The Friant Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, April 29, 2021 from the Visalia Convention Center and on WebEx. The meeting began at 9:00am in closed session with four property negotiations, one case of anticipated litigation and one initiation of litigation. In case you’ve ever wondered what goes on in closed session the Ralph M. Brown Act requires public meetings to be held in public but for personnel matters, real property negotiations, litigation and dancing girls serving whiskey and cigars.* Not really, I never met Ralph but I suspect as a member of the California legislature he would have no part in making private property negotiations sacred.
This should be a good meeting and we’ll see things here we’ll see no where else on earth. Like the new cat named Wilson Orvis taking the Chief Financial Officer baton from Don Willard. Wherever you’ve gone Don, thank you for helping me understand some of the intricacy of government accounting at this level. It takes a gentleman to explain these things and I found Mr. Willard to always willing to take the time and patience with me. Also, Friant is slated to invest in a new utility tractor and the usual riotous approval of an auditor. I understand the two warring factions have taken a page from the British Parliament and separated themselves two sword lengths apart.
At 10:47am the closed session emerged with attorney Don Davis stating the board approved the purchase of the Orandi trust property. Chairman Cliff Loeffler asked the board to weigh in on the consent calendar and the board approved but for the minutes which were not ready. Secretary Toni Marie has been out sick, bless her. The board adopted Resolution No. 2021-05 authorizing Orvis to sign the checks.
The utility tractor decision was next. Orvis said they saved $10 grand and the board said it will be a good look for the Delano Maintenance Yard. In 2020 the board approved a new computer server but the expense wasn’t entailed until 2021. Orvis asked to move that expenditure to 2020 for bookkeeping purposes. The board found this reasonable. Or maybe Orvis asked to move the 2020 budget expense to 2021, either way the board approved.
The auditor needs to be swapped out every few years. Orvis recommended the Fresno CPA firm Hudson and Henderson. The Double H brand has been burned into the hide of many public water agencies here in the San Joaquin Valley. Also the firm has experience of working with an entity that conducts more than $75 million with the federal government. Orvis thanked Fresno and Madera Irrigation Districts for the reference and if I understood correctly H & H does the audit for the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint. Good for them. Orvis said FWA is running behind on wrapping up the audits and he expects this to be fixed muy pronto, by this summer. The board agreed and hired the firm according to finance committee recommendations.
Updates & Reports
Next the talk turned to the Friant Kern Canal repairs. Officially the FKC Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project. COO Doug DeFlitch said the solicitation for bids should be out this May. He said the Tulare County MOU is making progress as is the land acquisition effort, evidenced by one agreement with the Orandi landowners. He said there will be a May 18th bid webinar followed by a drive through of the 10-mile impacted stretch on the 20th.
Janet Atkinson of Stantec said the design work on the pump stations needing replacement will reach the 30 percent design phase in June. Brock Buche, City of Fresno asked if there is a cost estimate. Atkinson said there is an estimate but it could change.
Johnny Amaral was by himself as Alex Beiringer and Mike Villines were not available for today’s meeting. Too bad because Amaral had good news. SB 559 is making headway through the process. Amaral mentioned Governor Gavin Newsom’s declaration of an emergency drought for only two counties is raising hell in the Valley. CEO Jason Phillips said in addition to having the governor not declaring a drought emergency, the actions the State is taking are unbelievable . The State has sued the federal government to force it to send more water out to sea. Phillips conveyed to the Governor’s Cabinet not to sue. He said the Voluntary Agreements are actions by the state to send more water out to sea. Phillips said the table has been set for ag in the Valley over the past 30-years through a series of inaction on water infrastructure combined with regulations reducing deliveries. If just one of the reservoirs approved under the President Bill Clinton and Governor Gray Davis administrations had been built we wouldn’t be in this position. Senator Melissa Hurtado has put forth the bill to invest in water infrastructure – the gov’s office not supporting any of the current $2 billion surplus funding for canals. Phillips said we need help from Newsom.
One of the reasons I’ve heard Gavin hasn’t been more proactive in declaring a drought is there are folks in Los Angeles and Southern California who don’t want to have a state decree telling them what they can and can’t do with the water supplies they receive. I think about half the people in California live there and with a recall election coming up maybe he wants their friendship. Also, and I’m just asking, is it coincidence that Newsom is a wine dealer and the only two counties declared a drought emergency are Sonoma and Mendocino where wine is grown? I’m glad they’re getting help, they’re famers after all. But it does look a little peculiar. Also I checked but the French Laundry Restaurant is in Napa County.
