The Friant Water Authority board of directors met at the Visalia Convention Center facility on Monday, January 30, 2023, and online with some bizarre, broken, cold war era Soviet military surplus gizmo known as Teams. Friant usually meets on the last Thursday of the month but due to the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Mid Pacific Conference held in Reno there was a conflict of meeting times. Many, if not most of the Friant contractors attend that event. And why not? It’s a lot of fun with a bowling tournament capping off the stay.
The new Chairman Jim Erickson called the meeting to order at the scheduled 10:30am. Closed session was first and it ran just long enough to stay on schedule. That is a good thing. It isn’t right to hold closed session first and meander along while the public waits.
The meeting began with former Chairman Cliff Loeffler continuing the tradition of asking the Lord Jesus’ blessing of wisdom for the meeting. The only action item was a job description change. CEO Jason Phillips told the board the Senior Engineer position was changed in some way in title and there was no impact to the budget. The board approved and approved the consent calendar.
Updates & Reports
Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineering gave the board an update on the Friant Kern Canal repairs. She said most of the earthwork has been completed. There was some flooding at the Deer Creek intersection but from what I gathered it wasn’t extensive enough to cause too big a problem. She said on January 10th almost 2,000 cfs flowed down the creek and hit the berms placed to prevent flooding of the construction area. No safety or equipment damage occurred and the schedule for the main construction wasn’t delayed.
Atkinson said work has started on five turnouts and so far there hasn’t been any biological delays such as kit foxes and other critters can cause. The canal lining machine is so big it has to be delivered in pieces and she is looking at that portion of lining and trimming won’t start until later in the spring. There should be a schedule update in a week or two.
Director Kent Stevens asked the total dollar amount of change orders to date. Atkinson said it is at $2.3 million which includes some changes that can be considered value added. Phillips said when he learned about the breach at Deer Creek he was tempted to purchase a one way ticket overseas. He also said Friant received some kudos at the recent Mid Pacific Region Conference for doing more than washing cars to cause rain. FWA shut down their canal. He did say he and management has been vocal to the US Bureau of Reclamation regarding operations at Friant Dam and he looks forward to better cooperation.
Ian Buck-Macleod gave his report saying the obvious, it’s getting off to a good start. The snowpack is well above normal, like 200 percent of average. Also, 100 percent of the all-important April snowpack has already been achieved. The temperatures in the higher elevation are remaining cold, preserving the snow up there. Shasta and Trinity are both below average but gaining. Folsom looks like it will be reprising its roll as workhorse for the Central Valley Project. Oroville on the state side is doing well.
Buck-Macleod said there been 70-80,000 cfs is entering the Delta and that has dropped to about 40,000 cfs. The February 1st forecast will be the basis for further allocation and estimates. Shasta is looking better than in previous years. If Lake Shasta can rise to 4 million a/f there won’t be a danger of the Bureau making a call on San Joaquin River water to send to the Exchange Contractors.
There has been a great deal of interest due to the lack of pumping at the Delta with record setting flows. There needs to be an update to the environmental operational guides. Oh, there was? Yes, but since it occurred during the Trump Administration the Newsom administration with blessing from the Biden Administration sued to block it from being implemented.
Buck-Macleod said diversion restriction of Delta pumping has been due to turbidity and the Delta smelts’ attraction to muddy water. There was also a flushing flow needed to move pollution to dilution levels for the Bay Area.
Phillips added this is the type of year to highlight why we are in a perpetual drought due to regulatory overreach. He said it has become policy for unelected, unaccountable regulators to prevent water going to agriculture. He said there has been more media attention to this failing and there needs to be more still. Buck-Macleod said the science behind this is more than a decade old and based on 25,000 cfs, not 75,000 cfs. There needs to be an offramp to account for non-calendar based operational criteria. The State Water Project contractors are really being impacted and only high flows in the San Joaquin River has prevented worse manmade regulatory problems for the CVP at this time.
The first Airborne Snow Observatory survey for the year came in last night at 10:00pm so Buck-Macleod didn’t have much time to review but it looks like a real possibility of a wet year on the San Joaquin. He said about New Years the Bureau increased the allocation and there is 200,000 a/f of water subject to 215 contract releases. Kings River flood flows, Madera Canal flood flows and some Friant Kern Canal flood flows are taking place as I write this. He expects a 100 percent Class I allocation and a full Class II allocation this year. He sees the possibility of an uncontrolled season lasting until June.
Phillips said the Bureau’s Rufino Gonzalez was in the room and has been working with Friant. Phillips said getting schedules to the Bureau sooner than later is important but the Friant guidelines are in place and need to be implemented quicker. Prices are another consideration. When there are flood flows the Bureau can reduce prices for water, it could go down to $19 per a/f but Friant is being charged $40 a/f. I think USBR’s Regional Director Ernest Conant is reviewing this and there is agreement with SGMA implemented; flood water needs to be made available for recharge. Phillips said he expects the cost reductions to be retroactive.
