The Exchange Contractors board of directors met on Friday, November 10, 2023 at its Los Banos headquarters and by telephone. Meeting by telephone always introduced an element of fun to the proceedings. After the folks in the meeting room introduce themselves the folks on the phone are asked to introduce themselves as well. It goes like this; after a moment of silence from three to nine people say their name at the same time. Another moment of silence then three to five people say their name at the same time. It goes on like this until eventually the herd is culled to one name at a time.
Chairman Chris Cardella opened the meeting at 9:00am and announced they’d already saluted the flag at the previous GSA meeting. The agenda was reviewed with no changes and there were self-introductions.
Columbia Canal Company Director Kim Brown introduced CCC’s new General Manager Mike Gardner. Gardner has been around the area working in water for two or three decades and is well known to those also in that space. Good for him. I don’t think anyone is misguided enough to believe he could fill the late Randy Houk’s boots but that shouldn’t be his job. He needs to move forward in his own way and I’ll bet you $5 he’s got goodwill in his sails.
The minutes were approved then the wise and lovely Joann White gave the financial reports and as usual they were so good the board approved. Mr. Joann White, also known as Executive Director Chris White told the board about the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority’s approving the Ex Con water transfers at yesterday’s SLDM meeting.
Adam Hoffman gave his report saying Ex Con demands have been 1,350 cfs and the San Joaquin River is getting between 400 and 500 cfs at Friant Dam. The Mendota Pool is going to be dewatered on December 1st.
Hoffman said Lake Shasta is looking good and releases into the Sacramento River are steady. The Jones plant dropped to one unit as demands have dropped as well. Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River is no longer working under inflow prorates as the Friant Kern Canal has been shut off to allow repair work. They expect to get the upper reach work done early as far south as into Tulare County.
There is an atmospheric river coming in next week. In addition to starting the water year off with some extra supplies it means I have to finish cleaning up my backroom and turning it into an office like my wife has asked me to do for the past six years. I have a lot of stuff in the yard, like a desk and years of the accumulated detritus in the form of bags of swag from various ag related events, just sitting there waiting for rain. I think the lesson to be learned here for wives everywhere is – when a man tells you he’s going to do something don’t bug him every seven or eight months, he’ll get around to it.
Executive Director Report
White said staff has recently spent a lot of time on the biological opinions, the State Board plan to wildly increase through Delta flows and the Voluntary Agreements. That was about all he had to say under his report.
Policy & Programs
Steve Chedester said the US Bureau of Reclamation is still working on the fish screens along the San Joaquin River. A 100 percent design is expected by 2025. There was a 20-year lawsuit brought by the Natural Resources Defense Council against the USBR that resulted in a San Joaquin River Restoration law passed in 2002, about 20-years ago after the lawsuit was settled. The NRDC’s suit brought about a restoration that costs, last time I checked and this may need to be updated – about $15 million per fish returned to the San Joaquin River as far as Friant Dam.
Restoration flows at Sac Dam are going to need special accounting as elevation and flows make things complicated. A 60 percent plan was given back in September and San Luis Canal Company has some comments. The Bureau believes it will have a 100 percent design and start construction sometime next year. There is a bridge needed across Poso Canal and that project is being studied.
Government forces are looking at new biological opinions on how to operate the Delta. By the end of the Trump Administration the way overdue new biological opinions, biops, were completed. At the very beginning of the Biden Administration, they were reversed to the last day of the Obama Administration. This was political theater at its worst.
The biops are supposed to undergo a re-consultation every few years to incorporate new science. This revisiting of the Delta operations languished for years. Under Trump they were looked at anew and new scientific findings were incorporated.
Turns out under the last day of the Obama Administration Delta pumping was determined by the calendar. On average X amount of endangered fish pass by the pump intakes from say, January 10th to March 7th, therefore the pumps must be throttled back by 80 percent. Under the biops developed during the Trump Administration surveys of actual fish were used to determine when pumping was safer. Much more accurate and helpful to reducing harm to the environment. Not sure what the new biops will include.
Also, under the new biops, there is a proposal to include tribal fishing as being included as a beneficial use. Of course there is. Does this have anything to do with preserving fish? No, one might reasonably say, there is no scientific proof allowing tribal fishing helps increase the endangered fish population. Does it allow tribes to participate in their historic traditions? Yes it does and that may be a very, very good thing. I think so.
