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Friant Water Authority July 28, 2022

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ConterraBy Don A. Wright

The Friant Water Authority held its Thursday, July 28, 2022 board meeting at the Visalia Convention Center and online with Micro Snot Teams. There was a good turnout. The meeting was scheduled to begin in closed session at 8:30am and the open session began at 10:00am with Chairman Cliff Loeffler kicking things off with a prayer for wisdom. Do that and salute the flag and you’re ready to get after it.

The Meeting

The consent calendar included approving the minutes and paying the bills. CFO Wilson Orvis, who has fit in well with the organization and really found his stride, reported on financial statements. Orvis also spoke about the independent audit report for 2021. Full disclosure I was late and joined the meeting during Orvis’ talk. So, I don’t want to report on figures out of context. But the board approved. He also praised his staff and CPA Brian Henderson. Good deal. Fresno City’s Brock Boche asked if in the future Orvis would spend an extra $.25 on a couple of extra pages and increase the font size so you didn’t need a magnifying glass to read the audit reports. Director Kent Stephens seconded the comment. I believe that covers the only action item today.

Construction Update

            Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineering reported on construction updates on the Friant Kern Canal repair project. In case you’re a new reader the Friant Kern Canal has lost a third of its capacity due to subsidence near the Tulare/Kern County line. The costs to repair this is half a billion dollars. And because we’re in California where 19 out of 20 of the 40 million residents live 60-miles or less from the beach and may well believe cotton grows in the neck of an aspirin bottle, getting the money together to improve water infrastructure has been a heavy lift. The fact the Friant Water Authority has been able to get this vital project up and running is a testimony to dedication.

Water Ops

            Ian Buck Macleod, Friant Water Prophet said there are now three units running at the Jones Pumping Plant and that means less water from Millerton Lake going outside the Friant area. He sees cause to breathe easier for supply allocation for the rest of the season. Not as much as needed but more than expected earlier.

Johnny Amaral, COO said there is a plan in place to dewater the canal from mid-November until the end of January. This is a necessary step to give crews an opportunity to perform routine maintenance. Unfortunately some of the freeboard will be reduced along a stretch of the canal, like 300 cfs worth. If the Class I allocation doesn’t exceed 60 percent this won’t be a problem. If hopefully it’s a wet year and the Class I allocation is 100 percent and even some Class II water is running there are some ways to help mitigate. Amaral said the districts don’t like to run on the weekends and they may have to do a little coordinating to keep the flows flowing.

Director Eric Borba reminded Amaral it’s the growers who don’t like to run on the weekends. Sounds like some outreach will have to take place. Superintendent Chris Hickernell said there is a way to park some water upstream in districts like Fresno Irrigation District that has some banking capacity. Stephens asked the same question I had, if the problem is only a mile and a half on one side of the FKC why not build up the bank? Hickernell said in effect it’s a roll of the dice, if there isn’t a wet year it’s not fiscally prudent. He said if there is an uncontrolled season he believes between the member districts and the US Bureau of Reclamation things can be worked with.

The problem is the available dirt and material is already going to the FKC repairs. Hickernell said it’s possible to sandbag that section. CEO Jason Phillips suggested staff take a look at possible mitigation and report back next month.

Bureau Report

            Rufino Gonzalez, USBR reported the Bureau is aware of the additional operational concerns of Millerton Lake in light of the canal repairs, the Delta pumping and other variables. There could be a low point at San Luis Reservoir in October and I guess that is a bridge to cross then.

Legislative Report

            Alex Biering reported there are good conversations with DWR for the FKC funding and there is even the possibility to squeeze some more funding through the SB 559 coalition. Money could be attached to trailer bills going through the state senate next month. AB 2108 is bill being watched that has to do with State Board appointments having special qualifications in being sensitive to groups urban legislators want to feel good about helping. There are 800 policy bills heading to the governor’s desk at the end of August and I believe the signing deadline is mid-October or the pocket veto kicks in. Biering reported Amaral is starting his podcast again. That’s welcome news. It’s very entertaining, interesting and informative.

Amaral reported federal Senators Chucky Schumer and Joe Manchin have reached an energy and climate agreement that won’t require any Republican votes. It is a $369 billion dollar piece of legislation that includes money for solar panels over canals and no one knows which water contractor asked for that feature to be funded.

Amaral said Reclamation officials should be coming to the Valley from back east for a tour. He said he spent time with Senator Melissa Hurtado and she is pushing to include more water infrastructure funding from the $90 billion state surplus. He said Hurtado has been extremely helpful in reaching out to the Sacramento crowd and growing the awareness of what is needed for the Valley.

O&M Report

Hickernell reported despite the 100 plus degrees day after day, Friant crews have been healthy, observing heat safety. He said there was one scare but it turned out the worker had just gotten mixed up with some habanero salsa from the taco truck. He said there is an increase in trash being dumped along the FKC. Who is it that takes their old mattresses, refrigerators and tires and just throw it out with no more concern than a slug leaving a slime trail? Wouldn’t you like to catch them and force them to clean up the restrooms at the bus station? With their own toothbrush? Ok enough of that.

Orvis updated the board on what’s going on at San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority. Not much new there. He was praised for the short, sweetness of his report.

GM Report

Phillips gave his report and also allowed me to give a short, hopefully also sweet report on a presentation at the Southern California Water Coalition meeting at the Long Beach Yacht Club. Scott Hamilton and Austin Ewell gave a presentation on the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint and garnered a great deal of interest from dozens of Southern California water districts, municipalities and even Metropolitan Water District was there.

Phillips said there are opportunities to work with folks in So Cal and it is important for the Valley to give its message directly without filtering from other parts of the state and unfriendly media.

Phillips said the Eastern Tule GSA didn’t pass its 218 Election and that will impact how cash flow is handled. Phillips said specifically there are no red flag warnings and the Bureau is well aware of the situation. There will be a board retreat November 14-17th and this is the chance to hash out a work plan to guide the FWA through the coming year.

Also, Dr. Don Portz spoke a few months ago on the San Joaquin River Restoration Program and will come soon to update the board. Portz is the Restoration Manager for the Bureau. Phillips is a member of an urban water board coalition and he has been conducting outreach that way. And finally he will be going to Colorado to drop his remaining at home child, his daughter to college. She’s on the volleyball team so she’s going early. Someone asked him if they’re driving the Tesla. He said he got an F150 since then.

The meeting then went to lunch. There will be an ad hoc committee meeting after that to discuss water quality in the FKC. And that was that at 11:35am. The water quality issue has been around for 20-years and has to do with introducing non-San Joaquin River water into the FKC. SJR water is some of the most pristine on earth and therefore very low in salt. Folks want to keep it that way. The issue is worthy of a report all its own. Go be good to each other.

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854 N. Harvard Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247, Office 559/562-6305 Email:

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/COO Johnny Amaral and Attorney Don Davis.

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