On the federal side Amaral said there are many infrastructure proposals from both the Dems and Republicans that are being hampered by the “greening” of some elected officials. There is a chance a third of the FKC repairs could come from the feds and that would be a blessing. Amaral said every 10-years the census bureau does a headcount and reapportions congressional districts. The states redraw the districts and that changes things. California and New York will be losing seats. States gaining are all in the south but for Oregon. The Dem majority in the House is currently only five seats. This reapportionment could be a good thing sounds like.
Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod gave his report and started by saying it ain’t a rosy picture. He said no more precipitation expected but a higher than normal temperature spell will reduce much of what’s left of the snowpack. I believe he said this year is the lowest inflow to Lake Shasta ever and maybe the sixth lowest for Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River. He did say the New Melones and Don Pedro Reservoirs are not that far below average for this time of year and that is helping somewhat. He said State Board requirements are restricting Delta pumping to the minimum. This is causing pump problems that could cost millions of dollars.
The Exchange Contractors are called that because they exchanged their San Joaquin River water for imported water from the Delta. The US Bureau of Reclamation has an obligation to provide Ex Con with water and they have the most senior water rights. In 2014-2015 the Bureau sent water down the SJR from Millerton to Ex Con and gave Friant nothing. That’s why Friant is always keeping on eye on a call on SJR water. However, the state pumping plants have fallen behind and there is an imbalance forming in San Luis Reservoir in favor of the Central Valley Project if I understood correctly.
Buck-Macleod said the last Airborne Snow Survey was flown on April 1st with another fight next week. He said the Creek Fire led folks to believe there would be more runoff but the snow levels were lower this season than usual. Somehow that caused less runoff than expected. Water follows the path of least resistance and is happy to soak into dry soil if it can. The audio cut out some but I think he said the recapture of SJR water at Banta Carbona ID was impacted and there probably won’t be more than 10,000 a/f brought back into the system from that location.
Phillips sent Ernest Conant, the Regional USBR Director a letter thanking him for the transparency and cooperation in operations but there was mention about concerns with the status at San Luis Reservoir.
SJV Water Blueprint
Austin Ewell gave his report saying there are 12 participants at this time for moving water from the California Aqueduct to the Tulare Lake area. This fits the Blueprint very well with the participants contributing to the costs of studying such a regional project. It takes a lot to put a large, public project like this together.
The San Joaquin Valley Water Collaborative Action Project is being hosted by Stanford and Fresno State Universities and others. There are five caucuses with distinct interests coming together under Tim Quinn with Jim Waldo leading the facilitation have developed a problem statement. Ag, NGOs, DACs, municipalities, enviros are all working together on this. Come to find out they all need more water. Loeffler asked how things are going. Ewell said he thinks things are progressing at a natural pace. He said the CAP is a delicate process and time isn’t being friendly with government funding pending. He said he’d like to be able to bring some solutions everyone likes to the table but he’s said things are moving forward.
Phillips said there are groups at the CAP they would have liked to be a part of the Blueprint but were not willing to do so. He sees this CAP process as a way to bring trust where it didn’t exist before. The focus of the Blueprint is to bring the necessary resources to bear and that hasn’t changed.
There is a study taking place to find where locations along the FKC could benefit from more drinking water improvements which the state is now interested in. I believe this study is by Friant, Fresno State and the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability, an NGO law firm working with DACs. That’s a good start. The drought may even help speed up the process. The audio became bad again and about half of what Ewell and Phillips were saying was tuned out.
Orvis reported on the recent San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority meeting and said SLDM hired California Strategies to do lobbying. He said he provided notes in the packet. Phillips said he’d like Orvis to be added as an alternate on the SLDM finance committee. One of Orvis’ job duties is to track San Luis.
Phillips started by saying he’d like to talk more about his feelings for the government. But stopped himself. He said the next board meeting is photo day, just like grade school. One of the issues Friant wants to nail down is better communications. He said everyone wants a process that works for everyone. There will be a discussion on the Brown Act and other ethics and legal matters next month. Organizational communication and decision making is part of the strategic plan and will be addressed. Good for them. The meeting then went into closed session for one more item and that was that.
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*I made this same joke several years ago and a former director somewhere actually wrote me saying it was denigrating to the ladies in the room during closed session. Really? Really, that was the takeaway.
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FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY
854 N. Harvard Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247, Office 559/562-6305 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org www.friantwater.org
The Friant Water Authority is a Joint Powers Agreement with 17 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.
Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Doug DeFlitch, CFO Wilson Orvis, Government Affairs & Communication Alexandra Biering, Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Superintendent Chris Hickernell, Chief of External Affairs Johnny Amaral, Director of Technology Christopher Hunter and Attorney Don Davis.