The Friant Water Authority met at the Wyndham Hotel in Visalia on Friday December 8, 2017. Wound up here more than an hour early to make up for all the times I’m late. I noticed what I believe to be new name plates. The frames are gold, the plates themselves a very dark grey and the lettering is white. I’m not sure of the font but it is san serif and has a strong touch of art deco. There’s a hierarchy to them – the directors have a two-tiered affair with their names spelled out on the top half and the entity they represent on the lower half; also spelled out but with the type of entity abbreviated i.e. ID for irrigation district and so forth. The managers have only one level of name plate with their names spelled out and the entity completely abbreviated in a much smaller font size.
Chairman Kent Stephens called the meeting to order at 9:00 am and graciously thanked all the staff and fellow members for their great deal of work and effort. Before giving the traditional invocation Lindsay Strathmore ID Director Clifton Loeffler introduced Craig Wallace as the new general manager. Wallace will be replacing Scot Edwards who will become a consultant. Loeffler prayed and mentioned those caught in the wild fires in Southern California and those climbing back from the fires of Northern California.
Chief Executive Officer Jason Phillips led the group with a debriefing of the recent board of directors’ retreat that took place on November 16th and 17th at Wuksachi Lodge in Sequoia National Park. Nine directors and 11 FWA staffers attended. Phillips said this was well attended but there was room for more directors and he felt it would be even more effective with more directors. Somehow or other they gave Phillips a hard time in good fun and I missed it. Too bad for me. There was a great deal of interaction to the point those attending were taxed mentally, but the directors pushed through. The location had very limited wi-fi and almost no cell which contributed in a very good way to achieving the goal of determining how to implement the strategic plan and the sustainability of the authority. Also discussed was governance; are the meeting effective and run properly? For instance; how to arrange the table at the full board meeting which led to changing the venue to the International Ag Center in Tulare starting next month. How to attract qualified directors and elected officials? There is a need for the next generation of directors to pass the institutional knowledge along. An entire session was devoted to improving outreach and engagement. Increased participation at home board meetings by FWA staff is one way to keep the membership informed. But more is needed and there are plans to increase the outreach beyond the Friant family. The last topic was operations and management of the system. There are many challenges currently facing Friant – from conveyance loss in the Friant Kern Canal due to subsidence to the actual contract with the US Bureau of Reclamation that comes up in less than five-years. Phillips said the relationship with the Bureau is in good shape and he intends to keep it that way. Both the FWA members and the government are interested in transferring title of the canal and that is a very big deal. There are still many moving pieces to this and questions about fundamentally is this a good idea for Friant contractors? What other facilities such as the Madera Canal? Stephens added his skepticism was overcome early in the retreat and found it to be an excellent opportunity and regrets all the directors couldn’t be there. He suggested in the future combine the retreat with one of the Association of California Water Agencies conferences as a way to kill two birds with one rock.
At the end of the year there needs to be scheduling for the upcoming year and the board approved the proposed dates for the executive committee meeting. Following that vote moving the board meetings from the current hotel in Visalia to the International Ag Center in Tulare. Stephens asked the representatives from Madera and Chowchilla if there was a problem with added nine or 10-miles to their trip. Madera ID Director Jim Erickson said the big problem is getting through Fresno in the morning. Somebody spoke up and suggested taking the Bullet Train. Anyway, FWA will be meeting at the new location starting in 2018 and those meeting dates were approved as well.
Sacramento based Bureau man Jeff Rieker, Operations Manager for the Mid Pacific Region was in attendance and invited to speak. Phillips had some good words to say about Rieker as did Stephens. He was called the new Ron Milligan. Rieker had visited the area yesterday and said he’s been with the Bureau for 18-years but will probably spend the next five to six years being compared to Milligan. He started at the Denver Office but has spent most of his time in the Mid Pacific Region and has served in the Washington DC office as well. Most of the Central Valley Project operations run through his offices and some duties are shared with the Fresno office ran by Michael Jackson. Rieker said he’s very pleased to be working with Friant and other San Joaquin Valley contractors. I believe I heard there are more than 150 folks working under him. He looks a little like Billy Breckenridge as portrayed by Jason Priestly in the Kurt Russel/Val Kilmer film Tombstone and a little bit like David Orth of the California Water Commission.
Rieker said he understands the big question on everyone’s mind is how does he like the furnishings of his new office. Ok, I made that up. He said everyone wants to know the CVP allocation for the upcoming year. Rieker reviewed the current reservoir conditions through the state and said the supplies are looking good. He hopes this will be helpful come February as the annual dance with the fish agencies begin. He cited some of the variables that can come into play such as any large flows into the Delta causing turbidity and draw fish towards the pumping plants. He said some good storms to the south would be most welcome but there is a good buffer in the reservoirs and one way or the other it will be an interesting spring.
