The Exchange Contractors board of directors met on Friday, February 10, 2023 at its Los Banos headquarters and by telephone. They generally meet the first Friday and like a good cup of coffee gets you revved up for the day, the first Friday gets you revved up for the month. But there had to put things off for a week due to scheduling conflicts with some of the directors.
Last month, you may recall I reported on Ex Con from Louisiana when during the meeting four or five sheriffs caught this old boy snooping around the neighbor’s place. He’d been living in a rented U-Haul that was parked illegally in the lot next door. Two things happened. It was a bit distracting to have a potential crime scene unfold and compete for attention and the report’s detail may have suffered a bit. Second, whoever that fellow was he’s not been seen in Breaux Bridge since.
Every time I go down to Louisiana folks ask me to send some water back to California. I did so last month, you’re welcome. Our place in St. Martin Parish, between Lafayette and Baton Rouge on the Bayou Teche, is in the middle of Cajun Country, more formally known as Acadiana. This is where you turn on the radio and hear songs sung in and commercials spoken in French. The food is exceptional. Cajuns are the original foodies. I have had lunch in a person’s home that was as good as any five-star restaurant and the topic of conversation was what to serve for dinner. You can give these Cajuns an old work boot, some tree bark, cayenne pepper, rice, salt and a pot to boil it all in (they don’t fry much) and you’ll get a tasty meal in return. They know their stuff and Lafayette a city as big as Visalia only has one Starbucks. Tells you something.
You’ll hear about what a magical place it is with the swamps and the bayous and the food and friendly people playing Zydeco but – what amazes me most about Louisiana; how they treat farmers. I try to make it a point when visiting there to ask the Louisiana Farm Bureau to hook me up with growers so I can see something you won’t see in California. I’ve spent the day during harvest with a sugar cane grower and toured the sugar mill. This past summer I went down to the Gulf of Mexico to airboat across part of a couple of million acres of marsh that stretches from the Sabine River on the Texas border to almost New Orleans. We went alligator egg hunting and took the cache back to the Vermillion Gator Farm near Abbeville. There’s lots more to that story but not now.
Now this is what makes me do a spit take and gaze dumbfounded. I’ll be asking these Louisiana farmers a question about their operations and they invariably say something to the effect of, “We did have a problem with that but the State helped us out.” Imagine that. Here’s something else they do in Louisiana. If you’re a senior with a 100 percent disability and your primary place of residence is paid in full you will not be charged property tax. Imagine that too.
The meeting was called to order by Chairman Chris Cardella at 9:00am sharp and began with the flag salute. Wonderful. The agenda was AOK and we all introduced ourselves both in person and those of us on the telephone. Good bunch of folks.
The EF Hutton of Los Banos because of course he speaks and people listen is also the Executive Director of the San Joaquin River Exchange Contractors Water Authority, Chris White. White presented the board with the option of approving the minutes and they did so. There was no public participation.
The lovely Joann White* presented the board with one of the single most examined documents at any water meeting, the list of expenditures. The vast majority of board members are farmers and they know where to save $1.27 on a new truck. J. White also gave the rest of the financial matters to the board and they approved. C. White told the board he’ll be getting more information on how the firm handling Ex Con’s social media and outreach program. He also showed the board how the company credit cards are being used. I think I heard someone say it was thrilling.
Adam Hoffman, Water Master gave his report saying there were flood releases on the San Joaquin River last month that sent a quarter of million acre feet from Friant Dam downstream. He said there is a good chance there could be more flood flows later this spring but for now Millerton Lake is in equilibrium. There are still releases of restoration flows at the Mendota Pool. The US Bureau of Reclamation is releasing 250 cfs making its way to Sac Dam. This will drop to 65 cfs this summer. They are releasing SJR Restoration flows under the wet year policy.
Hoffman said Shasta has gained one million a/f last month. They received 27 inches for rain from the recent storms. There is 2.6 million a/f there and at this time last year there was about one million a/f less. This means the Jones Pumping Plant was able to run five units for a while and that brought a good deal of water to San Luis Reservoir’s federal side.
Pine Flat Reservoir and Dam on the Kings River is being encroached by 55,000 a/f of flood water but the Army Corps of Engineers are working with the Kings River contractors and they don’t expect any water to leave the service area. So no Kings River flows up the Fresno Slough to Mendota Pool. That could change.
