Vice President Roger Schuh called the meeting to order shortly after 1:30 p.m. at the District offices in Chowchilla. He was standing in for President Kole Upton who was absent as was Director Vince Taylor. Making up the quorum were Directors Russell Harris and Mike Mandala. Staff present were GM Brandon Tomlinson, Treasurer Lela Beatty, General Resource Director Doug Welch, Superintendent of Operations and Maintenance Chris Mayo and Assistant Office Manager April Garay.
With public comment invited, Mark Hutson, local grower and Associate Director of the Madera Chowchilla Resource Conservation District, announced a meeting about groundwater recharge to be held October 18 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at the Madera County Farm Bureau offices. He said the purpose is for growers to share experiences with on-farm recharge activity. A no charge lunch will be served at noon.
Typically, at this point in the agenda, the group convenes as the board of the Chowchilla Subbasin GSA. But a presentation from Davids Engineering on developing a land fallowing program was slated for 2 p.m. So, the CWD board heard from Austin Ewell whose consulting firm is working for the District proposing that the Army Corps of Engineers raise the Buchanan Dam. That project would add some 24 feet in height, thereby increasing the capacity of Eastman Lake by 50,000 AF, almost a 50 percent increase. It is the Corps that operates the dam, including setting water levels.
Ewell said, “Overall, there is some significant and positive outreach.” He reminded the group that the first step had been to apply to the Corps for funding for a study, a requirement for a construction project of this scale. He said the Sacramento office of the Corps was supportive. Ewell explained that typically the Corps annual budget for projects nationally is submitted to Congress in February but that this year it has not yet been submitted, so the request has once again been submitted.
He said there is bi-partisan support from Congressmembers Costa and McClintock and from Duarte who had recently toured the dam with top officials from the Corps. Duarte has included the research funding in an earmark request. State officials are also supportive. Assembly Member Esmeralda Soria, recently named Ag Committee chair, has toured the site as well. This coming week, Ewell and his staff will be meeting with U.S. Senator Alex Padilla in an effort to get support in the Senate as well as the House. Ewell said there is even the possibility of obtaining grant funding through USDA. Ewell thanked the directors, several of whom have participated in the tours and meetings with officials.
In her treasurer’s report, Lela Beatty said that receipts for the month of August had totaled $3,987,856.89 and disbursements amounted to $989,751.63 leaving a balance on September 1 of $20,730,483.44. The warrant of bills through September 13 amounted to $370,133.12. Included in this amount were invoices from Friant Water Association amounting to $24,000 in addition to the water bills. It was agreed this amount needed investigation, so it was not approved for payment.
CWD Board /GSA
At about 2 p.m. the board convened the GSA board meeting. Opening the session, Doug Welch who heads up the GSA work said that the GSA is in the same position as last month proposing revisions in the GSP for approval by the State Water Resources Control Board. He said SWRCB staff had postponed a planned meeting.
He also said that the white area landowner group that had agreed to fund its share of the domestic well mitigation program had refused the invoice. He said he had been told they would only pay half. While some larger commercial landowners have paid in full, Welch said that the State Board will be very concerned if the mitigation program does not proceed on schedule as committed in the GSP. He said, “This is bad for us.” The board took no action.
As scheduled, the board heard a presentation from John Davids, whose firm, Davids Engineering, had been asked to present a proposal to conduct a study for the development of a land fallowing program for the District. Copies of the proposed agreement were available for the directors with Davids himself providing a summary of the document via Zoom. He said an important first step would be a comprehensive survey of stakeholders, especially of course District growers. He said factors would need to include current land use, impact on domestic wells, proximity to surface water and even soil types He said his firm would develop possible alternatives, recommend a preferred plan, and present results to the board. The program itself could involve anywhere from 1,000 to 7,000 acres. The development of this plan would take six months at an estimated cost of about $76,000.
