The Friant Water Authority held its board of directors meeting remotely by Webex on Thursday, January 28, 2021. While waiting for the meeting to come out of closed session and the open portion begin at the scheduled10:00am start it was raining outside. I hope it’s raining or snowing wherever you are in California. We’ve needed it and I expect someone at today’s meeting to thank God for it. Not always but the vast majority of the time these water entity meetings are much more pleasant with participants generally in possession of above average amounts of good will if conducted while it’s raining. I think that’s because most of the directors are farmers and farmers are like ducks; they love the rain. Except during harvest and planting and bloom set and such. But mostly they just love the rain. And why not? The San Joaquin Valley can be dry and hot at times. Which is good for crops but having some cool, wet weather cleans the air and the spirit.
The small video box within the screen shows many of the directors at the FWA Lindsay headquarters conference room. They had been meeting at the Visalia convention center. Today’s meeting will have a good deal of focus on the Friant Kern Canal. The old girl is sagging due to subsidence and that is limiting the amount of water than can be conveyed. To fully restore it and provide space beyond design capacity will cost $500 million.
The Meeting Begins
Chairman Cliff Loeffler called the meeting at 10:10am and began with thanking former Chair Chris Tantau for his guidance, hard work and intelligence. I’ll second that. Tantau has always been accessible and straightforward. Loeffler said this meeting is coming from the new conference room at the Lindsay HQ. He said his father was born in 1916 and ran a mule team. He says his father was a good man and he believes he would have been impressed with the dedication shown by the Friant board.
There were no public comments or reportable action from closed session and the consent calendar was approved. Secretary Toni Marie called the roll and everyone was in the affirmative about being present.
The first action item was the year’s first resolution, Number 2021-01. CFO Don Willard reported with a change of officers a new signatory card is needed to allow the new directors to sign the checks. This has to be done by resolution so both the Authority and the bank are covered.
The second action item was authorizing a voluntary emissions reduction agreement with the San Joaquin Valley Air Pollution Control District. The third item was an MOU between the US Bureau of Reclamation and some of the Friant contractors. The canal repairs will require new pumping plants.
Attorney Don Davis explained calling the agreement with the Air Board voluntary is a misnomer but it will cost FWA $9,350 per ton of emissions for a total estimate of $101,908. The good news is this won’t have to be paid until the construction begins. The board reluctantly approved. Instead of saying aye, someone said boo. The agreement was a 26 page long contract. I wonder how much the environmental harm to the air could be offset by limiting government regulation. We won’t know unless and until there is a change in attitudes about gooberment involvement.
Davis then spoke about the pump stations saying all of the 14 districts impacted would be entering into a similar agreement with the Bureau. All of the districts but for the Tulare Irrigation District which owns its own pump station and will have its own. KTID will enter into a MOU but it will be slightly different. Davis also said since these agreements are for the good of the system there would be no conflict for board members to vote. Delano Earlimart ID’s General Manager Eric Quinley spoke up saying thank you for taking care of this matter.
A motion was made and before the vote Brock Buche, City of Fresno said there seems to be new costs creeping into the project and that is of great concern to the City and will be reflected in his vote. Friant Executive Director Jason Phillips said the agreement is for new pump stations to make the impacted districts whole. If a district wants to go above and beyond the extra costs will be on them. This has been a part of the construction plan all along and not a new cost. The need for an MOU at this time is to free up the construction schedule. Phillips said this isn’t an unforeseen add to the project. The vote was called and Buche voted no. Everyone else voted yes.*
COO Doug DeFlitch explained to the board since 2016 FWA has had a temporary, one-year at a time agreement with Patterson ID and Banta Carbona ID for the recapture and conveyance of San Joaquin River Restoration flows. Everyone voted yes on this but the City of Fresno abstained.**
Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod told the board the ASO agreement is ready. The Airborne Snow Observatory is ready to fly and this program is very popular and vital. The board agreed to pitch in $272,000 to make it happen.
DeFlitch and Stantec Engineering’s Janet Atkinson updated the board on FKC repair progress. She reported in addition to the above mentioned pump station work the design team has been working with Tulare County on road routing to accommodate siphons and other changes due to the repairs. She said the Tulare County Board of Supervisors has been engaged and cooperative. She said there’s a MOU with the county currently being reviewed.
