The Exchange Contractors board of directors met on Good Friday, April 7, 2023 at its Los Banos headquarters and by telephone. Maybe most folks know how the Exchange Contractors got their name but just in case you didn’t. The four entities that make up the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority exchanged their San Joaquin River water supplies for water supplies coming from the Delta. These four entities: Central California Irrigation District, Firebaugh Canal Water District, Columbia Canal Company and San Luis Canal Company have pre-1914 water rights.
Notice two of the entities are canal companies and not a water or irrigation district. This initially caused some problems when the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act was written. SGMA didn’t include non-governmental entities in its criteria to form a Groundwater Sustainability Agency. There are dozens or more canal companies in just the San Joaquin Valley. Even Fresno State University had trouble joining the North Kings GSA.
There are thousands of new pieces of legislation proposed in Sacramento this session. I just read this morning the State Government of California has more than 230 departments and agencies employing more than a quarter of a million people. I’m going to say 249,000 of them are good people, working hard at their jobs and taking the concept of public trust seriously. Then there are the elected and appointed ones writing the rules or at least putting their names on the proposed new laws. Have you ever heard one of them say, “Wow, sorry how that turned out. I guess we should have thought through the consequences further.” Let me know if you do. And to be fair, let me know of laws that did turn out to actually be helpful with the least amount of trouble.
The Ex Con meeting was scheduled to begin at 9:00am and the hold music for us in the phone in crew who arrived early was not great but way better than the ear pudding, faux smooth jazz, lo-fi mess one usually gets – but no silent option. It is still annoying and isn’t Zoom. As I typed this there was a rush of voices then silence followed by beeps.
At 9:00am on the dot according to my clock President Chris Cardella called the meeting and we saluted the flag of our nation. Then those on the phone were asked to introduce themselves by Gameshow Host/Executive Director Chris White. It was a sturdy and trusted bunch. Director Jim Nickel was phoning it in and therefore couldn’t vote. This is a Brown Act deal if you’re interested in the hows and whys.
Next Joann White (Vanna to Chris’ Pat) gave the financial reports and as usual did such an outstanding job the board approved.
Water Master Report
Adam Hoffman also phoned it in saying his daughter is going to Cal Poly SLO next semester and he and the family are scouting housing in the area. He apologized for calling in from Cayucos. I think while we’d all like to be in Cayucos we’re all glad we’re not paying for housing along California’s coast.
Hoffman said there are more than 6,000 cfs flowing through the Eastside Bypass and the Mendota Pool is getting at least 5,000 cfs. There’s another 4,000 cfs coming from the south due to Kings River overflows. There are flood releases expected on the San Joaquin and Kings River possibly through August. Hoffman said there are 15-20,000 cfs flowing into Lake Shasta and there could even be a spill event there.
San Luis Reservoir is close to filling, perhaps by Sunday, however there are ongoing attempts to move the rescheduled water out of San Luis. Hoffman said the US Bureau of Reclamation is preparing for bigger than average releases from Millerton Lake. State pumps are moving water south as fast as they can.
Hoffman said about 630,000 a/f was added to estimates during March but that has been upped to 1.1 million a/f of extra storage on totals but that figure is expected to be increased considerably. He reminded everyone the snowpack on the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers are at 300 percent of normal. The levees are holding and everyone is hoping for a slow warm up this spring. So far so good.
Executive Director Report
White gave his report saying there has been a lot of water flow management and outreach. He asked CCID General Manager Jarrett Martin to give folks an update on the SGMA process. In light of Groundwater Sustainability Plans being deemed unacceptable Martin said the State Board isn’t as willing to bite off a big chunk of micromanaging as feared earlier. It sounded to me like since nobody has gone through this before and each and every decision and move is uncharted – responses are going to be slower and more measured. Let’s hope.
Policy & Programs
Steve Chedester said the Bureau is waiting for more technical work to be completed on the Restoration Plan. Many years ago a judge ruled the San Joaquin River needs to be refurbished to allow $2.5 million per fish salmon runs. I lost my place but I think Chedester may have moved into the Water Resources Plan update. I heard Martin mention would sounded like a $2 million matching grant for the Orestimba Creek project. White said the Del Puerto Dam project has submitted the necessary permitting application to the State’s Divisions of Dams and things are moving forward on reaching the 30 percent design milestone.
One of the cool guys, attorney Tom Berliner called in and he gave the board an overview of the water transfer indemnification agreement. Berliner said whenever a member is in a transfer it is essentially biz as usual but the goal is to not transfer any responsibility of liability from one Ex Con member to another if there is a transfer outside of the members. If I understood. If a member transfers to a third party and there is a challenge brought by the third party – that’s on the member involved. However, if this challenge goes further and Ex Con’s contracts are questioned it’s back to all for one and one for all. White asked the directors to take this back to the home boards for review.
