The Fresno Irrigation District held its board of directors meeting remotely from its Fresno headquarters on Tuesday, August 18, 2020. The meeting was held on GoToMeetings and was scheduled to come to order at 4:00pm. FID Chairman Ryan Jacobsen likes to start on time. He’s very punctual. Staff also typed up the agenda, at least the copy I got online, so that the last open session item is at the end of the page and new page starts with closed session items. There’s a poetic symmetry to it.
Jacobsen kicked things off at exactly 4:00 and we saluted the flag together. Special Project Manager Kassy Chauhan recited the online meeting etiquette. The meeting is being recorded for those who couldn’t attend and I supposed it makes things easier for staff to write up the minutes. There was no public comments and all the directors and all the staff were present by evidence of a roll call. Like Westlands Water District earlier in the day, Chauhan recognized there are rolling power outages taking place in California. Jacobsen said he’s heard there won’t be a blackout but in case there is there is a back up phone number everyone can call in and keep things happening. A rolling meeting.
During the review of the agenda Director Chris Woolf agreed to recuse himself for Item 8b dealing with a possible sale, transfer or exchange of water. Woolf Farms is a Westlands Water District grower so we’ll see what’s up. Director George Porter said his wife owns some mineral rights in WWD but this item shouldn’t be a problem according to in-house attorney Jeff Boswell.
For the consent calendar Directors Jerry Prieto and Greg Beberian pulled item b, the July 2020 check report. Controller DeAnn Hailey informed them the checks under question were made to Amazon because they are finding the prices are cheaper. New Currents consulting had a charge on the bill and General Manager Bill Stretch said they are on retainer and available however, there isn’t a project but for the strategic plan they are currently working on. With that the board approved the Consent Calendar.
Financials; or More Than You May Want to Know About Auditor Policy
Next Hailey gave the financial report saying even with the additional Big Marxist Virus costs things are staying on budget. She said July was relatively calm. There used to be two times out of the year that were calmer than others for districts. Mid to late summer when harvest takes place and the allocation question is over. The other time was the end of the year when plants were dormant and the fields are just sitting there. Over the past decades things get more and more complicated with more and more trouble coming out of Pong Yang and DC and the lawsuit industry and such.Hailey said staff had researched FID policy on how often to change auditors. Come to find out there wasn’t a policy in place. The gooberment says you got to change auditors at least every five-years to be in best practices. Like Beberian I thought it was a five year max by law but it’s not. Prieto asked if the board needs to put this to a vote and Boswell said if it does it will become de facto policy. Jacobsen said he’d like to see the policy stated so the maximum time to retain the same auditors is clear and can terminate a firm at will. Boswell said almost always the actual auditors who come to the district are younger, recently out of school and the oversight auditors are familiar with the district, so you get fresh eyes and experienced eyes. In some cases it can save money and enhance the experience to go with a longer term. Hailey said it has been the practice for FID to contract for five years with an auditor. Boswell said the contract would have to include an “for cause” termination. He surprised me when he said something like – you can’t just get rid of the auditor because your brother in law opened an auditing firm. Many years ago, when the last pterodactyl in Fresno County was shot FID had a little trouble with its attorney’s brother in law being a realtor. Perhaps I misremember the relational details. I’m pretty sure someone will set me straight if I got it wrong. All of these discussions led to the FID board setting a policy for retaining and hiring auditors. The current auditors, Hudson & Company will stick around for another year.
The water operations report was next. Water Master Jim Irwin gave his report but it sure sounded like saying Assistant GM Adam Claes speaking. FID has 51,000 a/f in storage at Pine Flat and will be drawing this down as it makes deliveries to Fresno’s surface water facilities. He also said summer storms have added some flows on the Kings River. There has been a slight increase in entitlements on the Kings River. He expects 29,000 a/f in storage at the end of November. Part of the system has been shut down and maintenance started. This gives a leg up on next year and deliveries can start earlier. Claes said between now and Thanksgiving is the best time to get maintenance completed. There was more discussion about moving more water this year but I really couldn’t hear much of it. It sounded like maybe, Porter but it was difficult to tell. From the half or so of the conversation I could hear there worst time to fire up a portion of the system is when it’s this hot. The evaporation is a hot problem.