Director Eric Borba asked if the landowner whose property may be needed for the canal repairs is there any reason the landowner couldn’t keep the water right with the property? Borba is on the Eastern Tule GSA board and he pointed out the Bureau doesn’t need the water. Davis said Friant is reviewing this. Borba asked if land in the ETGSA white area’s is receiving the same assessments as land in a district. Davis said the value of land without surface water isn’t the same as that with. Borba’s point is a landowner could have fallowed the land being purchased and benefited from the safe yield of that acreage, which sounds reasonable to me in this case.
Phillips dived into the subject of how to pay for the repairs. This is a complex issue and doesn’t lend itself to a play by play report. There are different tiers of investment, from different sources, with different strings and obligations attached. Good news, the packet with the resource documentation is available on the Friant website. Highlights of Phillips’ presentation were; how much the Bureau can contribute and how much of that amount FWA has to pay back to the feds. How much will the ETGSA contribute and how much FWA will contribute. To apply these figures to canal repair isn’t so simple. There are different levels of repair that will yield different capacity and those all have different costs.
Then there is the issue of cash flow. The deluxe repair project will increase capacity and should be sufficient to deal with almost any scenario that could take place in the next 50-years and it costs an estimated $500 million. Other scenarios will restore the system to its design capacity and that costs about half the deluxe package. There are different payment schedules needed to meet obligations under the different scenarios. If I understood Phillips correctly the districts will receive all of these scenarios matched with the cash flow needs in a package in a week or so. The first target is $50 million spread around the Friant contractors to get things rolling. Phillips emphasized this forthcoming package is a draft proposal and not a bill. Also I heard him say the ETGSA’s transitional pumping is expected to bring in $6 million this first year and that should be enough for Eastern Tule to kick in its obligations.
Fresno ID Director George Porter asked if groundbreaking will happen this summer and that is the projected time. He is concerned about the project collecting money and sitting there before it’s spent. I think that was his concern. If I had to pay someone to fix a leak in my roof and he couldn’t do it until this summer I wouldn’t want to pay him upfront. But if I was a co-owner in a multi-unit apartment building and the contractor needed the funds to purchase material before the job starts that would be a different scenario. Did that sound pedantic? Sorry, I’m just trying to get it on a level I can understand. Maybe many of you readers have experience in spending hundreds of millions of dollars. I’d like to experience that. I’ve never spent more than tens of millions of dollars at any one time.
Phillips said State Senator Melissa Hurtado is anxious to help get some state funds involved. Good for her. Phillips said she understands folks had to pump when their contracted surface supplies were reduced. Someone suggested Hurtado get the savings on the missing unemployment funds directed to the FKC. That gave me an idea. Let’s charge the DMV for every man hour wasted standing in line while they take public union breaks. I bet not only can the canal repairs be covered, we could all upgrade to a ritzier zip code.
Richard Welch gave the board an overview of what to expect in the funding process. I think he was talking about federal funds. He sounded like an announcer at a high school football game there was so much echo. He should have sung his report.
Buck-Macleod reported there may be some good news. He said the current storm is really helping. He said there is up to 10-inches of snow in the Upper San Joaquin River watershed and another storm coming in next week. There’s a storm predicted for Northern California next month but nothing on the horizon for the Central Sierra Nevada. Shasta and Millerton storage has indicated a 90 percent but the inflows haven’t arrived yet from this storm.
He said to avoid a call on Friant there will need to be 150,000 to 200,000 a/f pumped over the next six months from the Delta above what’s happening now. Without it the call could occur in July or August. He said that wasn’t something the Bureau said but that’s what is indicated. The Spring X2 takes place from February to June and that could impact exports. The X2 line is measured from the Golden Gate Bridge, through the Carquinez Straight into the Delta and is the furthest intrusion of salt water inland.
Buck was asked if water content is being measured as well as depth uniformly throughout the state. Buck said water content should be included in the next DWR update in February and that is what the Bureau will use that for its updates.
Buck said Millerton has been losing storage due to low inflow but that will change with these storms. The Friant Kern Canal has started taking on water. I guess maintenance is completed. He also said the current storm and the upcoming one could yield as much as all of last year’s runoff. This past summer the Creek Fire burned a third of the San Joaquin River watershed. The rain is a problem if it hits the burn scar but that part has mostly been receiving snowfall. I should say could be a problem because a very similar situation took place on the Kings River watershed a few years ago. In that case the heat created a glaze that helped prevent erosion and gave some vegetation a chance to grow a little and stabilize the soil.
