The Exchange Contractors board of directors met at its headquarters in Los Banos on Friday, September 1, 2017. Ex Con meetings are well attended and they’re hospitable folks. So, there’s fruit and cheese and nuts and coffee and unfortunately several big bowls of candy. The good stuff too; the kind you wanted for Halloween. So, why do I sit next to the candy bowls? I have no good excuse. But, I’m not the only one tempted and it keeps me away from the donuts. The meeting began at 8:00am with Chairman Jim O’Banion inviting San Luis Canal Company General Manager Chase Hurley leading the flag salute. Executive Officer Steve Chedester gave the financial reports and the board approved.
Water Resource Specialist Adam Hoffman gave the water report. He said San Luis Reservoir is holding 300 percent of average federal water supplies. Millerton Lake is holding 400,000 a/f which is also a great deal for this time of year. Lake Shasta’s inflow to date was more than nine million a/f. The San Joaquin River sent four million a/f into Lake Millerton this year. There was an almost unbelievable amount of snow this past winter. Both the state and federal pumping plants are busy. Kings River water is no longer reaching the Mendota Pool.
Next Chedester announced the meat of some items from his report will be saved for closed session. There wasn’t much to report on the State Board’s water quality control plan. A little arguing back and forth. The recent Cooperative Operating Agreement talks have not be going well. Attorney Paul Minasian said it looks like there will be a master contract with US Bureau Reclamation for Central Valley Project water through the Water Fix. The poor contractors in the State Water Project will be forced to participate in the Water Fix. They have to pay for their share of the twin tunnels. To quote gubernatorial candidate Gavin Newsome, “Whether you like it or not.” Goldman Sachs worked up a water yield scenario and from the graph I saw the extra cost of an a/f could range from $179 to $1,275. Chedester said there has been some cooperative work on the matter between Ex Con and Friant Water Authority.
The next topic was the San Joaquin River restoration. Years ago a lawsuit found the court to determine salmon should be reintroduced into the SJR. Millions of dollars later all that has happened is Friant water being released down the old SJR channels. There is a meeting with the Bureau scheduled but nobody from the Bureau with the power to say yes or no will be able to attend and there is no agenda. Therefore, it’s going to be a phone call meeting. The board felt it is time for Ex Con to establish the agenda and aggressively pursue more than lip service from the government. Chedester, Columbia Canal Company GM Randy Houk and Central California ID’s GM Chris White just returned from Bureau HQ in Denver. Chedester said the Bureau folks participated and White said the technical portion of how to improve the Mendota Pool to accept salmon. The discussion was good. That took the first day. The second day there was talk about how to get the price from $300 million to $200 million. Part of the problem is it will cost $6 million per mile to put additional levees across flat ground. Pretty costly. Houk said the price could get much higher as the giant garter snake has reared its endangered head in the area. Houk said scaling the work to meet the funds available or scaling the funds to meet the work needed has yet to happen. SLCC Director Jim Nickle said from the willingness of the Bureau to speak cooperatively indicates orders from above have convinced the bureaucrats the landowners in the path way of the restoration have to be considered. CCC Director Chris Cardella asked if any of this is included in the legislation. The answer is no. Litigants to the lawsuit, the Natural Resources Defense Council may not like the idea there isn’t enough money to restore and undefined river channel that hasn’t been used for six decades. The original goal was to have 500 fish return to Friant Dam. The original estimate to provide for this was more than $2.5 million per fish. I believe the cost has gone up.
Chedester said the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure JPA has filed for Prop One funds for Temperance Flat. He was also pleased to tell us Friant is willing to join and discussions have been fruitful. After speaking with Friant CEO Jason Phillips, it looks like he and Friant’s Jeff Payne will be the representatives.
As for SGMA, SB 372 continues to move forward. This bill will allow Ex Con to form its own GSA even though there are two canal companies involved. An MOU with Fresno County dealing with SGMA is pending. Under other legislative matters it was announced HR 23 has no action set for the Senate so far. The Ex Con legislative committee is keeping an eye on SB 623 and still is concerned by the irrationality of AB 1667.
White said SLR will allow 150,000 a/f of federal carryover space. He said, if I understood him correctly, the Bureau has been working with contractors in trying to get as much carryover flexibility as possible. As White reminded everyone this is the kind of problem with the kind wet year that is good to have. However, White said even a normal year this next season could yield a 25 percent allocation depending on what the fishery folks are willing to allow. How things have gotten to the point the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration determines farming practices is a case study in government overreach.
