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Buena Vista Water Storage District October 28, 2020

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Ger Bennett BannerThe Buena Vista Water Storage District held its Wednesday, October 28, 2020 board of directors meeting remotely from its Buttonwillow headquarters by Zoom. One of the most punctual board Chairs is BVWSD President John Vidovich and he nailed the start of the meeting right at 8:30am. The minutes were approved and there were no public statements. Some items were pulled from the consent calendar and Controller Marybeth Brooks presented the financial statements which were also approved. Vidovich said BVWSD is fortunate to have her.

The Budget

The budget was next and it has the following assessments and toll rates: assessments to remain $42/acre, season water tolls will increase to $45 per a/f and off season water tolls will increase to $70 per a/f. Grower Steve Houchin asked about the raises noting there has been a tremendous amount of expenditures in the past few years. He said this could trigger a 218 election. Grower Rod Stiefvater said he hasn’t seen the new budget figures. Vidovich said there was a public meeting to go over the budget and no members of the public attended.

A public hearing on assessments opened. Another man in the room wanted to know about the costs of pipelines and the cost of new wells to get water to the northern end of the district. His name wasn’t given but he wasn’t happy. He said he looked at purchasing land in the north end of the district but the groundwater was bad and now the district has spent a ton of money on piping the north end and charging the southern farmers for it. Manager Tim Ashlock explained the water to the north comes from the California Aqueduct. Grower Jerry Vanducci (sp?) spoke up saying it looks like the district was selling Kern River water and when he’s trying to grow cotton he can’t get surface water when he needs it. He said he’d rather pay $1,000 an acre foot to grow cotton. Another man spoke up and said all three of the growers in the Maple area were present at this meeting and said at $90 per a/f he can’t afford to grow row crops.

Someone asked why the board is trying to force row crops out of the district. Director Terry Chicca explained with SGMA and channel loss pipelines are a must. One of the challenges of remote meetings is on display here. There is one camera on the boardroom and with it one microphone. It’s impossible to tell who is saying what if you don’t recognize the voices. Fortunately the management and directors talk enough to learn what they sound like. Someone said let the growers in the north pay for their own pipelines and well fields. He said he pays a fee which is like a tax and he’s not getting anything for it. And the district makes about $5 million a year selling water to Castaic. Chicca said this water is and has and will be flood water that would have been lost.

Vidovich said he’s listening to what’s being said. He said most of the district is happy with the plans but perhaps the Maple’s area needs to be treated differently and a committee should look into it. Vidovich said with SGMA there is going to be less pumping and the state is trying to take away more surface water. Houchin said it is not correct to say most of the district is happy. Stiefvater said the pipeline saves so much channel loss especially in the dry years more water can be delivered district wide and that is a benefit. In addition pipes prevent a perched groundwater in the north which benefits the entire district and banking can be done in the south.

One of the growers said setting up a committee isn’t the issue. He said the district sent a letter to a farmer threatening to condemn his land. He wanted to know how that could have possibly occurred. But that wasn’t the item on the agenda so it wasn’t discussed.

The public hearing was closed and the board discussed the resolution. Chicca said SBX7 (I believe that was the bill number) forced the district to place a water toll on its growers. He said the day will come when BV won’t be able to sell any water out of the district and without water sales other revenue will need to be raised. Again I don’t know who it was but one of the growers who was in opposition to increasing the toll and assessments called Vidovich a dictator for not letting him speak during the board deliberations. To Vidovich’s credit he calmly responded by saying, “It’s not being a dictator to run an orderly meeting.” Good for him.

Next on the agenda was resolution No. 4398 authorizing a line of credit with Rabo Bank and that passed. Also an authorization for the election publication was passed. Vidovich proposed not having board meetings in November and December but with a committee to authorize paying the bills and that passed.

Land Fallowing

The fallow land program was discussed. There’s always a chance of a dry year in 2021 and 1,800 acres have already signed up on the 2021 program but the payments may need to be increased to incentivize more acreage to participate. Someone suggested a limited fallowing program for summer livestock feed. It sounded like there will be a committee to deal with this.

Ashlock reported the Isabella Dam on the Kern River has been undergoing seismic repairs and it appears this will wrap up in time for better storage in 2021. BV and other districts receiving Kern River water are considering a cost sharing agreement. BV is also looking to invest in solar projects. PG&E costs are increasing, we all know that, as a district it could take over PG&E equipment and save the district’s growers power costs by producing its own solar electricity.

The Palms Farm now belongs to BV and HICA (what’s that?) retained an option were the district pays property tax but HICA keeps an easement for a project. HICA isn’t around anymore and BV is looking to be reimbursed for taxes already paid. The attorney present Isaac St. Lawrence asked the board how hard it wants to fight for this. It looks like BV will have to sue Kern County and that only costs $1,000 with $300,000 on the line.

Corn Camp

There’s a place in BV known as Corn Camp and it needs a pipeline to complete its pumping station’s duties. There have been bids received but they’ve been expensive and a committee was formed to get further bids.

Rosedale Rio Bravo WSD is seeking a sizable grant $170 million for a pipeline and water bank that will bring more water into Kern County and needs pass CEQA for an EIR. Vidovich said he believes BV shouldn’t comment in a spirit of neighborliness and to discourage RRB from interfering with future BV EIRs. There was some concern if the district doesn’t make at least a benign comment it could lose some protections in the future but the board was willing err on the side of cooperation and no comment was made.

Next the board considered entering in the Water Fix to protect its State Water Project supplies. Vidovich said Los Angeles highjacked the project and Article 21 water could be lost. The Kern County Water Agency is the lead on this and it needs to cough up $37.3 million. Ted Page was at the meeting and he serves on the KCWA board. He said if Kern interests don’t join now they can’t later. The BV’s share is based on Table One water allocations and the board opted to sign up for 200 percent of its share, but I don’t know what that amount is.

The meeting then went into closed session at 9:54am. This is one of the longest BV meetings in years.

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Buena Vista Water Storage District was organized in 1924 to manage the irrigation, drainage systems and water rights originally held by Miller & Lux. The district controls an average 130,000 a/f of Kern River water and approximately 21,000 a/f of supplies from the State Water Project. BVWSD is its own GSA. Board of Directors meetings are held the 3rd Wednesday of the month at district headquarters located at: 525 North Main Street, Buttonwillow, CA 93206. Phone: 661/324-1101  General Manager/Engineer: Tim Ashlock, Engineer Andrew Bell, Controller: Marybeth Brooks, Attorney: Robert Hartsock or Isaac St. Lawrence

Board-President: John Vidovich, VP: Terry Chicca, Secretary: Jeof Wyrick, Julien Parsons, Larry Ritchie