Buck-Macleod said on February 1st the Bureau and the Army Corps of Engineers will be recalculating flood flows and that will impact SJR restoration flows. Operations are still under 2022 guides. There could be 300,000 a/f of unreleased restoration flows, URFs. The SJR Restoration agreement has river water south of the Delta pumped into the Delta Mendota Canal and sent to the San Luis Reservoir. This is known as Restoration Flows. These flows aren’t always released due to hydraulic year types and sometimes can be taken from Millerton Lake.
More FKC Repair Stuff
Buck-Macleod told the board about the various benefits/costs scenarios coming from the FKC repairs and how that impacts the entire Friant system. He said some of the input constants and variables need to be adjusted. For instance, California Water Commission water values from 2015 were used when figuring the amounts. It is looking like during wet years and floods local supplies will be used before Friant supplies. However, in the past some of the Friant contractors who didn’t see as many benefits and returns on their investments can realize a world where their share of the good stuff will improve. One of the changes will be greater utilization of Lake Woollumes in Kern County which can be of benefit.
External Repairs, I Mean Affairs
Alex Biering reported the Gov’s budget came out a couple of weeks ago and negotiations are ongoing and will culminate in May with a whole new spread. What was expected to be $90 billion in surplus tax dollars has been revealed as more of a $25 billion deficit. There is speculation those figures were withheld until after the election for, perhaps political advantage?
Biering said there is some legislation coming from a Stockton area Assemblyman to improve flood control in the San Joaquin Valley. She has a report from the recent Mid Pacific Conference coming out soon if I understood.
Johnny Amaral, COO reported the state budget won’t impact FKC repairs. He said the state’s inaction on conserving the flood flows has drawn a growing chorus of critics. The legislature and even the press has joined in. He said it is important to keep driving home the need to store water during wet times.
Amaral said it took five-days and 15-votes for Congressman Kevin McCarthy to gain his position as Speaker of the House. McCarthy represents most of the Friant area. He said to do so McCarthy has agreed to some reforms that could well be good public policy. He said he’s keeping an eye on the budget resolutions going forward. More good news – there will be after a couple of year’s hiatus, an annual Friant dinner. It will be somewhere near Visalia. Also, the FWA board meeting will change locations starting next month to the Bello Vita Venue at 4211 West Goshen Avenue, Visalia, California 93291. Amaral also said Scott Wolford (sp?) will be leaving the Bureau and praised him for his great amount of very good work. He said Wolford will be impossible to replace. But they’re going to try.
Chris Hickernell, Superintendent reported safety has become a way of life for Friant. They have a pretty good streak of consecutive days without injury. Good for him. Hickernell reported by phone for some reason. Of course, we hope he’s in good health. Hickernell reported many wonderful things about maintenance and repairs and such. He said the FKC refill south of the Tule River started with a 1,000 cfs increase. He said it was dirty water. I’ve been told the White River should be called the Chocolate Milk River. He said there has been some flushing to keep the valves and other equipment in good condition. He said overall things are going well. The water is cleaning up somewhat and hopefully the conditions at Millerton Lake are cleaning up some too.
Austin Ewell reported a good deal of activity and there is a 21-member board going into a special session to consider hiring the Hall Mark Group and Chuck Gardner to help manage the whole deal. He also reported there will be two tours coming up. One with Valley growers visiting the Delta and the other with Delta growers visiting the Valley. That will be something and I hope it is well attended since it is way overdue.
Ewell said with Fresno State University and Self Help Enterprises amongst others, a study on domestic wells and drinking water is underway. Another much needed task.
Governor Gavin Newsom has appointed former Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa as his infrastructure liaison. A wish list has been presented to him from the Blueprint. Phillips said hiring the Hall Mark Group will lend some much-needed help in raising the Blueprint’s profile. Most of the Blueprint activities are being carried out on a volunteer basis. Which is a proper for a grass roots organization. But it is growing and the time has come for some extra professional help.
Phillips said there wasn’t much to report on the Delta Mendota meeting but he said the recent Mid Pacific Conference saw some discussion about bringing the Endangered Species Act out of its weaponized state and start pushing back. He advocated all the water agencies stand together against water cuts made by unelected, unaccountable bureaucrats. He said working with the Family Farm Alliance is one way to enhance these efforts. Director Stevens said he heard many other folks at the Mid Pacific Conference were happy to have heard Phillips state this during a panel discussion.
Phillips said his son will be coming home to visit after his first tour on a submarine. And the meeting was adjourned at 12:04pm. Go be good to yourselves and each other.
Also, lunch is served after the meeting and it’s usually very good. I had thought the Convention Center had its own kitchen and provided the food as part of the meeting agreement. But it turns out a catering company named Sue Sa is responsible. A really friendly and helpful wait staff makes the lunch even better. We had a delicious beef tri tip with potatoes, salad, squash and a four-layer cake. Wonderful food. The Sue Sa caterers will also be providing lunch at the new location.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2023 by Don A. Wright
FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY
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 from the Friant Division.
Board: Chair Jim Erickson, Vice Chair Rick Borges
Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Johnny Amaral, CFO Wilson Orvis, Water Resources Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Alexandria Biering Government Affairs/Communications Manager, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.