Delta inflow is declining to 31,000 cfs currently. The Jones Plant had to cut back to four pumps or units as they like to be called, due to aquatic trash gumming things up at the antiquated fish screen. There is also the pesky X2 Line. This requires a certain amount of water quality at Port Chicago on the Carquinez Straights, almost all of which centers on salinity. The X2 Line is how far saltwater goes upstream into the Delta. Before the dams and water projects were built saltwater would make its way to Sacramento and Stockton during droughts. White said much of the operating policy currently being imposed on the pumps was developed from information originating in the 1990s, if I heard him correctly.
White said Ex Con is working closely with the USBR, the San Luis Delta Mendota and Friant Water Authorities on operations. There are tours being set up that will bring a variety of folks to the area to see firsthand what’s happening. White said legislation is being tracked. There are two standouts to be discussed later.
There is now a rendering of the proposed museum/office building for local history, Ex Con and the SLDMWA to share. All involved are studying the concepts and that’s going well.
Policy & Programs
Steve Chedester reported the SJR Restoration Program is having a little geotechnical work going on, not much else. Once these geo-tech reports are finished, they go to the Bureau for digestion. It was a bit difficult to hear him, it sounded like a peacock was in the room. I can’t imagine that actually being the case.
There have been four protests on the water rights portion of the Orestimba Creek project, I think he said Orestimba, it’s hard to tell with that bird running loose in the boardroom. California Department of Fish & Wildlife still needs to weigh in with its permitting approval. Chedester reported on the DWR process of approving things and it takes a while.
The Los Banos Creek spreadsheet is undergoing refinement. The NEPA, CEQA process is underway. Good for them. The financial assistance agreement with the Bureau is also underway. There is a $300,000 SGMA grant that might be applied for and to the project. Chedester said construction could start this year. I also can’t imagine why Chedester would start whispering towards the end of his report.
Chedester said the Collaborative Action Plan received $700,000 from the Packard Foundation, if I understood. The CAP is a cousin to the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley. The Blueprint is looking for more leadership and the Hallmark Group is the only name mentioned. I expect there will be a press release of some sort soon talking about the Hallmark Group being hired.
Water Resources Plan
White reported the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir Plan is just about ready for a technical review panel of dam experts (dog gone experts?). The soil borings are looking good. So, they got that going for them.
Bay Delta Water Quality
Dave Cory reported the Regional Water Board is moving the nitrate plan into the first of three phases that will take 10-years to cycle through. There will be management zones so it won’t be a one size fits all mess. Cory had more to say.
White said on the state side they are tracking bills and the submittal deadline is rapidly approaching. AB 23 and 460 are under the microscope. AB 460 is meant to give one of the least accountable and most powerful bureaucracies with the widest impact in California more enforcement power. Some in the legislature thinks the State Water Resources Control Board needs more muscle.
White said on the federal side Congressman David Valadao has introduced the Water for California Act and Congressmen Doug LaMalfa and Tom McClintock have also introduced water bills.
Andy McClure reported the Friant contractors have filed an appeal on the Del Puerto Canyon but more in closed session. The Sierra Club also filed on the road realignment plan. There is still the SGMA lawsuit by the fishy NGOs about a GSP that was never adopted. This is a strange one.
He said the State Board has its eye on changing Sacramento River flows based on habitat and force more San Joaquin River flows through the Delta and out to sea. The Delta Tunnel project’s impact on the Central Valley Project has been commented on. If the levees fail the tunnel will provide the State Water Project supplies but not the joint federal side. McClure said having Ex Con comment on this plan gives it a seat at the table in the future.
Randy Houk, GM Columbia Canal Company said the meters have been checked and calibrated to make the State Board happy when its reports are due. He also said they were able to get some flood flows on farmland. Wonderful Farms was able to use some new pumps and fish screens on the Chowchilla Bypass, I think he said. This helped get 40,000 a/f on the land. This about the same amount of groundwater pumped in the area last year.
Chef Jeff Bryant, GM Firebaugh Canal Water District said they are working to prevent flooding on Silver Creek from getting in the canals and getting ready for the season.
John Wiersma, GM San Luis Canal Company reported they are busting humps to get ready for the season. There will be a Company lunch for the first time in the few years. That sounds like fun.
Jarrett Martin, GM Central Valley Irrigation District said they had to bow up in January due to westside stream flooding. Two long crested weirs should be finished in time for the system to start charging next week and be ready to start deliveries.
The meeting went into closed session for seven items of litigation and real property. The public portion ended at 10:00am on the nose. You can’t plan that kind of precision, it just happens or it doesn’t. Have a blessed weekend.
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*Yes, the Whites are married to each other.
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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.