The Water Deal
Claes said the Kern Tulare Water District has approached FID about a water sale. Woolf walked out of the room. FID has banked 40,000 a/f so far this year. Stretch said FID doesn’t usual purchase Unreleased Restoration Flows because of the costs. KTWD wants to sell 2,000 a/f to Westlands WD for $650 per a/f. They want to sell 100 a/f to Arroyo Pasajero Mutual Water District at $600 a/f. KTWD will get FID water delivered at Millerton Lake and send it down the Friant Kern Canal. This will require a good amount of water swaps throughout the Central Valley Project. FID is a Friant Water District member with 75,000 a/f contract for Friant water, not sure if it’s Class I or Class II. This allows for the ability to move the water through the CVP. KDWD is also a CVP Friant contractor. It wasn’t clear to me or most of the directors how this will work.
Jacobsen said KDWD has 2,000 a/f in San Luis Reservoir from San Joaquin River Restoration flows. It wants to swap that water with FID and if I understood FID will send 2,000 a/f of water from Pine Flat and put it into the Friant Kern Canal where KDWD has turnouts and can take deliveries. Or FID has a supply of URF storage in Friant. Are we clear? Ok, let’s factor in the newly formed APMWD is actually in Westlands somehow. Prieto clearly informed staff it needs to do a better job of informing the board on these complicated transactions. I have to agree. FID is a well run district but water exchanges can resemble a road map of Houston Texas without any street names. If there was a board packet available to the public I couldn’t find it. So the discussion of this item was almost impossible to follow and GoToMeetings doesn’t show for sure who is speaking. Best I can understand the board felt comfortable enough to back staff on this.
As SGMA becomes ever more prevalent transfers, sales and exchanges are going to become more common. But just because something becomes common doesn’t mean it becomes less complex. i.e., Anyone do their own taxes and tried to itemize deductions on the new California income tax form? It was like trying to do a Sudoku puzzle with only three numbers given. Staff will have to start educating directors and the public on how the water transactions take place. I have to admit I envied Director Woolf’s ability to walk out of the room until the item was finished.
The engineering report was next and District Engineer Lawrence Kimura said there have been some slowdowns from private developers but they are still coming in. There’s some more administrative work to do on the recharge basins, the state has to OK a few things. He will bring this back next month. He said High Speed Rail has nothing to report but a good deal of arguing back and forth. The City of Fresno wants to include some FID right of way, presumably along canals and as you can imagine FID wants to indemnified.
Next Kimura asked the board to reject all bids for the Wagner Basin Project. The US Bureau of Reclamation and the NEPA process has run the clock out and the bidding process must be set at a later time. Kimura said the virus has slowed down the Bureau’s ability to respond timely. He said it was too bad because the prices were great and emphasized the contractors did nothing wrong. This is a 60-acre basin at Westlawn and Gettysburg Avenues west of Fresno and the project will be resurrected soon. The board voted to reject bids.
Claes gave the construction and maintenance report. He said last month was the last month the district ran water system wide and staff has been given weekly tailgate safety meetings. Candidates for the position of heavy equipment operators were tested at one of the basins with the equipment they’ll be operating if they get the gig. More than five tons of trash from homeless folks vacationing on the water has been removed from FID canals.
How do you make an irrigation district employee jump up and down for joy? You buy them a Gradall. It’s a type of flexible backhoe if you don’t know. For as long as I’ve been writing about water districts staffs up and down the Valley want a Gradall – pronounced grade all or perhaps gray doll. FID got one of the last ones available on the West Coast. Claes sounded pretty pleased.
Next a breakdown of hours spend on various tasks was posted. There was a total of 43,100 man hours of maintenance work last year. The chart showed how much time was spent on things such as canal repair and such. It really showed the how the crews prioritized their time and they did good.
Beberian asked about locking turnouts and was told lateral head gates aren’t locked down because the canals are empty and the only time individual turnouts are locked is in the beginning of the season when the system is being recharged.
The next item was cleaning the trash from the canals left by homeless camps. There was some talk about the City of Fresno no longer providing a trash truck but that seems to have been solved. Fresno police and equipment are being utilized in clean up.