USBR’s Michael Jackson joined the meeting by phone and said it’s raining at his home in Fresno and there is good rain in the Santa Barbara and Central Coast. He said the new administration has brought on some new faces. Tonia Trujillo is the acting deputy something somewhere in either the Bureau or Department of Interior. He said there are a number of new people he doesn’t know now working in Washington DC. Jackson said there are orders coming in from the Biden administration that will cause change. There are some NEPA changes and additional approval, some of which deals with personnel matters. He said Buck-Macleod did a pretty good job with his update and he invited Welch to fill in any details he may have missed. Someone asked Jackson who he’s rooting for at the Superbowl. He said he likes Tom Brady and the Chiefs. I don’t even know who’s playing.
Alex Biering and Mike Villines gave the report from Sacramento. Biering said there is a February 19th deadline to get bills submitted. Hurtado is introducing a bill to fund for subsidence on the FKC, the Delta Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct. She said it’s exciting to see all the cooperation. The SB559 efforts were helpful in gaining experience for this new effort. Biering reported on a California Water Commission workshop on funding for infrastructure in the Central Valley. It was pointed out to the CWC that Prop One requirements were too narrow.
Villines said the bill deadline will trigger hearings from early to late March and votes in April. He said there hasn’t been much in the way of water legislation so far. Biering also reported power was out at her place. I think she lives in Sacramento or in the hills nearby.
Johnny Amaral said emotions are white hot in Washington DC right now. On the day after the inauguration Biden released a list of items to be reviewed that took place during the Trump Administration. The biological opinions made that list and that sparked a great deal of interest and they are keeping an eye on it. He said there are many new people in the government and new relations are being established. He said there will be a return to business as usual in Washington and urged the directors taking trips with staff to DC to keep an open mind. He said Senator Dianne Feinstein has been helpful with the proposed infrastructure bill coming up. He doesn’t expect much bipartisan action in the near term and both the House and Senate’s Democrat majority is razor thin.
Amaral was asked about the new folks in the administration and he said many of them are holdovers from the Obama days. He said not to sugar coat, it will be a very different deal than the past four years. But he believes the Friant team is very well positioned with good bipartisan relations in place. He said Friant’s ready to act.
San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint
Austin Ewell said he also believes the Friant team is in a good place and the Bureau is stocked with good relationships. He thanked the board for the work done on the Blueprint at the recent board retreat. He said to reach out to Scott Hamilton or himself. Nancy Vogel is Governor Gavin Newsom’s representative to the California Water Resiliency Portfolio and Vogel has expressed admiration for the Blueprint’s ability to bring in diverse participants.
With Tim Quinn the Unusual Motives program out of Stanford University has been a vehicle to bring folks to the table who didn’t want to deal outside that structure. Who doesn’t want to be perceived as Stanford worthy? It was a good move.
Fresno State, Self Help Enterprises and the Leadership Council NGO are still working together on a drinking water study.
DeFlitch said the FKC is filling and there will be a water quality test conducted at the Sand Creek Check before letting it go further downstream. He said there will be bigger O&M report next month and that will show what was accomplished during the de-watering. He said the FKC holds 12,000 a/f when full. He also said there was more work completed than expected from dewatering alone. This was due to the dry weather through November and December allowing crews better access to the nooks and crannies.
DeFlitch gave the first of the now monthly updates on the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority since a very big part of Friant’s cost outlay goes there. He reported mostly on financial matters. San Luis is looking at a debt management policy and Friant wants self-funding included and is working with SLDM staff on this.
Phillips said the annual meeting was postponed in 2020 and will be postponed this year as well. The timing just isn’t available. The November retreat is still on the schedule for the week before Thanksgiving, same location. I think it was Director Kent Stephens who suggested in leu of an annual meeting Phillips send out a letter to all the Friant folks. That sounded good.
Phillips said he would like to have a strategic plan workshop if it can be done in person. He said he doesn’t see anything productive coming out of a video conference for that type of meeting. Philips has also been tapped by the Urban Water Institute to head a panel with Doctors David Sunding and Scott Hamilton. He will also be addressing California Women for Agriculture’s webinar this Sunday. I’m proud to tell you I was at one time the Fresno Chapter Secretary for CWA. That is what happens when you fall asleep at one of their meetings. CWA is much like the US Army, they get more accomplished before 9am than most folks do all day.
That was that and Loeffler called the meeting at 12:33pm. I’m sad to say there wasn’t an invocation given. I hope that Friant tradition was simply overlooked with this being the new officers first meeting in their new seats.
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**See directly above.
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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.