The Exchange Contractors board of directors met on Friday, September 3, 2021, on GoToMeetings and in person at its Los Banos headquarters. The Exchange Contractors have one of the most secure water rights in the state. It’s easy to think everyone knows about this but I’ll take a moment while I wait for the meeting to start to share what I know. German immigrants Henry Miller and Charles Lux came to California during the gold rush. They soon realized they’d make more money selling beef to miners than prospecting for gold. So, they set up a butcher shop and bought some land and cattle. Over the years they increased their holdings. I don’t know if it’s true or not but I’ve been told there was a time you could enter the United States from Canada somewhere in Idaho and if you chose your trail carefully you could ride all the way to Mexico without leaving Miller & Lux land. In any event they owned a lot of land and the water rights to go with it.
A large block of land with San Joaquin River rights is centered in Los Banos, headquarters of the former Miller & Lux interest and the four water entities making up Ex Con are the remains of this vast land holding. These four water rights holders: San Luis Canal Company, Columbia Canal Company, Firebaugh Water District and Central California Irrigation District all agreed to exchange their San Joaquin River water for water conveyed through the Delta Mendota Canal. Parts of the San Joaquin River is diverted into the Madera Canal and the Friant Kern Canal for use on the Valley’s eastside. That’s why Ex Con is officially named the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority and why folks in the Arvin Edison Water Storage District in southeast Kern County are joined at the hip to what happens in Lake Shasta almost 600 miles north.
Chairman Jim O’Banion called the meeting at 9:00am and things got rolling with the flag salute. Executive Director Chris White took roll and John Wiersma, General Manager San Luis Canal Company was not there for some unknown reason, at least unknow to me. Hope he’s OK. There were no changes in the agenda and the minutes were approved. There was very little public comment of merit.
Water Master Adam Hoffman gave his report saying Ex Con was taking 1,300 cfs and demand is dropping. Friant is releasing 250 cfs and the San Joaquin River restoration flows are at zero and the US Bureau of Reclamation says it’ll stay that way until mid-October. They have slowed the draw down on Lake Shasta and that situation will remain stable for a while. The federal side of San Luis Reservoir borrowed 100,000 a/f from the state side. Demand is dropping and the federal side should start gaining inflow. In July it looked like the feds would have to borrow 180,000 a/f so things are better than were originally expected. Friant has been able to keep its 20 percent allocation and that’s not as much water as anyone would like but it is a significant achievement in a year as dry as this. Back in 2014-2015 Friant got zero.
Millerton Lake is actually gaining a bit of inflow as upstream storage is being released for power generation if I understood correctly. Shasta is experiencing the lowest inflow in the past 100-years. Delta exports are at 2,600 cfs and that’s low but better than a poke in the eye with a sharp stick.
White said supplies are better than expected at this time of year under the current conditions. DWR has released some GSP review comments on more subbasins. In discussions with Merced County and Ex Con there has been a request to find more consistency for diverse geographical areas. The county wants to help landowners with paperwork. Good for them.
White said the Bureau has been monitoring subsidence at Sac Dam and that’s due to increased pumping and decreased flow in the SJR. Ex Con is working with the Triangle T Water District and that agreement is up for renewal by the end of the year. The Mendota Pool Group has moved some pumping ahead of schedule and not pump in September. The MPG may want to alter its agreement with Ex Con once more this year. There will be a planning session on September 8th.
There is a water resources plan that will be discussed later. Firebaugh Canal Water District General Manager and hero to children the world over Jeff Bryant reported there wasn’t much to talk about concerning drainage. He said the new management, I believe under the direction of Palmer McCoy is doing a fine job.
There is a Henry Miller Museum (wonder why Lux’s name wasn’t included) proposed for downtown Los Banos. In addition to a museum I believe this facility would eventually become office space for both Ex Con and San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority. That would be nice. There was also a suggestion of a library being included but it looks like that’s a no go. The photo accompanying today’s report is of a statue of Henry Miller located across the street from the Ex Con offices in downtown Los Banos. And while on the subject, Los Banos translates from the Spanish as the baths, not the bathrooms.
Attorney Andy McClure reported it was time to update Ex Con’s conflict of interest code. A public hearing was opened and no one said anything so the hearing was closed and the board approved the update.
Chedester reported the Orestimba Creek NEPA/CEQA is still waiting on the Bureau to review the historic preservation component but he expects it will all be wrapped up by the end of the year. There were five test holes drilled and the information obtained will be sent to Dr. Ken Schmidt for analysis. Schmidt will report back recommendations at that point. Chedester said there is some storm water grant money available and they’re pursuing that funding.
Chedester said the Los Banos Creek Reservoir project team has had an informational meeting with Bureau officials. The idea was to be sure everyone was on the same page and it sounded like there could be reason to hope the project will find some funding from Washington DC in the infrastructure package.
