The Friant Water Authority held its Executive Committee meeting on Monday, August 17, 2020 remotely from its Lindsay headquarters. After an exhaustive internet search of more than five minutes (the meeting is starting a little late) I’ve found several definitions of what an executive committee is and isn’t. It is a committee, smaller than the board made up of board members who can communicate directly with the executive officer, in this case FWA Chief Executive Officer Jason Phillips, and determine what items should be given priority and placed on the agenda. The FWA executive committee is kind of like a preview of the board meeting. I’m guessing there are different legal matters concerning a public agency forming an executive committee than a business organization – obviously there is the Brown Act named after Ralph Brown that governs how a public entity of the government can operate in California and that is very different than how a private business can operate. As I wrote above, “an exhaustive five minute” search.
But since we’re on a vein of minutia and the meeting hasn’t started yet let’s talk about FWA’s governing structure. It is a joint powers authority, a JPA. When two or more government agencies, entities, districts, I’m not sure the exact term that would best cover the big tent of non-private realm, join together to deal with a common cause they can form a JPA. This entity must also follow the Brown Act and can only deal with matters under its jurisdiction. In this case all the members of FWA are water contractors who receive supplies from the Friant Kern Canal. A JPA simplifies taking care of the canal and the individual contractor’s interests. Perhaps some lawyer will write in and help extract me from any misstatements I may be making here.
Chairman Chris Tantau started the open session portion of the meeting at 10:17am saying there was no reportable action in closed session. He asked Director Cliff Loeffler to open the meeting with an invocation. There were no public comments and first and only action item was approval of the minutes from last month’s meeting. That passed unanimously. The rest of the meeting was informational reports.
The Friant Kern Canal needs fixing. There is a portion of the canal in the area where it crosses from Tulare County into Kern County were the land beneath is subsiding and warping the canal’s shape. This is causing a loss of capacity, a significant loss. The repair effort has been named the FKC Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project. FWA Chief Operating Officer Doug DeFlitch is in charge of this project. There are so many facets to this project – from easements to permits to construction contracts. DeFlitch said the permitting process is moving along and the boxes are being checked. Attorney Don Davis spoke on some of the legal considerations when working on agreements involving landowners and permitting entities such as the federal Army Corps of Engineers, the US Bureau of Reclamation and state entities such as the California Department of Fish & Wildlife and county road departments that may have bridges impacts. Choosing who is going to issue the bids is an important decision. There are big impacts on scheduling and cash outlay depending on whether FWA or the USBR is the entity consultants and construction contractors will be entering into agreements with.
Phillips next spoke about funding. He said there is a way for Friant to start the project and be reimbursed from the Bureau for about $12 million. The Groundwater Sustainability Agency overlaying the subsidence area is being invited to pay for part of the repair. The sheet Phillips presented on screen was for canal segments D&E. Between the years 2021 and 2025 the construction cash flow will need to total $215.8 million. Federal non-reimbursable funding is $95.3 million, reimbursable $12.6 million, FWA Pay as you Go $37.4 million and South Friant Kern Canal Districts would chip in $70.4 million. If I understood correctly the SFKCD payments would include Operation, Maintenance & Repair fees that all members pay. The underlying planning that has gone into these figures is available as a public document. If you’re really interested, and who would blame you? We’re talking almost half a billion dollars, go to the source documents and get the straight skinny. There’s a reason the disclaimer at the bottom of this article was written by a real lawyer and not something I made up.
FWA has been working on formulas to try and make OM&R costs as equitable as possible. Arriving at a formula everyone was willing to hold their nose and work with was very much a wild ride. The next sheet Phillips put up was also a wild ride. It showed the breakdown of each Friant contractor’s share and the percentage from each funding source owed. He said there is a scenario where some of the districts may take out a long term loan and FWA pays them back.
Tulare ID GM Aaron Fukuda asked about reimbursable costs and Phillips said there needs to be a process with the Bureau to adjust for the actual cost allocation to reimbursable and non-reimbursable figures. This may take a little negotiating and consulting of legal minds to work out. Arvin Edison WSD GM Jeevan Muhar asked about the percentage mix for SFKCD and I neither understood the question or the answer Phillips gave. But I do know Arvin is the southern most district on the FKC and has a tremendous amount at stake on restoring and even increasing capacity.
