The Friant Water Authority Executive Committee was held on Tuesday, February 16, 2021 at its Lindsay headquarters and remotely on Webex. The meeting started in closed session at 8:30am and the public portion was scheduled to began at 10:00am but actually was called to order at 10:07am. In that little bit of time before the meeting started it sounded like someone was chowing down on something crispy. I’m talking crunching and lip smacking. Good for him or her. Chairman Cliff Loeffler reported there was no reportable action from closed session and there was no public comment. There was a slight revision to the minutes to recognize Loeffler was made chair.
The first report came from Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineering on the Friant Kern Canal repairs. She said the draft MOU with Tulare County has undergone a lot of work in the past month. FWA, the US Bureau of Reclamation and Tulare County have been working away. She expects this will be wrapped up in time for this month’s board meeting. Due to scheduling the draft MOU won’t be before the Tulare County Board of Supervisors until April. She said there have been 20 offers for land needed for the repairs out of 27 parcels impacted.
Attorney Don Davis said he thinks things are in pretty good shape and the MOU should be moving forward. The Bureau may have some problems with the indemnity the county wants. COO Doug DeFlitch said the big goal is right of way for the construction to begin and that will include property as well as utility features. There are still landowner negotiations to finish. Davis said for the most part the contractor will coordinate its building schedule around the land procurement.
How will these repairs be paid for? CEO Jason Phillips said the management team has been working towards meeting the schedule. The plan calls for the contractor to tie in the new repairs with the old sections of the FKC in early 2024. That tie in will match with the rewatering of the canal and the new features will be filled for the first time.
Brian Thomas walked the committee through the funding plan. He said the construction costs can change from the $241 million for construction. There has already been almost $23 million dedicated and the Bureau is looking at kicking in $150 million with FWA having to pay back $50 million. Gathering all the funds at one time isn’t going to happen so there has to be a cash flow plan in place to pay on time installments. Between now and the beginning of 2023 the project needs $42.3 million and this has been broken down into quarterly payments for each district. It ranged from Tri Valley Water District’s low of $1,238 to Delano Earlimart Irrigation District’s $6.4 million high. Some of the members have been hesitant about committing to these costs. The City of Fresno is looking at $2.3 million and Fresno ID is looking at $439,000. Both are upstream of the problem.
Phillips said there are options where FWA takes out a loan and the members pay it back. Some of the districts don’t want to assume that extra layer of interest. Director Rick Borges, Tulare ID said his board needs some solid numbers as soon as possible. He was concerned that any scheduling changes could cause more than one payment to come due at a time. That is a scenario that could place his district (and others) in a bind. Director Chris Tantau speaking for the Kaweah Delta WCD said since their share is relatively small they will pay up front. Director Edwin Camp, Arvin Edison WCD said his district is ready to move as quickly as possible. Arvin is downstream of the problem and therefore it is absorbing a greater impact.
Phillips said of all the member entities pay their share before the end of the construction that is like FWA having $50 million in the bank of reimbursed funds from the Bureau if I understood correctly. At that point FWA could repay the members or paydown Bureau costs, but that is a discussion for the future. There are also funds coming from Groundwater Sustainability Agencies taking responsibility for the subsidence that created the problem.
Friant Water Resources Manager Ian Buck-Macleod said this report is better than it could have been. The Sacramento River watershed did get some cold storms that left better snowpack but didn’t contribute to Delta inflows. What happens in Lake Shasta has impacts on the Friant Division of the Central Valley Project. He said the Central Sierra Nevada and San Joaquin River watershed have had snowpack improvements. In the Delta there are many challenges remaining that could cause a zero allocation on South of Delta Ag contractors. However, he didn’t expect calls on the SJR to meet Exchange Contractor supplies.
Buck-Macleod said the ASO flights are shaping up. He’d like to see a March 1st date but if they fly earlier that would be OK. He said the SJR Restoration flows have been figured into estimates. The recapture permit expires this April and the USBR is petitioning the State Board to get a new one. There are catches because the State Board says you can’t capture flows until after the snowfall.
Alex Biering reported state Senator Melissa Hurtado will be introducing a bill to fund repairs on the FKC and the San Luis Delta Mendota Canal. Governor Gavin Newsom, the Guv, is looking at a recall challenge. There are reports the 1.5 million signatures needed have been collected but they are looking for a safety margin and will continue collecting signatures until the March deadlines. Biering said this has pushed the Guv into more of a campaign mode which can be a double edged sword.
Johnny Amaral said now that impeachment 2.0 is over Congress went home. They are expected to return to Washington DC next week and get started on Virus relief and other legislation. There is some hope the feds might want to pitch in some further funding on California’s water infrastructure. He said the past year has been odd in not being able to visit the FKC users’ home boards. He asked all those listening – if you’re starting to have in person meetings again please contact him. He and Phillips would like to pay them a visit.
The Other Side of the Valley
DeFlitch reported he wasn’t at the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority Finance Committee meeting but he said Phillips and CFO Don Willard were. Phillips said there was a vote on the SLDMWA executive compensation proposal and FWA abstained. Someone from Westlands voted no but that was due to the late reveal of the proposed pay package. It was a five percent bump to the executive staff team. Phillips said he abstained not because he felt the amount was unwarranted but because he felt it wasn’t FWA’s place to weigh in on the matter. The pay raise was approved by the full board at a later SLDMWA meeting.
Phillips said he’s sending out an announcement that Wilson Orbis will become the new FWA CFO. Orbis will start March 14th after leaving the USBR and Phillips said he is very pleased and it took a feat similar to parting the Red Sea to bring this about. He’s not sending out a press release until later. They are vetting any conflict that could have been a result of Orbis working on Friant Division matters and there are no problems expected. Phillips said he had an adventurous trip home from Atlanta due to the weather. The meeting then went back into closed session for one more item at 11:12am. That was almost that but Phillips added that he is moderating two panels at the Urban Water Institute later this week that will include Dr. David Sunding and some farmers that will go over SGMA and the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint. He said as this discussion continues there will be more controversy and conflict. He reminded the board he will try to avoid conflict, next to resolve conflict or if worse comes to worse and conflict comes he will keep Friant’s interests first. I’m not sure which director said so but he continues to stress the Blueprint isn’t SGMA. That particular director was referring to the education of the folks in Madera. In any event I hope you notice Phillips is a man of integrity. Good for him.
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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 Don Willard, 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.