White gave an update on the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir project saying the 82,000 a/f proposed facility should be able to release a Request For Proposal by the end of the month for design. In addition to moving a power transmission line there could be a need for a wildlife corridor and that is being looked into. I guess looked into is the same as a study. There has been a good deal of public outreach for this project and some of that has been political. They’re reaching out to state officials to consider help funding the project. Stantec Engineering is working with PG&E on the transmission line relocation.
Consultant Dave Cory reported on what the state is up to. The Central Valley Salts program has long ago morphed into the fear of nitrates in groundwater program. The Regional Board has been tasked with overseeing this program. It’s not easy to determine how much nitrate is due to natural causes or farming or municipal and industrial waste treatment. The coalitions formed to address the Irrigated Lands program have stepped up to include the nitrates program.
More Gov’t Mischief
White reported on state and federal legislation saying SB 559 is still moving forward. On the fed side the Washington DC consultant reports August is typically a somewhat relaxed month. This year the fight over the infrastructure is keeping things fired up. Chedester said there was a late development on SB 559. You may recall this is the bill by state Senator Melissa Hurtado that would provide money for repairing the California Aqueduct, Delta Mendota and Friant Kern Canals. There are some dastardly fiends in Sacramento who have forced provisions onto the bill that Hurtado can’t stomach and she’s placed it in suspense, turning SB 559 into a two-year bill.
Sacramento must be one of the most dysfunctional places on earth where the laws of common sense are suspended. There were three NGOs who submitted letters of protest against SB 559: Clean Water Action, Community Water Center and the Leadership Council of Justice & Accountability. I don’t know much about Clean Water Action, but I know CWC and the Leadership Council are based here in the Central Valley. They have concerns about water supplies for DACs, disadvantaged communities.
Let’s be clear about this, all groundwater, at least that accessible to humans starts as surface water. Bringing surface water to the Valley mostly happens by conveyance beyond just streams and rivers. These very projects SB 559 is targeted to help are the very projects that bring surface water to the disadvantaged communities so it can become well water. In addition to this majority of the working residents of the DACs work in the ag sector. If you take away water, you take away ag, you take away the livelihoods and economic center of these same communities.
I believe (and you’re welcome to prove me wrong if you can) a large part of the problems we face stem from folks buying into their own hype. Many of the NGOs are funded through grants-public and private and litigation. You might be surprised how many attorneys are on staff at these NGOs. They attach their intended cause to the word justice, i.e. social-justice or environmental-justice. This is a perversion of language right out of 1984’s Ministry of Truth. Simply because a prefix is attached to justice doesn’t make the organization doing so just. Something is either just or it isn’t. Why not call SB 559 the Water Community Justice Bill? You oppose it and you oppose justice. See what I’m getting at? In fact while we’re on the subject there should be more Water Reporter Justice funding.
Anyway it appears there are people out there who don’t consider water conveyance a worthwhile expenditure of public funds. I’d have a little more respect for them if they also opposed High Speed Rail. I’m going to keep saying it, for the cost of just five-miles of HSR from Merced to Bakersfield all three of the main water conveyance canals in California could be refurbished to design capacity.
More Attorney Report
McClure said the State Board’s curtailment is a three part strategy begins with a notice to stop diverting. The second part is to determine there is no water available in the Sacramento/San Joaquin Rivers watersheds. About 6,000 notices were sent out instructing water rights holders to fill out a form on the State Board website under penalty of perjury that it will not divert. This is supposed to be enforced for a year and what happens if it starts raining? What about storage diversions when inflows begin? A request to the State Board to alter this order has been filed and the Board has 90-days to review. Today is the deadline to file a lawsuit against the State Board on this matter and you can expect to see that happen in mass.
A CEQA suit filed by Friant Water Authority and the Sierra Club against Ex Con is winding its way through the courts. I wasn’t sure what exactly but there is some legal process the plaintiffs need to complete and it hasn’t been completed yet. There are several other cases out there and some of them are being bundled, combined, whatever they call it when similar cases are gathered together to ostensibly save time and money. Ex Con is involved in one such case and hopes to extract itself from it and who can blame them for not wanting to participate in a legal scrum?
Bryant gave the first report saying deliveries are winding down and there are construction and end of season maintenance projects in the plans.
Jarrett Martin, GM Central California ID said water sales and deliveries were about what was expected for this time of year. He met yesterday with James ID and others to develop a war plan against hyacinth in the Mendota Pool.
Randy Houk, GM Columbia Canal Company said they’re still harvesting and a couple of projects were approved for implementation in the fall.
White gave the San Luis Canal Company report for Wiersma and said deliveries are about average for this time of year and new policies are being adopted. There are many construction projects and they are working with surrounding districts to reduce moss in the system.
There was no informational matters and O’Banion closed the public portion for executive session at 10:00am on the dot. I remember when Ex Con meetings could take three hours to get to this point. Good for them. And on the subject of good, be good to yourselves and each other.
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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, Andrew McClure Minasian Law Firm-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.