The Friant Water Authority board of directors met at the Bello Vita Event Venue in Visalia on Thursday, July 27, 2023. The meeting begins in closed session at 8:30am and one can attend on Microsnot Teams if you don’t have a physical way to get there.
Chairman Jim Erickson kicked things off with a whisper at 10:34am and then they turned on the microphone and things got better. Director Cliff Loeffler opened with a prayer for wisdom, amen brother. If I understood correctly the minutes and the bill payments were approved.
FKC & Water Quality
The Friant Kern Canal needs to have a final Environmental Impact Report adopted by the board. Attorney Don Davis introduced Kathy Duncan, a new Friant employee who presented the details of the proposed guidelines for introducing non-project water into the canal. This means water that isn’t a part of the federal Central Valley Project, water that didn’t come from the San Joaquin River. The SJR’s water quality is legendary – it’s very, very good. This item is to protect the water quality of supplies in the canal.
There are situations along the length of the canal where water from other sources can be put into the FKC and conveyed. The Kings River is one such place and its water quality is as good as the San Joaquin River. But there is a need to pump groundwater into the canal and at the southern end in Kern County the Cross Valley Canal could bring in water from the California Aqueduct. Quality degradation can occur along the way. The districts furthest downstream on the FKC, Arvin Edison Water Storage District and Delano Earlimart Irrigation District as well as Shafter Wasco ID naturally have concerns about water quality. This has been an issue for sometime now.
Someone else from I’m guessing Stantec Engineering – the ladies speaking today were shy about identifying themselves. Maybe her name is Patty, I’m going with that. Patty gave the board a list of actions recommended. The draft EIR has been out for review and comment from May 12th through June 26th and to my surprise no comments were received. This review is part of the California Environmental Quality Act process. She basically said the hoops have been jumped through.
Davis explained about the mitigation measures and the enforcement of these measures. He said he spoke with managers at length about this and if you’re not building a facility on top of an ancient Indian burial ground or wetlands there shouldn’t be much of a problem under the new EIR/CEQA permit.
Someone asked why an EIR is needed after all these years and Davis said this is the response to clear up the water quality concerns that have been festering for decades. As the FKC refurbishing is completed and the conveyance is improved FWA wants to ease the process of a member district tying in with new facilities. He said it is time for the home boards to discuss entering into a cooperative agreement based on this information. Staff recommended adopting this resolution, 2023-03. The board did so by roll call.
CEO Jason Phillips told a story about the water quality deal back when Director Kent Stephens was chair and hosting a party to bring everyone together. It was a funny story but I couldn’t type fast enough to catch up. Mostly – as in dang near always – Phillips’ stories are pretty funny.
Next the third amendment to a temporary agreement with Banta Carbona and Patterson ID to convey restoration flows, if available, through October of this year was put before the board. That was an easy pass.
Updates & Reports
The always lovely Janet Atkinson of Stantec (lovely for many reasons I’m sure but I like how she introduces herself with confidence and states her name clearly.) She reported work on the FKC repair is being completed even with the hellish heat considerations for pouring concrete. If you’ve ever tried to work with wet concrete in the heat, it can be a challenge. So, they are pouring at night. On a project of this scale it has to be an exercise based on experience and just how much calcium one must add to the mix. Atkinson said the road closures needed to make repairs are about to wrap up. The framing of forms to pour concrete are coming along nicely on the parts still in need of forms.
Deer Creek near the Tulare/Kern County line flooded during this past winter’s heavy rains. Flows on the seasonal channel lasted until July this year. The repairs on the canal included a new siphon to run under Deer Creek. It flooded and a good deal of sediment was deposited in a big muddy mess right into the siphon. That has been a chore to clean up but crews are getting it done. Atkinson said the paving on the banks requires some complicated machinery. Atkinson said the environmental report is about the same, no kit foxes and such are showing up and biologists are continuously monitoring the situation. The schedule is still on track for wrap up in January. Good report.
Ian Buck-Macleod gave his report saying the upstream operations are very consistent with projections. The Delta is in balance and this is in part due to the state side of the Cooperative Operations Agreement. The state’s COA side has been in debt. Buck-Macleod said the word is out, uncontrolled season on the SJR ends this weekend.
Johnny Amaral reported the new State Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas is not from Los Angeles or San Francisco so there is a chance to work with him. I understand Rivas has a farming background. There were great things happening on the state legislative side. Friant joined the effective coalition to stop some very bad bills trying to take away water rights. The coalition was successful.
Amaral represents FWA on ACWA and there is a San Joaquin Valley Water Forum coming up soon at Harris Ranch. That’s a good one to go to.
The US Bureau of Reclamation’s Michael Jackson and Rufino Gonzalez confirmed uncontrolled season will end on Saturday, July 29th. Gonzalez implored the Friant membership to submit their water schedules right away. He said in late December of last year and this year there have been uncontrolled seasons. So far 184 days of uncontrolled season. The biggest number since 1913, I think he said. Is that possible? Gonzalez also said a record for filling Millerton Lake was set this year and there have been spills over the top of Friant Dam. This is how it’s meant to work. Jackson didn’t have anything to add.
There is a public perception when water spills over the dam, and this hasn’t happened since 2017 and I don’t think it lasted very long, something is wrong. Is the dam in danger? No. Is water being wasted? Not really. As Phillips put it, “More storage is needed.”
David Dees filled in for Superintendent Chris Hickernell to give the board an idea why it is important to hire and retain qualified staff. These folks have been busy, and why not? It’s a big job to keep the moving parts of a canal this big running. There were some wells flooded along the canal and that had to be dealt with. Phillips said to keep in mind the extreme amount of cooperation between the members and staff needed this year with the repairs. In the past this has been contentious. This year not so much and Phillips expressed his gratitude.
Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin
Austin Ewell reported to the board and reflected on flood loss. He said the Blueprint has signed on with the Southern California Water Coalition and others to develop a bond. This displays the growing importance of the Blueprint’s goal of uniting the Valley. The California Water Institute, housed at Fresno State University received a $1 million grant from the USBR and in concert with the Blueprint an in depth study is taking place. That is good news to hear – FSU, CWI, USBR and the SCWC all working with the Blueprint.
Ewell said FWA members have been asked to submit proposed projects for the Blueprint to help promote. Phillips added the pace of the Blueprint is picking up and contracting with the Hallmark Group has been a good move. He said there is no other entity pushing as hard as the Blueprint to bring the water to the Valley and avoiding an economic collapse.
Wilson Orvis reported engagement with the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority is ongoing. There has been a rate adjustment with this year’s 100 percent allocation. This will save FWA members money.
Phillips gave his report under a great deal of pressure because his goal is to end the meeting by noon. He put up a photo of a missile leaving a submarine. It was the USS Tennessee, the sub his son serves on. He said that was it and the meeting ended two minutes early adjourning at 11:58am.
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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.