Speaking of clean up. Last month the policy for searching and recovery of drowning victims in FID canals came up and the board asked staff for revisions. The old policy required much more red tape and board involvement. The new policy gives staff more leeway in dealing with the subject and having board meetings will no longer be needed.
Chauhan gave her SGMA report saying there hasn’t been much on a sub basin level. The GSAs are reviewing comments from the GSP. Data management for the entire sub basin is finally coming together. Fresno County is working on integrating SGMA into the permitting process for well drilling. There will be a meeting for drillers this Thursday at 3:00pm on Zoom. There will be a SGMA 101 given by Ron Samuelian of Provost & Pritchard and the drillers are not expected to like the changes to the permitting process.
One the directors asked Boswell about the color of water. He wanted to know if FID water could end up being claimed by other entities. Boswell wasn’t sure. Again the audio from the boardroom wasn’t very clear but it had something to do with Fresno’s recycling of water and purple pipes and tertiary water. It sounded like Beberian wanted to know if this water was credited for recharge and who received the credit. Prieto said the recycled water used by the city is water no longer pumped and benefits farmers. Stretch said it is a complicated issue and as the GSP progressed more answers will be forthcoming.
As for the North Kings GSA that FID belongs to Chauhan gave an update of the advisory committee meeting from last week. The monitoring network is growing and the formation of workgroups is starting as well. She said she’s aware of so many things happening she’s being patient as she can. I happen to know she’s pretty patient.
Chauhan pointed out there have been many stories about domestic wells going dry and she’s reached out to the reporters, wise to reach out to reporters. One of the topics not discussed in these reports are how many wells will go dry without SGMA.
Someone from Eco Green preformed an energy audit to work into solar plans for a project for the administration cost cutting. Prieto stated a backup battery will be needed as the solar panels won’t fire up anything on their own. There are two benefits from solar; save costs and but a generator would be better than batteries. The SCADA system is computerized and needs to be maintained.
The annex building file reorganization is moving forward. Department heads have been and are being consulted on how to best put this together for everyone’s benefit. Chauhan said the Irritated Lands Program has got the nitrate monitoring program up and running. On farm domestic wells testing about the nitrate level allowed are don’t have to do any more reporting until things change. Jacobsen said the well at his house tested high but since no employees drink that water his ordeal is over until more regulations are imposed. That couldn’t happen could it? It was said it is very important to get the testing in early as the labs are expected to be overwhelmed and the state is picky about deadlines it doesn’t have to meet.
Chauhan reported on state government issues. The Big Marxist Virus has hit the state budget and state agencies are not filling positions and furloughing employees. So, permitting can be even longer.
There is a bill we’ve heard of before, AB 3030 getting some traction. It is a bill from a Bernie Sanders idea to set aside 30 percent of the land and water in California for protection. Which 30 percent and whose 30 percent isn’t defined. There is a big push by water agencies all over the state to oppose. Both Chauhan and Jacobsen said it is a “dangerous” bill. Now that’s a quote in quotation marks and attributed. An assemblyman from the San Jose area is trying to prove he’s the meanest of the greenest. It would be interesting if 30 percent of his district was impacted. The board directed staff to send a letter of opposition.
On a less of a mess the federal S4530 will help fund the Aerial Snow Observatory, this will be shared throughout the west. Governor Gavin Newsom’s Water Resiliency Report has been released. The top priorities are implementation of safe and affordable drinking water act of 2019 and local SGMA activities. Not bad for the state.
Stretch said the recent ACWA conference was virtual and recorded so he was able to get staff together and watch some of the presentations. He and Chauhan praised the format and said it will set a standard.
Chauhan reported the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint will hold a meeting this Thursday at 4pm. The Blueprint folks have offered to speak to the FID board if it likes. Chauhan said FID is expanding its social media presence under the tutelage of its new consultants. There is an effort to get more centennial video viewings. She urged the board to like all the districts social platforms. She said the website has a new page for the board and management’s history.