Water transfers were next and Chedester said the attorneys and Rosedale Rio Bravo WSD are all ready to go. There is no minimum but the total could go as high as 30,000 a/f. There was another transfer with the Kern Water Bank with a maximum of 20,000 a/f. The board liked both of these deals and approved them unanimously. Many moons ago a deal was struck to allow federal water to be banked in Kern County even though that is mostly SWP territory. So, that’s how the water changes color. Yet another approved transfer was CCC moving water to Wonderful Orchards no more than 3,500 a/f. Wonderful can use this water in CCC or Aliso WD, so it’s not going out of the area. At least not very far in AWD’s case.
CCID engineer Jarret Martin reported on SGMA and said Dr. Ken Schmidt is working on things. Martin said the SJR restoration folks have developed a subsidence map but it isn’t accurate beyond a small area. He’s expanding this map. He said Fresno County is happy to work out an MOU with Ex Con for Ex Con to manage about 200 acres of white area. He handed out a map of GSAs in the Ex Con area and the Delta Mendota Sub Basin. DWR announced recently 99 percent of the Central Valley’s needed GSAs have been formed. Martin said grants for GSP are being pursued. September 11th , here at Ex Con HQ there will be a Tech Committee meeting for GSAs in the DM Sub Basin. It was noted the wild life refuges are exempt from SGMA. So, the refuges can pump all they want. They’re also exempt from air quality standards and can burn all they want. Sounds like a good place to farm.
Subsidence in the Red Top area has been occurring at a rapid pace. Hurley gave the board an update and it was positive. There has been more than 60 feet of shallow aquifer improvement. I think I heard there has been more than 60,000 a/f recharged to the area. The wet year allowed a lot of Fresno River water to be recharged.
Provost & Pritchard engineer Rick Iger gave the board an update on the Los Banos Creek and Orestemba Creek projects. He’s been working closely with White on these projects. White said LBC aquifer has some of the best water on the west side of the Valley. The quality is good with a low EC.
Consulting attorney David Cory always has interesting reports and today is no exception. He said the State Board has been tinkering with the east side irritated lands program requirements. This will be used as a template for the other ILP coalitions and I’m not sure I hear correctly but I though Cory had a hint of hope in his voice. He said it could be that no further reporting requirements will be added on the broken spine of growers already crippled by regulatory mandates. It takes a village to keep track of all the regulations and programs and how not to wake up one day and find yourself in violation. Although the focus has been politically shifted to nitrates the CV Salts group is still looking at how to deal with salt in the Valley’s soil and groundwater. There is a lawsuit at the Central Coast Regional area due to the State Board’s office of enforcement that tagged San Juan Batista for having too much nitrates. Or it had something to do with sea otters. We weren’t sure which or both. Although how otters are impacted by nitrates isn’t clear. Cory warned that the State’s definition of waters of the state is all water in the state. There is a very big danger of the state coming down with draconian requirements when a ditch needs dredging or some similar facility. Even habitat on refuges could be impacted. Protect wetlands by prohibiting the protection of wetlands.
Chedester spoke about legislation and SB 623 is receiving mixed reviews. ACWA hates it but Western Growers likes it sort of. This is the bill that will charge taxes on drinking water and fertilizer to raise money for nitrate clean up in groundwater.
Minasian said for open session there is a movement that would bring some sort of violation on exposing email from and to public officials. He said the reasoning is the bureaucrats are afraid of having their creative momentum stifled. Minasian said there isn’t much reason to put more money in the legal fund as far as the second round of California Water Fix hearings. There will be a huge number of lawsuits in regard to the twin tunnels. That’s not news but he said all the legal challenges are like hurdles that have been kicked but haven’t yet either righted themselves or fallen over. Things are unclear at this time. He did say look at Houston and imagine what a 150-year flood could do to California.
It was time for the four managers’ reports. Houk said his board has been considering what could happen if an endangered species where to get into the system due to bad fish screens once the salmon start running. Hurley said deliveries are starting to slow down. He said the High Speed Rail goes right through the heart of his district. The growers and the board will get together to think through how to stay ahead of HSR. SLCC is a canal company and divided by shares of stock attached to the land. What happens to the value of that stock when a railroad comes through. White said CCID had more than 170 conservation applications to review. He said deliveries are dropping off and refuge demands ramping up as per normal for this time of year. He said water from the Delta Mendota Canal has been very clean. Director Mike Stearns of Firebaugh Canal WD said things are running so smooth GM Jeff Bryant is on vacation.
Under information Joann White said the annual fishing expedition at SLR will happen soon. This benefits handicapped kids. The meeting then went into closed session. The San Joaquin River sent four million a/f into Lake Millerton this year.
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SAN JOAQUIN RIVER EXCHANGE CONTRACTORS WATER AUTHORITY
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.
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
Steve Chedester-Executive Director, Larry Freeman-Watermaster, Joann White-Administrative Assistant, Patty Baldini-Office 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