The question was asked why a board committee could not meet with growers and determine a price to be paid for taking land out of production. Another comment was that it might be simpler and more effective to impose a price for ground water pumped, which would, it was asserted, immediately reduce groundwater use. Welch said that the staff time to coordinate this kind of effort was not available. It was also pointed out that even more importantly, acceptance of the result by DWR for inclusion in the GSP would be much more likely with this more comprehensive approach, to say nothing the of resulting professional estimate the reduction in groundwater use, which is, after all the whole point. The Davids proposal will be reviewed by the board with the possibility of action at the next meeting.
Reconvening as the District board, the group then signed bank documents to implement an account for the domestic well mitigation program with Tri-Counties Bank, which will pay higher interest for funds on deposit than the Bank of America. Obtaining the necessary signatures were two bank officials, Blanca Gonzales from the Fresno office and Dacia Pedreiro, manager of the Chowchilla branch. Gonzales pointed out that the bank had been created in 1975 by a group of farmers in central California and now had 80 branches across the state.
Moving on, the board approved the minutes from the August meeting and the budget report, which showed finances are on plan.
General Manager Tomlinson opened his report saying as of the meeting date, there are 35,000 AF of the District’s Class 1 allocation available. He said this will take us into November and only 7,500 AF can be carried over. District pays $50 / AF and he suggested selling that water for that price. He said if December rains came with resulting no water sales, it would be too bad to have to put that allocation in the ground. During discussion the point was made that water is lost in delivery so about 20,000 AF can be sold. The District has overhead costs as well bringing the total to $75 / AF. The question was asked if the difference between the season’s price of $96 versus $75 would result in increased demand. At the conclusion of the conversation, on a motion by Mandala and second by Harris, it was approved to lower the District water price to $75 / AF effective October 1.
The final item of business was the report from Chris Mayo who described maintenance activities across the District, including mowing, weed control and equipment repairs. Regarding personnel, Tomlinson said that there had been an increase recently in COVID cases among the staff, including Ms. Garay who had returned from her second case which she said was worse than the first.
Last month a bid to buy two new trucks had been approved. Mayo said that an estimate had been received from a local equipment dealer that the two used crane trucks being replaced could be sold as is for $25,000 for the pair. Putting them in a consignment would require some $5,000 for repairs on one truck with a possible bid total of perhaps $20,000. The consensus was to wait for the delivery of the new trucks and then make an appropriate agenda item for the old vehicles to be sold outright.
At 3:20 p.m. the board moved into closed session, with the agenda noting three items of anticipated litigation, two existing cases and a real property negotiation report.
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Chowchilla Water District – PO Box 905 – 327 So. Chowchilla Ave., Chowchilla, CA 93610 559/665-3747 website www.cwdwater.com
Staff: General Manager – Brandon Tomlinson; General Resource Manager – Douglas Welch; Treasurer – Lela Beatty
Board: Kole Upton – President, Roger Schuh – Vice President, Mike Mandala – Treasurer, Russell Harris, and Vince Taylor
PROFILE: Formed in 1949, the Chowchilla Water District serves about 85,000 acres situated in southern Merced County and northern Madera County on the eastside of the San Joaquin Valley. The District serves about 85,000 acres in southern Merced and northern Madera Counties. It’s over 400 water users have an average farm size of about 162 acres. Buchanan Dam was constructed in 1975 and is operated and maintained by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The maximum capacity of the dam is 150,000 acre-feet and has a maximum conservation capacity of 140,000 acre-feet. The District also has appropriative water rights issued by the State Water Resources Control Board to divert water from the Chowchilla River. The Madera Canal supplies water from Friant Dam to the Chowchilla Water District. The District has contracted with the Bureau of Reclamation for 55,000 acre-feet of Class 1 Water and 160,000 acre-feet of Class 2 Water. With Madera ID, the District owns the Madera-Chowchilla Water & Power Authority which operates the Madera Canal and four hydroelectric power plants located on the Madera Canal.