But I do find it disingenuous to slap it on to a science study. It reminds me of an eighth grade science fair display of how a volcano works. Should the volcano model include a village being devastated by lava flows? Let me repeat myself, to be clear, I do believe the tribes should have access to fishing, after all they are American citizens too and this is how they want to use the water. I just think the matter should be separate from the science of how the Delta ecosystem is best served.
Chedester said the Orestimba Creek construction is a bright spot. Things are going very well. The only hold up is some of the electrical work for the pumps may not be completed this year. An awaited letter from California Fish & Wildlife has arrived and there is a comment period. I didn’t catch the deadline. But Chedester said he hopes to see this hoop jumped through by summer. Ex Con has been very proactive in developing new, South of Delta surface water supplies.
There was a meeting recently in Sacramento between farmers from the Delta and the San Joaquin Valley that sounds like it went well. White reported the Los Banos Creek Reservoir project is moving along. An activity agreement on Del Puerto Canyon between Ex Con members is still circulating and bubbling and I’ll bet you another $5 it is adopted by all four of them.
Consultant Dave Cory reported there are openings on the Regional Water Quality Control Board. He stressed that while this is a thankless job it is an important job and the word is the governor is looking to fill these seats soon. He asked if anyone knew someone willing to serve to contact him.
Nitrogen use is all the rage in Sacramento’s Regulatory Community. He said the state could start enforcement on individual growers within the next five years. Nitrate Management Zone plans are developing. Cory does a tough job, he only brings good news every now and then, and those now’s and then’s are far apart.
White said there are both state and federal reports included in the board packet. He said the state’s anti-water rights bills that were defeated last legislative year are expected to come back again this new year. You may well recall that battle.
On the federal side there is a new Speaker of the House and there is a lot of the same turmoil Congressman Kevin McCarthy was facing, in front of Congressman Mike Johnson of Louisiana. He referred the board to the written reports in their packet. At this point the future of Senator Diane Feinstein’s staff is still in limbo. The current staff is knowledgeable and relationships are well established. The hope is they can keep their positions.
White said the Lighthouse Public Affairs firm has been helping with the Ex Con website updates and social media.
Andy McClure said the groundwater lawsuit about the non-existent GSP wasn’t dismissed, the judge said she’s willing to issue a stay until the State Board finishes its review. The statue of limitations has been before the court for three years and they are still waiting for a final ruling.
There will be an oral argument in Washington DC early next month over the Friant contractor suit over where water supplies go and when.
The Del Puerto Canyon CEQA suit brought by some Friant districts is still winding its way. The Sierra Club suit will be in court next spring.
In Kern County a preliminary injunction was issued on the Kern River lawsuit. A 5937 argument was put forth. The river is dry for most of the year and not in shape to take care of fish most of the time. The judge threw out a 100-year’s worth of law on the river. It shows dry riverbeds are a magnet for lawsuits.
Jeff Bryant or Chef Jeff when it comes to making sausage, GM Firebaugh Canal Water District said things are normal for this time of year. He expects to keep 2/3rds of his system charged from the Delta Mendota Canal while the Mendota Pool is dewatered. FCWD is having some problems with solar permitting and expects to have a new director appointed by the Fresno County Board of Supervisors for an uncontested seat.
San Luis Canal Company GM John Wiersma reported a bit more demand for irrigation than expected and they plan to stop deliveries midmonth.
Director Eric Fontana reported for GM Jarrett Martin who is off hunting somewhere for something. I don’t think it was his car keys or cell phone but we’ll find out more when he gets back. In the meantime, Central California Irrigation District is limping along OK without him.
Gardner said demand in CCC is at 60 cfs and he plans a shutdown mid-month for repairs. It was commented this was a good first report, informative and succinct.
Informational & Closed Session
White said there will be meetings with the Bureau at the ACWA conference in Indian Wells. There will also be a Christmas lunch after next month’s meeting. Tomorrow is the true Veterans Day and we need to reflect and keep them in our prayers. He also said Wiersma has been traveling internationally.
Wiersma said his group when through Central America with the California Ag Leadership Foundation and it was an experience of a lifetime. He pointedly stated it was not a vacation. He said he doesn’t expect to travel so intensely for 15-days again and he is grateful for the opportunity.
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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, Darlene O’Brien- Administrative Assistant, 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.