Mendota Pool Group
For the past three decades or so Ex Con has worked up an agreement with the Mendota Pool Group. There are landowners who pump groundwater into the Mendota Pool to send elsewhere. If I understand this water usually goes to nearby locations or is used in trades from Delta Mendota Canal. There are dangers of subsidence in the area but all the pumps are drawing from the upper aquifer and there is less than .0005 percent of subsidence per year. There is also constant water quality monitoring.
Chase Hurley gave the board an update. The pumpers have a lot of eyes on them and their actions are defined. With this much water flowing through the Pool and the allocation the agreement this year won’t include much pumping at all. The board agreed to the agreement.
Hurley gave the board an update on the Triangle T WD situation saying so far they have annexed 3,500 acres per LAFCo and the total for the district is 17,000 acres. He said John Hancock is pulling recharge from the Fresno River at a big rate. Other landowners are spreading as much as possible. He said the Gov’s Executive Order didn’t include spreading on dairy land for fear of nitrates but there is a lot of land owned by dairies that are planted in orchards and if I understood that’s OK for spreading recharge.
John Wiersma, GM San Luis Canal Company said his organization is also working with the landowners in the Red Top Area, which is where Triangle T is. Hurley said there are many challenges in the subbasin but they are working to get as much water recharged as they can this year.
Attorney/consultant Dave Cory said the Regional Board will be holding a workshop on the nitrate program. He expects there is a chance to remove some of the uncertainty currently hovering over the water quality issues in groundwater in the Valley. Cory said one of the goals is to pull together the varied programs and regulatory requirements in a unified way so there isn’t layer upon layer of rules to follow.
White said the legislative committee has worked up some recommendations for positions. There is a lot of push to redefine water rights. There are a lot of bills. Chedester walked the board through the more egregious and friendly bills. He started with SB 363 by State Senator Anna Caballero to put some teeth in the California Water Plan. He said this is good work and deserves support. SB 23, also by Caballero will expedite groundwater recharge permitting needs to be supported. SB 651 is another permitting process expedition bill deserving support.
In the opposition category are SB 460 going after water rights. This bill says everything must be judged by the State Board giving it discretion to issue cease and desist and fines before any hearing is allowed. AB 1337 is a bill to allow the State Board to declare water shortages and take over all the water rights including pre-1914, which are not under the State Board’s jurisdiction. SB 389 will allow the State Board to issue decisions requiring all water rights holders to prove their rights to the State Board. I don’t think the word “right” has the same meaning to those folks in Sacramento as it did to the founding fathers.
Next was the attorney report given by Andy McClure. He said there are two lawsuits with Ex Con opposing the complaint by See-Saw or C-Spa or something. Jargon. Whatever this is about the judge keeps ruling against Ex Con and that opens attacks against the fourth amended complaint on the GSPs. I think this is a complaint filed against a GSP that was abandoned and rewritten. McClure said he said a potential outcome is for the judge to tell everyone to decide what document they’re talking about.
The Del Puerto Canyon case has had an appeal filed by some Friant contractors and the Sierra Club. McClure said Ex Con could submit a cross-appeal on road alignment in response to the Sierra Club appeal for attorney fees. By the way the Sierra Club is having a membership drive and it’s only $15 per year to join. If everyone paying hundreds of dollars per year to the Farm Bureau would also join the Sierra Club . . . Things would change.
McClure said the USBR doesn’t have authority to divert restoration flows when there is more than 300 cfs at Sac Dam. The State Board has responded to the Natural Resources Defense Council’s claims the USBR isn’t meeting its restorations under section 5937. The State Board has no authority over this but did suggest the restoration plan be reopened. McClure said this is a gambit by the NRDC to be sure the State Board is aware of this just in case some of this radical anti-water rights legislation passes.
Four Managers Report
Randy Houk, GM CCC said all of March was recharge; maybe only 400 a/f of actual irrigation. A road was repaired. There was some wash out of gravel on the road surface.
Jeff Bryant, Chef/GM FCWD said there are still flows from Silver Creek and they are struggling to keep that very hot (salty) water out of its canals. There is an agreement for another solar power project. Things are very wet and just to finish canal lining required extraordinary measures.
Martin said water use was very low in March but they are starting to see some work in the fields by growers. They are also on constant creek overflow control.
Wiersma reported slow March deliveries, about a fourth of the usual. The annual meeting went well last month. There is a new board member and he’s working on the budget.
Informational and Closed Session
Joann White reminded everyone there will be a Water Education Foundation tour coming through town. I suggested folks review some of the material produced by the good folks at WEF. I then wished everyone a Merry Christmas before amending my statement to Happy Easter. The meeting then went into closed session at 10:14am for seven items. Well, that’s it for Ex Con this month. You too have a Happy Easter.
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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.
Chris Cardella -Chair Columbia Canal Company, Mike Stearns-Vice Chair Director Firebaugh Canal Water District, James L. Nickel-Treasurer San Luis Canal Company, Eric Fontana- Director Central California Irrigation District
Chris White-Executive Director, Steve Chedester- Director Policies & Programs, Adam Hoffman-Water Resources Specialist, Joann White-Director Finance and Human Resources, Andy McClure-Attorney Minasian Law Firm.
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.