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Exchange Contractors August 2, 2019

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The Exchange Contractors board of directors met at its headquarters in Los Banos on Friday, August 2, 2019. There was still a good deal of water flowing down the San Joaquin River at Highway 152. I’d like to guess 500 cfs but I was doing 78 mph when I drove over the bridge so I wouldn’t put much stock in that guestimate. We’ll find out more later in the meeting. I could have driven much slower as there was no GSA meeting and the regular meeting now begins at 9am instead of 8am, which helps. There was even water in the Fresno River flowing under Highway 99.

Chairman Jim O’Banion called the meeting at 9am with a flag salute. Ex Con Executive Director Chris White asked O’Banion to please read the imaginary name tag on Jarret Martin. Martin came to Central California Irrigation District from Provost & Pritchard engineering as Assistant General Manager. That’s been a couple of years now. O’Banion is a director at CCID and he said Martin is now full on General Manager. Good for him. Congratulations and condolences were offered all around.

The minutes were approved, as was the agenda and we all introduced ourselves. Joann White gave the financial reports with such aplomb and grace the board was overwhelmed with the compulsion to approve said report. Water Master Adam Hoffman gave his report saying the SJR at Sac Dam were 150 cfs. Well, that’s upstream of Highway 152 so I was wildly off in my estimate. But, it’s August and there is water flowing. That’s the good news; that and the reservoirs are still doing very well and the Tracy pumps are running at capacity. There could be a relaxation of the Fall X2 Line; that’s the distance from the Golden Gate saltwater is allowed to migrate upstream through the Carquinez Straights.  Kim Brown, an alternate for Columbia Canal Company said moving Central Valley Project water onto non CVP land has been a bit of a problem but State Water Project Table A water is moving into Kern County and its water banking facilities. Hoffman said there is hyacinth in the Mendota Pool and spraying is not keeping up. I and San Luis Canal Company GM John Wiersma suggested pygmy hippos. Hoffman said manatees also like hyacinth and the two species could bump up the tourist value of the Pool.

White gave his report and said the San Joaquin River Restoration program has hit some rough waters, so to speak. The US Bureau of Reclamation hasn’t been availing the needed resources in proportion to achieving anything, so to speak. It appears the Natural Resources Defense Council has been tinkering on the edges and it’s time to get back in touch. There will be a workshop in October about the Cooperative Operating Agreement. That’ll be fun. Wiersma attended a luncheon in Fowler last week honoring Gloria Gray, Chairwoman of Met WD. State Senator Anna Caballero was in attendance and didn’t say much about SB1. Wiersma said she indicated she understood the perils of SB 1 passing as written. If she said she’d do anything about it – I can’t tell you. I wish I would have been able to attend that event. I’m curious why Gray was being honored in Fowler; maybe she’s from there.

High powered consultant Austin Ewell reported the Department of Interior annually names water projects and the Del Puerto Reservoir made the list for 2019. It now needs to be attached to a bill by October 1st to keep the hopes of funding alive. Ewell said there are a couple of bills in Washington DC that might actually be beneficial for water in the SJ Valley. Could be a field hearing coming up and Valley water district reps are bowing up for another trip to DC next month.

Wiersma reported on the subsidence issues in the Red Top area saying he believes there is now a light at the end of the tunnel. Former SLCC GM Chase Hurley is involved and has helped move things along. There will be a meeting of the Tri Angle T WD next Thursday at 10am at the old Tri Angle T Ranch headquarters to hopefully wrap up the agreements between the subsidence areas and Ex Con.

Water transfers will mostly be discussed in closed session but White said fallowing transfer agreements from the Bureau are on track for approval. White said there is a temporary permit to store water in the Los Banos Creek Reservoir. Water previously stored in other reservoirs like Shasta and San Luis was previously not eligible for storage. The door has been opened.

The Ag Leadership Tour passes through Ex Con on August 22-23, 2019 with a dinner at the Party Barn. We could use more of those.

Martin gave the SGMA update saying the GSP is complete and a template has been created to help get all the necessary paperwork in the right place at the right time when submitting the plans to DWR. The first grant reimbursement for $268,517 was received. Director Jim Nickel asked how the GSP in the subsidence areas will be treated. Martin said SGMA requires a GSA developing a GSP to notice cities and counties the 90 day review is active, not necessarily a public review. Attorney Lauren Layne most helpfully pointed out the law doesn’t specifically require a 90-day public review.