Tantau asked Phillips if the contractors upstream of the impacted area on the canal have been receptive to the current proposals. Phillips pointed out Orange Cove ID GM Fergus Morrisey (with a name like that you’d expect him to speak with an Irish brogue, but he doesn’t) has been a voice of reason and providing criticism on how to fund this. Fukuda got unmuted and told Phillips and staff he appreciated the hard work going into this and thanked them for getting enough information together to give the contracting districts a place to start. Fukuda did has some concerns about not bidding on the entire project verses the most critical portions of the project. Phillips said FWA will be going into this with eyes wide open. He said having the Bureau be the contracting authority will allow off ramps to protect Friant.
Phillips says this funding plan needs buy in from all of the board and more thinking about getting a loan or paying direct. He said there are details needing consideration. Don Willard is Friant’s Chief Financial Officer and he will have more to say no doubt.
Alex Biering began the external affairs update. She said the end of the month is the deadline for the state legislature to pass bills. Hundreds of them and more staff has tested positive for the Big Marxist Virus. She said Friant has been working with State Senator Melissa Hurtado on SB 559 for FKC funding. Biering said this continues to be a priority for Hurtado. Governor Gavin Newsom has released the California Water Resilience Portfolio. Unfortunately only state conveyance was mentioned and that was unfortunate. The good news was the proposal to change the water rights law to reflect climate change was removed. That wasn’t popular with anyone and the overwhelming objection against this by water agencies throughout the state weighed in.
AB 3030 mandate the state protect up to 30 percent of land and water resources. Consultant Mike Villines said this bill started from a Bernie Sanders supporter in Sacramento. AB 3030 is ill-defined, a dangerous amount of consequence and unintended consequence contained within it and although around all year is only now starting to get traction. He recommended FWA join with others in signing a letter in opposition. He said Hurtado is working hard on getting some state funding for the FKC repairs.
Johnny Amaral reported on the federal side the desire for elected officials to get home and start campaigning is expected to result in continuing resolution to maintain current funding. After that look for an omnibus bill during the lame duck session between November’s election and the start of the new legislative year. The Democratic Party convention is coming up and the selection of Kamala Harris as vice president will help guide how bills are viewed.
Back to the FKC & Budget
Ian Buck Macleod reported on the Pump Back Project. He said project development should resume in September after the water quality policy efforts are finished. There is some DWR funding that will expire next June and that needs to be used before then. There is an environmental compliance portion of the pump back/reverse flow plan. Having a portion of the FKC being able to flow both ways so to speak, would greatly increase the flexibility to move water around the Valley. There will be six or seven rounds of permitting needed from many agencies and having funding deadlines will most likely necessitate some modifications of agreements to keep the money available.
Phillips then presented a draft 2021 general member budget. Airborne Snow Observatory
funding was included. This draft will be presented at next week’s board meeting. As Macleod said the Bureau may find some more funding under the cushions but at this time it only wants to fund one flight. He said depending on the water year the amount of flights to funded changes. He said on a dry year the need for last season flights is reduced as there are less storms. Tantau asked to get this on the agenda.
Phillips gave his CEO report saying he’s asking for folks to get back with staff on reservations for the November retreat. He said while there will be some Big Marxist Virus considerations. But if it looks like a go they will meet at the same place but meet in a bigger room. FWA doesn’t hold a November board meeting so this retreat will supply some ideas for the December meeting. He said to be thinking about what you want Friant to be. He said the election results will be decided by then and that can guide some of the ideas presented. He said getting reservations now saves him many hours of phone calls later. Amaral added from his report the new Bill by Senator Diane Feinstein will include $15 million for ASO funds over five years, I believe he said.
Next week’s board meeting will be held remotely from the Visalia convention center. And that was that.
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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 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 form the Friant Division.
Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Doug DeFlitch, CFO Don Willard, Government Affairs & Communication Alexandra Biering, Federal Affairs Johnny Amaral, Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.