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Friant Water Authority January 27, 2022

Bermad irrigationThe Friant Water Authority held its Thursday, January 27, 2022 board of directors meeting at the Visalia Convention Center and online with the non-Zoom MS Teams. The open session was scheduled for 10:30am but things didn’t start until 10:55am with Chairman Cliff Loeffler asking attorney Don Davis to announced two things from closed session that had started at 8:30am. Clear on the time line? Davis said two positions have been approved and filled by unanimous consent. Loeffler then began the meeting with an invocation for wisdom. Good for him.

The Meeting

There were no public comments and the consent calendar was approved. The first action item was a budget amendment. Davis said as of this past Tuesday the Friant Kern Canal repairs have officially begun. The budget amendment was for wrapping up the property acquisitions and moving utilities out of the way. The board approved spending this for the canal repairs. The board also approved some extra spending on SCADA.

Somehow or other they skipped the item about reupping CEO Jason Phillips contract. His new base is $385,000 per year. Pretty good pay but this is a demanding job and it is a 24/7 gig. BTW, Phillips was not physically present. He and his family were at a US Navel base somewhere watching his son graduate from boot camp. Good for them.

Loeffler asked the board for some comments. There was consensus that under Phillip’s time things have improved greatly. The various board members listed his professionalism, his ability to work well with others and move the goals and interests of FWA forward. A sampling: Terra Bella Irrigation District Director Loren Wheaton said, “I think we’re fortunate to have Jason.” Matt Lieder of Tea Pot Dome WD said one way to look at it is the Friant Division got a 25 percent allocation and the westside got zero last year. Loeffler said he’s looking forward to working with Phillips for another five-years. The board voted unanimously to retain Phillips as CEO.

Phillips spoke up by phone and he said he’d just got on and wanted to know where they were on the agenda. That was pretty funny. He of course had been listening in said every last skill he’d acquired in his career has come to play working at Friant. He assured the board he and his wife are committed to the next five years moving FWA forward. Good for him. When you’re working 24/7 it’s best to have your spouse on board.

Reports

The first report was by Stantec Engineering’s Janet Atkinson about the canal repairs. There are a lot of moving parts here and Atkinson said the design/cost estimate is at 60 percent. It appears to me, and there are most likely readers of this who know the facts, the engineering and design facets are broken into thirds for these bigger projects. CFO Wilson Orvis said the contracts have been “scrubbed” thoroughly and a line item budget has been prepared and agreed to. He also went through some of these lines and explained where the bucks were going.

Orvis said FWA is working with the state to get the funding promised. He said DWR has been very responsive and there is good progress. He hopes to see a love letter from Governor Gav in the form of a check by mid-March. The Eastern Tule GSA also came through with a sizable check. Orvis referring to future funding said the second chunk from the state budget has been announced and there is a 218 Election at Eastern Tule no later than the end of summer to round out the next funding tranche for cash flow. He said since this is new to everyone the game plan is to go conservative with Eastern Tule.

Water Operations

            Ian Buck-Macleod, Water Resource Manager said the next two weeks look dry. There is a possibility for some rain mid-February. Snow is average and rain is still a little above average. The two biggest parts of the puzzle for Friant is the San Joaquin River watershed and the Lake Shasta watershed. He said Shasta is only at 50 percent of normal and it could be a struggle to get up to average this year. Oroville and Folsom Reservoirs are doing OK for now. On the SJR there is OK inflow to Millerton Lake at this time. There will be more releases upstream next month.

Without more rain Delta exports will start declining. However, at the moment the state owes the feds a good slug of water to balance out the Cooperative Operating Agreement. The COA is the agreement that oversees how to divide how much pumping the feds can do and how much the state can do. Macleod expects about half a million federal acre feet at San Luis Reservoir by mid-April. That equals a little bit of a buffer. It’s important to have a full SLR so San Joaquin River supplies can be used on the Valley’s east side.

Goals

Orvis presented the board with a report about one of the goals set at the last board retreat. He said one of those goals was ensuring a cost effective operations and maximize investments. That’s called the five percent reduction over the next five-years, the 5×5 plan. Some of these savings can come in part from keeping a closer eye on expenditures such as those going to the US Bureau of Reclamation and the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority costs. If I understood correctly.

Alex Biering reported on outside affairs by phone. It was very difficult to hear her clearly. I believe she said the More Water Now ballot initiative doesn’t look like it will gather the needed signatures by the deadline and that, thankfully doesn’t mean it’s dead. It’s a good idea and its time may come in the near future.

COO Johnny Amaral added DWR has come on board with the FKC repairs. They wanted their logo on all the signage and literature for the groundbreaking ceremony. That was encouraging. He also said the Mid-Pacific Region Conference in Reno Nevada earlier this month wasn’t as well attended as hoped but there was some good networking. In Washington DC the focus was the infrastructure bill, which has passed in part. It’s complicated and Friant’s political advisory team at The Ferguson Group is ready to help walk members through what is in the bill. Amaral acknowledged  Shelly Abajian from Senator Diane Feinstein’s office and volunteered her to help walk through the bills. She said she’d be happy to help direct everyone back to Amaral.

The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint

Consultant Austin Ewell reported the Blueprint has amended its bylaws and expanded its governing board to 23 seats. A chair and vice chair will soon be nominated. Congressman Jim Costa reached out with a request for input when writing a letter to the Department of Interior to request funds.

There is a Disadvantaged Community Drinking Water Feasibility Study with Friant, Fresno State and Self Help Enterprises participating. This ties in with the Collaborative Action Program which goes back to the Blueprint, which is part of the Governor’s Water Resiliency Portfolio. The Blueprint has been included as part of the San Joaquin Valley’s portion.

O&M & Other Matters

Amaral reported on O&M since Superintendent Chris Hickernell is out working on the canal repair project. Orvis reported on SLDMWA matters saying that organization has approved a 2022 OM&R budget with input from Friant and provided an update on the San Luis Transmission Line.

CEO Report

Phillips said his son Ryan is graduating from boot camp tomorrow and will be going to submarine school. He’s very proud. He also thanked FWA staff for putting together such a great groundbreaking ceremony. He said he was able to take most of the federal satraps who attended to the top of Friant Dam and show off the works. He said he was a little disappointed with the Friant bowling team at the Mid-Pacific Conference. He also said there is vicious rumor that Madera ID and Arvin Edison may have even cheated just a little.

On other matters the biological opinion is being reviewed by the Let’s Go Biden Administration. The current leader of National Marine Fisheries Service is retiring and everyone hopes whoever it is to replace him will respect science over politics. The board congratulated him on his son’s graduation. The meeting adjourned at 12:27pm, and that was that.

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FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY

854 N. Harvard Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247, Office 559/562-6305 Email: information@friantwater.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, CFO Wilson Orvis, Government Affairs & Communication Alexandra Biering, Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Superintendent Chris Hickernell, Chief of External Affairs Johnny Amaral and Attorney Don Davis.

 

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