In addition to the ACWA conference Fresno State hosted a webinar earlier this month discussing water infrastructure funding. I was able to watch one of them and Laura Ramos at the California Water Institute did a fantastic job. There were some last minute personnel changes at CWI that put a bigger challenge in her path and she did a great job. She even took time out in the middle of her webinar to participate in a San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint webinar put on by myself and Chris Austin of Maven’s Notebook. While I was writing that Beberian asked staff to find out if it would be better for staff to perform some of the social media in house. Bless Chauhan she did mention links can be accessed at this site https://waterwrights.net/webinars/
Chauhan said FID’s application for being designated as a Fresno County Historical Centennial Business has been placed on the Historical Society’s next meeting. If the HS likes the idea, it will forward that to the County Board of Supervisors. As it turns out Randel McFarland, a well known and longtime water savant and former Friant consultant is on the Society board. Hmm? It’s good to know powerful people.
FID will be highlighting its partnerships with other community organizations and stakeholders. There was going to be a big show but with BMV it’s been changed to a virtual. Stretch said there may be a real event after the virus ends and asked, “Who knows when that will be?”
“November 4th,” replied Beberian.
Beberian also said the virus has benefitted the district’s social media and he likes having remote meetings. Chauhan said the centennial video shot will be used in an episode of American Grown: My Job Depends on Ag: FID segment. Someone asked how long the episode is and Jacobsen said it is listed as a half hour but will actually run for 28 minutes and 30 seconds, I think. He’s the host of Valley Grown also on PBS and knows these things. Good for them. Staff is also working with the Fresno County Historical Society on a centennial publication. Chauhan said it’s a shaping up to be a good looking book.
FID has adopted some software named Board Effect. It will provide the board with options and training will be needed. It may be part of the September meeting and takes about 20 minutes. Evidently the Friant Water Authority is using it. They have a meeting coming up soon.
The next item was Administrative and Assistant GM September Singh told the board about CalPERS Open Enrollment update for employee heath care. She’s preparing a document to the board members and there were no questions.
Stretch gave his GM report saying the Kings River Water Association had a late July Fish & Wildlife Committee meeting. KRWA GM Steve Haugen gave a good update at the meeting and Jacobsen is now the Chair of the KRWA board. Stretch said somehow under Jacobsen the usual three hour meeting turned into a 90 minute meeting. Good for him and all of them.
Stretch said Friant is focused on the repairs and funding of the Friant Kern Canal. He said if existing Friant units aren’t willing to fund all of the repairs and improvements a plan to allow an outside, private interest to help fund through a member agency could be a source of money. Madera ID wrote a letter expressing great concern with this plan and it’s kind of on hold. Stretch also said the amount of water testing needed to comply with the new water quality policy will require more testing for the Serrato Intertie to put water in the FKC.
Porter is FID’s representative on FWA and he said the Friant North has disbanded. He said according to Congressman TJ Cox not to worry, Friant will get the federal funding it needs. Stretch said Friant has lined up a good bench of consultants, engineers and attorneys.
Board reports were next but they went so fast I couldn’t keep up with them. The board broke for dinner and closed session at 7:00pm. In pre-BMV days I used to enjoy a meal with FID staff while closed session droned on. It was a pleasant experience. Both the company and food were of a high caliber. It was interesting to hear how kind, intelligent and skinny all the upper management and directors are. I’m kidding, we didn’t talk much about water or work. Instead we broke bread together and shared some about our lives. I don’t miss the driving but I do miss seeing people I’ve seen regularly for years.
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Fresno Irrigation District – The Fresno Irrigation District is located at 2907 So. Maple Avenue, Fresno CA 93725 phone 559/233-7161 and meets at 4:00pm on the third Tuesday of the month at district headquarters. FID is part of the North Kings GSA
Ryan Jacobsen – President, Jerry Prieto – Vice President, Greg Beberian, Christopher Woolf & George Porter
Bill Stretch: General Manager
Adam Claes – Assistant General Manager – Operations
September Singh – Assistant General Manager – Administration
Laurence Kimura – Chief Engineer (you had him nailed down good)
Jeff Boswell – In-house Legal Counsel
Jim Irwin – Water Master
David Burrows – Water Master In Training
Michael Prestridge – Superintendent of Construction & Maintenance
DeAnn Hailey – Controller
Kassy Chauhan – Special Projects Manager/North Kings GSA Executive Officer