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Friant Water Authority April 27, 2023

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By Don A. Wright

The Friant Water Authority board of directors met at the Bello Vita Event Center in Visalia on Thursday, April 27, 2023. Closed session began at 8:30am with three existing lawsuits and one anticipated suit and one initiation of a suit. They knew somehow there would be a long discussion because they listed 11:00am as the start time for open session. That proved an underestimation by more than one hour.

The Meeting

Chairman Jim Erickson called the meeting to order shortly before noon. The meeting commenced with a pretty good lunch. I don’t wear a chicken boy hat and prefer beef but the chicken and rice was good. It was also refreshing to find mandarins and almonds in the salad. We should be eating what we grow.

The consent calendar was passed with some minor changes in the minutes and the bills were paid. Action items were next but there were so few as to not require a separate heading. The board heard a reasonable appeal from Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod for the FWA to pass a resolution to participate in the US Bureau of Reclamation’s snow water supply forecast grant. The board passed the resolution. CFO Orvis Wilson gave the audit report for 2022 and hands down, my favorite audit report ever. It only took a couple of minutes and the board approved.

FKC Repairs

Stantec Engineer Janet Atkinson gave an update on the repair work taking place along the Friant Kern Canal where subsidence has impacted flows the most. This area is centered at about the Tulare/Kern County line and near Deer Creek. Deer Creek flooded, a lot. It impacted construction and left a good deal of trouble and water behind. The barrow pit flooded but they’ve been able to get the excavation equipment out of the sink.

Atkinson reported most of the construction is back on track. It helped that the work was ahead of schedule. Turnouts are the focus now. As the canal is being improved it is still necessary to get the water out of the canal to the districts to send to their growers.

Water Operations

Buck-Macleod reported April has been drier than March but this is still a record setting water year. Shasta will get a normal year. Folsom and Oroville are operating with flood releases. Both the Central Valley Project and the State Water Project allocations are at 100 percent. Good deal. The Clovis Rodeo (one of the top four or five nationally) is always the last weekend in April. It is either hot or cold and wet. Saturday’s forecast is 99 degrees and that will of course increase snowmelt. But it is supposed to cool off dramatically next week and we should have better conditions for less flooding this spring. With 300 percent of normal snowpack in the Central Sierra a warm rain at high elevations could put the flood hurt to many more than before.

Buck-Macleod said there could be a need to adjust Class Two water from Millerton Lake as Friant Dam is spilling flood water that is also part of the uncontrolled season. The latest ASO flight estimate is more than 4.2 million acre feet of San Joaquin River runoff. The trick this year according to Buck-Macleod is operating Friant Dam when uncontrolled season ends around the end of May to preserve as much storage as possible. Figuring out how to balance Class One, Class Two, uncontrolled, 215 and restoration flows coming from Friant Dam is challenging. Before the Airborne Snow Observatory started flying the estimates were not as firm. The Bureau might make decisions on different estimates than the state.

Gov’t Mischief

Next Mike Villines called it in from Sacramento with help from COO Johnny Amaral in the room. Villines said there are 2,700 bills making their serpentine way through process. He said the most disturbing are several bills moving along party lines to grant great powers to the unelected and largely unaccountable State Water Resource Control Board. An exception is AB389 it’s entered the state senate side with a pronounced limp. State Senators Anna Caballero and Melisa Hurtado have bills that are promising. Villines said 54 out of 58 counties are under emergency orders and the tax due date has been moved to the fall which will impact the budget hard. Villines said the good news is the state money for Friant is locked in.

Amaral said there isn’t a lot happening in Washington DC. He is now on the California Farm Water Coalition board and they do a good job on education. His membership is indicative of the CFWC taking a more proactive posture on water matters. Good for them. The US State Department asked for him to lead a tour on May 15th 2:00pm for Romanian diplomats on the FKC repairs. There will be a Washington DC trip coming up and he invited members to join him and take the Hill.

There was a congressional hearing and tour last month in Tulare and FWA CEO Jason Phillips testified. There will be a Water Education Foundation tour of Friant Dam and consultant Austin Ewell will be leading it. Then there is the ACWA conference in Monterey next month. He asked everyone attending to let staff know. They have a dinner planned. He also said Speaker of the House and Bakersfield Congressman Kevin McCarthy got the spending vote passed by two. He only has four extra votes but he’s been hanging in there.


Superintendent Chris Hickernell reported things are still accident free, good for them. He said his crew has gone way, way above and beyond dealing with the flood impacts along the FKC. A lot of property has been saved thanks to the good folks at Friant andLidco Inc. other water districts. Hickernell said things are drying out and work is resuming. He also said FWA has accrued carbon credits so they won’t have trouble with the Smog Patrol as more earth moving and other tasks requiring heavy equipment commences.

Blueprint & San Luis Delta Mendota Reports

Ewell reported on the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley. The big news is the Hallmark Group has been retained to help with screening and prioritizing projects. There is a farmer summit between the Delta and Valley growers that has been postponed due to flooding. It may well come about in the fall. The Blueprint and the California Water Institute at Fresno State have received a $1 million grant to further a drinking water study. Good for them.

Orvis reported on the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority. Friant pays a good share of the expenses incurred by SLDMWA under the Exchange Contract. He attends the finance committee meetings at SLDM and is involved in the rate setting.

CEO Report

Phillips said the reason California has a water problem is known and you would have heard why if you attended the congressional field hearing or the annual FWA dinner. But if you haven’t heard you can attend the California Water Alliance in Fresno next week. That was the end of the meeting at 1:05pm. Pretty short except for the parts that weren’t.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2023 by Don A. Wright


854 N. Harvard Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247, Office 559/562-6305

The Friant Water Authority is a Joint Powers Agreement with 15 districts to operate and maintain the Friant Division of the Central Valley Water Project. Water from the San Joaquin River is diverted at Friant Dam at Millerton Lake to the Madera/Chowchilla Canal to the north and the Friant/Kern Canal to the south. More than one million acres of mostly family farms and numerous communities get their surface supplies from the Friant Division.

Board: Chair Jim Erickson, Vice Chair Rick Borges

Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Johnny Amaral, CFO Wilson Orvis, Water Resources Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Alexandria Biering Government Affairs/Communications Manager, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.