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Chowchilla Water District March 13, 2024

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By Joel Hastings

The regular monthly meeting of the Chowchilla Water District board of directors was called to order by Vice President Roger Schuh at 1:33 p.m. on March 13, 2024, at the District offices. President Kole Upton was not able to attend but all other directors were present. Two folks were on the call-in line, Geoff Vanden Heuvel of the Milk Producers Council and a staff member from DWR. There was no public comment, and an agenda item was added to the GSA meeting for consideration of the annual report.


The GSA board meeting was the next item and Resource Manager Doug Welch opened saying that John Davids of Davids Engineering had had a meeting earlier that day with the SWRCB talking about the Subbasin’s GSP. While signs are favorable, Welch said he had not yet received a report from Davids. He went on to say that final edits are beingLidco Inc. completed for the Subbasin’s annual report. He said a draft had been presented to the Advisory Committee earlier and he hit some highlights here. He began by reviewing the items that are required to be in the report: surface water system water budget, a GSA project report and a summary of ground water conditions.

He said that total groundwater extractions had amounted to 115,927 AF, with 97 percent for ag and the remaining three percent for urban use. This year was characterized as wet, when in 2022, a dry year, total extractions had amounted to over 400,000 AF. Recharge in 2023 amounted to 250,737 AF compared with over 266,000 in an average wet year. Total surface water supplies had been 328,600 AF with 61,000 AF from Buchanan Dam for irrigation release, 167,000 AF for irrigation from the Madera Canal, 31,000 AF from the canal flood release and 141,000 AF from Buchanan flood control. Water purchased for import was just 5,200 AF.Brandt Water Treatment

The surface water budget showed total water use at 456,712 AF with 43 percent from surface water, 25 percent from groundwater and 32 percent from precipitation. Total consumptive use was 352,161 AF.

Welch continued with a summary of GSA management actions including 10 projects from CWD, seven from Madera County, four from Triangle T and one from Merced. His report concluded with some detailed maps showing groundwater conditions and subsidence. The lower aquifer shows an increase in groundwater storage of 17,700 AF and in the upper aquifer 30,700 AF. It was noted that two applications for the domestic well mitigation program had been approved and two more were being evaluated. Eventually, the board unanimously approved the report for submission by the April 1 deadline.

Next up was consideration of a task order from Davids Engineering to develop for the board’s approval a strategy and incentives for reducing groundwater pumping. The Davids assignment is to develop options for the board to consider after discussions with the board itself, local irrigators and citizens and the staff. The price tag is some $80,000, itself a factor in the delay. During the wide ranging discussion, points brought up included the need for a Prop 218 vote if a standby charge was implemented. Welch said that a Prop 218 vote was not to be feared because local farmers had approved proposals at three times during his time in the District. A proposal needs to be explained to all concerned, he said, and it would be supported. Director Karun Samran pointed out that his neighbors had told him that those in the District who did not buy surface water, but instead pumped groundwater were in effect “freeloading” on those who were reducing groundwater use. A “standby” charge was discussed which has been used in the past, with landowners required to buy a certain minimum of District water or pay a fee in any event. In the end, Samran moved and Russell Harris seconded with a unanimous vote to engage the Davids firm.

The final GSA item was the consideration of a draft of a letter to be sent to the Madera County board of supervisors. The draft pointed out the partnership among the Chowchilla Subbasin GSAs to implement a GSP, but expressed concern that the Madera GSA was not generating sufficient revenue to support its share of the domestic well mitigation program. GM Brandon Tomlinson said the letter resulted from a meeting with County Supervisor Rob Poythress along with several CWD directors, representatives of Triangle T Water District and Stephanie Anagnoson, director of water and natural resources for the county. During discussion, the groundwater allocation in the Madera GSA was referenced, two percent per year for five years and six percent per year for the following five. While several CWD directors felt this was insufficient, it was noted fees for over use are already being imposed. The consensus was that GM Tomlinson add some language urging greater groundwater use reduction and then send the letter.

The CWD Meeting

At 2:39 p.m. the board continued with its CWD agenda, with the financial report from Office Manager April Garay. She said the for February receipts totaled $90,401.22, disbursements were $3,785,857.27 and the ending  balance on March 1 of $18,065,270. Expenditures continue to include transfer of funds from Bank of America to the new Tri-County accounts. She presented the warrant of bills which totaled $1,432,732.66. Both reports were approved, as were the minutes from the February 14 meeting.

Since the ice had been broken, two more task orders from Davids Engineering were approved. One to cover day to day services “on call” and one to approve an agreement for design and engineering on future but unspecified recharge designs.

Last month a draft budget for 2024 had been presented with several requests from the directors for reduction of expenditures including a lighted exterior sign for the office and a new board table with chairs. Tomlinson said that the revenue projection was built around 90 percent of Class 1 water sold at a price of $100 / AF. While no official water price was set here, the total income from water sales and other operating revenue is projected at $13,707,806. Adding in non-operating revenue, total income is projected at $20,004,606 with a small margin. The board approved the budget document, including capital expenditures for equipment and infrastructure of $5.6 million.

Chris Mayo presented the operating and maintenance report describing work done around the District and maintenance and repairs on vehicles and equipment.

In his GM report, Tomlinson said the Bureau [of Reclamation] has announced an initial allocation of 60 percent of Class 1 water but has requested schedules for Class 1 of 50 percent, 80 percent and 100 percent with five percent Class 2. Carry totals 7,572 AF. He said setting the water price and the start of the season could be done at next month’s meeting when even more information from the Bureau and the impact of final weather events would be clearer.

He said two new employees had been hired, one with a Class A license and hazmat certification and the other getting his as soon as he comes of age. He said that consultant Austin Ewell reports that the Army Corps may have the cost of the planning for the Buchanan Dam expansion in its 2026 budget.

At 3:21 the board moved to closed session.

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Chowchilla Water District – PO Box 905 – 327 So. Chowchilla Ave., Chowchilla, CA 93610   559/665-3747 website

Staff: General Manager – Brandon Tomlinson; General Resource Manager – Douglas Welch

Board: Kole Upton – President, Roger Schuh – Vice President, Russell Harris, Karun Samran 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.