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Friant Water Authority December 9, 2022

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Photo: Toni Marie & Jim Erickson

By Don A. Wright

The Friant Water Authority board of directors met in Visalia at the Convention Center on Friday, December 9, 2022. A little early but they’re trying to avoid meeting on Christmas. Today is a special day as it is also the last meeting for Toni Marie. Marie has been with Friant for as long as I can recall and that was when it was known as the Friant Water Users Authority. I don’t know how they will replace her.

The Meeting

            I was a bit late but I’m guessing Chairman Cliff Loeffler kicked things off with a prayer for wisdom at 10:00am after closed session. New officers were installed. Loeffler’s two years as Chairman of the Board were up. There’s been many fine men chairing Friant and Loeffler carried that responsibility as well as any of them. Friant has a deep bench, and the board chose Jim Erickson as the new Chair. Erickson is the President of the Madera Irrigation District and he’s going to be a busy man. Good for him. Good for Loeffler as well.

            Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineering reported on the Friant Kern Canal repairs. Things are going very well. She said she stopped by Deer Creek earlier this morning and showed some photos of the progress. There are berms in place should there be a good rain and the creek rises.

Deer Creek has been a valid concern for some time as winter storms can send a big gulp of water down that channel. Not being prepared for such a flow could wipe out some of the construction being done on the canal. Atkinson said the work and management team are getting things right. The quality of the concrete has exceeded and not just met specifications. More than once the wrong chemistry of cement, aggregate and water has shortened the life of a concrete project. She also said the budget is tracking well.

Director Edwin Camp asked if over all progress is ahead of schedule and Atkinson said that is the case. She said even the electrical portion is doing well. Johnny Amaral announced the canal will be back in service by February.

Water Operations

            Ian Buck-Macleod said it looks like rain. That must have felt good for him to finally say out loud. There is a storm coming through this weekend. He said so far the snow-water content has been high and temperatures have been cold. If I heard him even though we’re still on the low side this current year there is reason to hope Shasta can get four million acre feet of storage which is the number that keeps the Exchange Contractors whole. That keeps the US Bureau of Reclamation from sending extra water down the San Joaquin River to meet the Ex Con needs. That water can be used by Friant.

Buck-Macleod said Delta pumping is down due to salinity and that is slowing down San Luis Reservoir storage. He said the Bureau is concentrating taking care of upstream storage. He said there is a first flush triggered by turbidity. This operation is meant to clean up the Delta with flows. If we get a good storm that should take care of a lot of challenges currently taking place. But it won’t save the 90-percent of salmon being eaten by non-native striped bass.

On to Millerton Lake. Buck-Macleod said the natural river forecast is being exceeded by 90 percent. This is very similar to conditions at this time last year. I heard him say there is a reason to hope for a 50 percent or better allocation. There will be an early ASO flight next month that will inform the data for allocations. If the San Joaquin River watershed yields two-million-acre feet there will be some problems with canal capacity – I guess that’s better problem than not enough water to fill capacity.

Banta Carbona ID is located on the San Joaquin River and is one of the places where restoration water can be diverted to be used again. Rufino Gonzalez from the Bureau said the cold weather is a blessing.

Buck-Macleod said a cooperative agreement for the FKC water quality review is coming together. The committee has met to discuss salinity and other issues. An EIR is proposed and the public comment will be open until next month. There will be a public scoping meeting next Tuesday afternoon.

External Affairs

            Alex Biering said the state legislature is meeting again. She said State Senator Melissa Hurtado won by 50-votes. Wow. She said there will be changes in Senate and Assembly leadership. John Laird and Mike McGuire have been mentioned for the senate. There has been drama at the Assembly and it is hopeful Robert Rivas will take that leadership position. He’s considered by ag to be a little easier to work with.

Johnny Amaral said to keep an eye out for a butt load of stop-gap measures to extend the spending authority. Congressman Kevin McCarthy of Bakersfield is the favorite to become Speaker of the House. This would be a good benefit for Friant but it’s not a done deal yet. David Valadao and John Duarte both won their congressional races. Amaral had the same message I’ve been hearing – bring the elected officials and their staff on tour.


            Chris Hickernell gave his report and said Friant has gone 2,229 days in a row without a lost time accident. Good for them. The Friant vehicle and equipment fleet is being well maintained with schedules being adhered to. This past year only 300,000 a/f was delivered. That’s a lot of water but normal is 1.4 million a/f. He said the lull allowed a couple of districts to refurbish turnouts.

Water Blueprint

            Austin Ewell showed up dressed oddly like FWA Executive Director Jason Phillips. Both were wearing blue shirts with dark sport coats. I would make fun of them but that’s what I was wearing also.  Ewell reported Governor Gavin Newsom’s infrastructure liaison Antonio Villaraigosa has received the Blueprint’s wish list. That’s a story in itself. The Collaborative Action Plan is still moving forward. The California Water Institute at Fresno State is working on a domestic well study with Self Help Enterprises. That is currently focused on Fresno County but should be expanded as time goes on.

San Luis Delta Mendota

            Wilson Orvis gave an update on what’s happening out in Los Banos. He said there are still ongoing accounting allocations being discussed between Friant and SLDM. There is also an aging infrastructure grant application. There was one for the Delta Mendota Canal for $800 million. This is for revolving holiday themed decorations. Oh, you did read this far. The money is for subsidence repairs.

The Last Retreat

Phillips reported on the recent board retreat and said this will probably be the last year they call it a retreat. He said there was a tremendous amount accomplished. Loeffler agreed and thanked staff for such a successful event and recognized the heavy lift they did to pull this off. He said much of this will be discussed in closed session.

Orvis reported there is a white paper showing some of the topics and consensus arrived at from the retreat discussions. There are more tasks needing attention beyond just the capacity correction. Buck-Macleod said some of the districts want an activity agreement for certain projects. He said he’ll have a draft scope of work and a preliminary budget by next month.

CEO Report

Phillips pointed out his report might be a little longer since things are ahead of schedule. He also said there is a better way to conduct business than praying for rain every year when there is a solution available. He suggested praying not just for rain but for policy change.

Phillips said before the Sino Cooties Friant used to hold annual meetings with dinners and a special speaker. The location moves from area to area and gives the public a chance to interact. The last one I attended was at Buck Owen’s Crystal Palace in Bakersfield. It’s a great venue but a bunch of rowdy plumb farmers sat behind me and I couldn’t hear a good deal of the presentation. I didn’t ask them to be quiet for fear of them reporting me to Toni Marie.

It’s a bit of a sad note for me, this being Loeffler’s last meeting as Chairman although as I mentioned above the Authority is in good hands with Erickson. Phillips thanked and praised Loeffler for his incredible dedication. Lunch was served with a retirement party for Marie. That was that Friant wise for 2022.


After the meeting there was a retirement party for Toni Marie. The caterers at the Visalia Convention Center serve good food. Beef, pork, scalloped potatoes, green beans still crisp and a delicious layered cake was on the menu. The multiple testimonies from staff, board and constituents was heartwarming, funny and confirmed my suspicions. Toni Marie doesn’t put up with nonsense from anyone yet there is a respectful and kind person there. Change comes and I join with the folks at Friant in wishing her a blessed retirement.

Publisher’s Note: Be sure to tune in on December 16th for the American Ground Water Trust’s Webinar concerning what to do with idle wells, featuring Aegis Groundwater’s Chris Johnson and Red-Trac’s Greg Allen.

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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, CFO Wilson Orvis, Government Affairs & Communication Alexandra Biering, Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Buck-Macleod, Superintendent Chris Hickernell, Chief of External Affairs Johnny Amaral and Attorney Don Davis.