Steve Chedester, Director of Policy & Programs reported the Bureau is very concerned about the design of the fish screens at the Mendota Pool; worried about salmon going up the Kings River. Ok. The Temperance Flat efforts will get a new breath of air in September with east side and west side participants will have some operating principals to discuss and a new governing structure. The Re-initiation of Consultation on Long Term Operations, also known by the much cooler ROC on LTO, is the re-consultation of the biops. The National Marine Fisheries Service (under the Commerce Department) and the federal Fish & Wildlife Service (under the Department of Interior) have developed a draft biops that will be looked at by a peer review team. The team is supposed to give its input by August 21st and the new biops should be signed by August 31st. After NEPA and such the new biops should receive its Record of Decision signature in January 2020.

Chedester then spoke of the San Joaquin Valley Blueprint saying Ex Con has been invited to actively participate in the effort and will do so. Ewell has been involved and said SGMA was one of the big pushes to get this effort up and running. Without doing anything more than one million acres of land will be retired in the Valley. The Blueprint lays out three efforts; improving existing infrastructure/develop new infrastructure, identify and develop new water sources and coordinate mitigation.

White then spoke about a 5,000 a/f water transfer with the Santa Clara Valley WD saying, “. . . more about that in closed session.” The board approved a 1,000 a/f transfer to Tri Angle T from the return of the Rosedale Rio Bravo WSD water agreement.

White said there was an online signature drive with more than 100 signatures promoting the Del Puerto Reservoir’s utility as a recreation benefit. The City of Patterson has been looking at a recharge field upgradient from the City’s west side. The plan is to use Del Puerto Creek as a source but its average annual flow is less than 5,000 a/f. There was a very wet year in the 1970s that yielded 38,000 a/f. So there are talks. Andy Neal, Woodard & Curran Engineering reported there was a very well attended scoping event in Patterson for the 85,000 a/f Del Puerto Reservoir project. He said there was a good deal of interest in boating and fishing. Neal said the environmental/cultural studies are moving forward smoothly. That’s good. He said cooperation with the USBR has been good. The work of moving utility lines and pipes is going on. Neal said all of Shell Oil’s California assets are up for sale. He also said White met with Governor Gavin Newsom and the WIIN Act requires buy-in from state authorities.

Consultant David Cory was unable to attend today’s meeting and no one wanted to give his report on the State and Regional Board shenanigans for him. It’s usually bad news. Cory’s report was included in the packet. The California Latino Water Coalition Foundation asked Ex Con for $2,500. Attorney Paul Minasian suggested the donation be earmarked for education only to prevent Ex Con from inadvertently participating in political matters and the board agreed.

Under legislation White reported SB 1 has to be amended. White said no one asked Newsom if he’d veto the bill if unamended during the meeting he spent with him. But Newsom has been reported by several good sources as being very aware of the train wreck SB 1 could cause the voluntary agreements – agreements Newsom is in favor of.

Minasian gave his report saying the voluntary agreements are not moving forward, backward or sideways in light of SB 1. He said raising Shasta Dam may come down to a campaign issue and chaos. He said to Ex Con, “Nothing you can do about that.”

Under the four entities report Wiersma said SLCC is working on a Henry Miller Reclamation District website. He said they had an equipment auction on the “What a Deal” government sales website and it was very easy and effective. CCC GM Randy Houk said the deep well testing and meter calibration to comply with the required Water Management Plan. CCC will be hosting next month’s Ex Con meeting with lunch. Firebaugh Canal WD’s Director Mike Stearns said he had nothing but his GM Jeff Bryant is not here because of his granddaughter undergoing a very serious operation today. Stearns asked everyone to please include Bryant and his family in prayer. Martin said he’s fighting weeds – hyacinth.

Under informational matters White said he had nothing. The meeting adjourned to closed session at 10:41am.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2019 by Don A. Wright


Main Office: 541 H Street, P.O. Box 2115 Los Banos, CA 93653 Office 209/827-8616 Email:

DWR SGMA Identifier #5-022.07

The Exchange Contractors cover almost a quarter of a million acres in Fresno, Madera, Merced and Stanislaus Counties.

Mission Statement

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, Patty Baldini-Office Assistant, Darlene O’Brien- Administrative Assistant, Paul Minasian-Attorney


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.