Phillips said last year there was talks with the Bureau about a 200,000 a/f storage in San Luis Reservoir in March. Right now, there is 800,000 a/f in SLR of federal storage. In addition the Cross Valley Canal depends on the state side to move water and he told Rieker to help push the state side. Chowchilla WD Director Kole Upton commented about the changed attitude regarding providing the Exchange Contractors with Friant water. He told Rieker it’s not just grizzled farmers depending on Friant water but many communities need it to survive. Rieker said he understands Upton’s comments and he is working on getting federal water through the Cross Valley Canal. Lindmore ID GM Michael Hagman asked Rieker how much latitude he’ll have to operate the CVP. Rieker said the front office has been very supportive of his office’s decision making. He said many if not most of the folks working under Milligan are still there.
Phillips next spoke about Temperance Flat Reservoir. Consulting Manager and engineer Bill Swanson was in attendance to give an update. I don’t know anyone better acquainted with Temp Flat than Swanson. He and Phillips were working on it many years ago. I heard him speak often at the Upper San Joaquin River Task Force. Swanson said this project has been under study for many years. He said the Bureau did a great deal of work but its feasibility plan wasn’t well thought out and yielded only a small benefit. Temp Flat can work much harder and fundamentally change the way the San Joaquin River is operated. The dam will be constructed at the place where the SJR enters Millerton Lake and hold three times as much water as Friant Dam. With the use of a main tunnel and coffer dams no interruption in Friant operations will be needed. Temp Flat is one of 11 projects to be considered by the California Water Commission for Prop One funding. A new feasibility study that goes much further than the previous Bureau study finds a very big benefit or rather a bunch of very big benefits. The value to Friant is new captured water supply. It also allows for more flexibility by providing better storage options for both the east and west sides of the Valley. There are opportunities for westside contractors to work with Friant to help prevent spills at San Luis Reservoir. Same for refuges, it can store water from wet years for dry times. And, a very big deal is Temp Flat can serve as an emergency south of Delta supply, depending on who participates. Swanson said there is good public and investor benefits. Even hydropower will be in better shape although the Kerkoff Power Plant will be inundated, a stable head pressure unavailable with Friant Dam alone will allow a net increase in power generation. The estimated project timeline has it operational by 2033.
Phillips said the investors partnership is going to have to be larger than Friant but he believes this needs to be primarily investors from the Valley. I asked how this presentation was received at the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Agency workshop yesterday. I shimmied out early. Jeff Payne was there and he said he believes the folks at SLDM were receptive and willing to learn more. So that was good news.
Next Phillips welcomed Tim Quinn, Executive Director of ACWA. He said the San Joaquin Valley is in crisis due to overdraft of groundwater. If the groundwater recharge can’t be achieved in a hurry more than half a million acres of farmland will have to be laid fallow. He has been discussing this in detail with Quinn and he looks forward to working with ACWA.
Quinn spoke and said it has been five-years since he’s had the pleasure to speak with the Friant Board. He said the two groups that have fought the hardest for increased surface storage in California has been Friant and ACWA. He sees Temp Flat as the most flexible project for both above and bellow the Delta. He said when Governor Jerry Brown first took office this term he was totally tunnels. ACWA didn’t agree the process needs to be limited to just the Delta and has worked to get a more comprehensive water plan from the Brown administration. He said parking water in surface storage until it can be recharged and repeated as often as possible is the only way to get the basin replenished. He pointed out ACWA now has an ag committee and that committee is poised to reach out to other committees and insure ag’s views and needs are represented. Quinn urged those interested in the ag committee to sign up and to also attend the legislative committee. He named someone familiar to us, Lauren Layne, the Fresno based attorney who is now the vice chair of the legislative committee and Quinn said he’s been very impressed with her. She is pretty dang smart. Food security for the United States of America and water policy are joined at the hip and Quinn said there is a new movie coming out to illustrate this. Quinn said Phillips spoke with him about ag’s support for the Jerry Meral bond and convinced him the need for ACWA to speak up in support. He said urban support is still weak and he’s working on this. He said the hated SB 623 is forcing local governments to pay a water tax to go for fixes outside their areas and the Democratic legislators will take credit for helping but in reality are really just spending other peoples’ money.
Stephens thanked Quinn for his time and recalled a discussion years ago they had regarding SGMA. He said he about fell out of his chair when he heard ACWA was one of the promoters of SGMA but was happy to hear of ACWA’s commitment with the Groundwater Replenishment Task Force to getting water to the SJV. Phillips also thanked Quinn for his time and was pleased to hear ACWA’s stance on SB 623. Quinn said the solution when someone steals your tractor isn’t to steal your neighbor’s tractor. He was quoting Upton actually, in regard to a petition, from Westlands WD many years ago. Arvin Edison Director Edwin Camp asked Quinn what the chances are of getting Brown on board with the Water Bond. Quinn said getting allies within California’s labor and construction factions together is the best way to reach the gov.
The $605,000 call for funds and the financial report were approved. Many other wonderful and amazing things took place at the last Friant Water Users meeting of 2017; like they bough themselves a backhoe and went into closed session. God bless them everyone.
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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 11 districts to operate and maintain the Friant Division of the Central Valley 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, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.