report on groundwater conditions. She said more than 500,000 a/f will be pumped this year. At least 87 percent of the wells in the district were read. She put up a series of charts but they were on the big screen television the faced the board. I was sitting in the back row to be near the power plugs and couldn’t see what she was talking about. The WWD boardroom hasn’t kept up with demand. Two dozen people in the audience max it out, and of course, the visuals don’t work well for everyone. I do agree however, if anyone is going to see the graphics it should be the board. Back to Campbell’s report. She said most of the pumping takes place near Huron. Most of the subsidence is taking place along Highway 41 in the southern end of the district.
Director Kevin Assemi asked if there was more recharge in the area would it help in addressing subsidence. Campbell said it is beginning to stabilize if I understood correctly. There is some subsidence taking place on the California Aqueduct but very little in this area. Birmingham’s suggestion to move the groundwater report into the SGMA report from now on was well received.
Campbell said there will be a July 22nd video meeting about what to prepare for in 2022. There are plans to update the modeling to 2020 now that there is enough data to do so. Bourdeau asked how groundwater flow is modeled and that is a very complicated question. Birmingham said a letter from Justin Diener was received and should be recognized for the record. Diener wants to know how much pumping he can plan on next year.
Freeman told the board there is a plan to reduce subsidence along the San Luis Canal by stopping growers from pumping in this area and make them whole with pumping from Westlands owned wells in non-critical areas. I’ve not heard of the San Luis Canal but I believe it is a WWD canal that runs west to east from the Delta Mendota Canal. The question was how much will this cost? Freeman said it should cost less to develop these wells than to purchase supplemental water this year. Pretty good answer. Director Anderson said it would be better to buy out the land if the feds help write the check. Assemi thanked Freeman and Campbell for the hard work.
Ormonde said the district has received a Water Smart matching grant for meters. Coelho asked which phase of the grant process the money is coming from. He wanted to know how it impacted power expenses. His answers were received and the board approved budgeting $40,000 for a NEPA review so the grant money can be spent. The board also approved the accounts payable be paid. Ormonde gave an update on investments and financial reports. She did a fine job and the board approved.
The next item was the board consideration of permitting public viewing and/or participation in committee and board meetings. COO Jose Gutierez gave the presentation saying starting last March WWD held meetings remotely. He said state law doesn’t require the district to provide this service. He gave options that included not providing interaction and just streaming, setting up three locations for the public or make the meeting streaming with interaction. It could cost up to $38,000 and the directors would still have to meet in person. Ruben said a quorum of directors must meet within the district boundaries and if they are not meeting at the headquarters the location of the director has to be officially noticed and public access to that location provided. Coelho said he likes the idea but doesn’t want to see it used as an excuse to not attend in person.
Birmingham said many of the district follow the third option and provide Zoom to the public. Coelho said the district needs to upgrade its equipment anyway so try Zoom and see how it works. Neves was pensive. Birmingham said each director could have a monitor and at a minimum individual microphones. Bourdeau said he can see the Brown Act changing in light of the experience over the last year. Birmingham said there has been legislation proposed to require internet access and translate all meetings into any language spoken by at least five percent of the people living in the district. That was opposed and the bill didn’t advance. Birmingham pointed out something I wasn’t aware of. The chat feature would become a violation of the Brown Act after Governor Gavin Newsom’s emergency suspension expires in I believe September should a board choose a fully participating online meeting. The board voted to upgrade the system and provide the public remote access with only Neves objecting.
The meeting then went into closed session 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.
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Westlands Water District
3130 N. Fresno Street, Fresno CA 93703 Phone:559/224-1523
Board: Ryan Ferguson -President, Frank Coelho Jr. – Vice President, Jim Anderson, William Bourdeau, Kevin Assemi, Ceil Howe III, Daniel Errotabere, Stan Nunn & Todd Neves.
Staff: Tom Birmingham-General Manager, Jon Rubin-Attorney, Jose Gutierrez-COO, Russ Freeman-Deputy GM Resources, Shelly Cartwright-Associate GM Water Policy/ Public Affairs Representative, 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