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Friant Water Authority June 22, 2023



By Don A. Wright

The Friant Water Authority board of directors met at the Bello Vita Event Venue in Visalia on Thursday, June 22, 2023. The meeting was scheduled to begin at 9:30am and Chairman Jim Erickson was right on time. We started with a prayer by Director Cliff Loeffler and that was a blessing to everyone. Even someone online commented it helped restore a little faith and makes living in the San Joaquin Valley a bit better.

The Meeting

Attorney Don Davis announced a claim was denied during closed session which occurred before this portion of the meeting. The consent calendar was approved and then the annual matter that has the potential to rend opinion was waded into deeply.

CEO Jason Phillips told the board it is time to present the draft budget for the 2024 fiscal year. This is the Operations, Maintenance & Routine. (Thank you Superintendent Chris Hickernell for helping me with what the R stands for.) Phillips said only members receiving water from the Friant Kern Canal are eligible to vote on moving the draft forward for a 60-day review. The members on the Madera Canal can give input but not a vote since their dues go to their canal and not the FKC. Phillips asked CFO Wilson Orvis to give the details.

Action Items

Orvis said 2024 is a dewatering year. The problem with dewatering is it removes pressure on the concrete panels lining the canal and they can pop out of place. This adds extra costs to the operations and it also shuts down deliveries to contractors. If I understood correctly Orvis said the costs for 2024 are similar to 2023. The year 2023 saw a big increase over 2022 due to inflation. Orvis asked Hickernell to speak on the work needed.TechnoFlo

Hickernell said structure and gate maintenance is expected to cost a bit more than $617,000 and replacing the liners is estimated at $864,000 or so. Other expenses include cleaning out sediment, old refrigerators and other trash like shopping carts and auto parts. Once when dewatering the Delta Mendota Canal they found a Piper Cub on the bottom. Get out your metal detectors. The work plan includes upgrading gate actuators and other technical matters.

Hickernell said the crew will begin upstream at the north end and work its way south. That way the canal can be rewatered as they go. You probably know the middle reach of the FKC has lost more than a third of its design capacity and is undergoing a major repair – they call it capacity correction – ok, if that works, go for it.

Orvis said there needs to be some IT work and the whole package is close to $1.8 million. Then there are fixed assets that is running at $332,000 for a new crane, pickup and other such things. Hickernell spoke about a fuel management station. Friant purchases fuel in bulk for savings and there is one tank at the Lindsay headquarters that has a leak detected. Twenty-seven years ago seven tanks were placed in concrete boxes and the operational life of the boxes is only 20-years. You can treat them but you have to fill them with a solution and roll them around. It’s not a feasible treatment. Hickernell said having a new station will allow new monitoring that will keep much more accurate tracking of the Friant fleet. I thought he made a pretty good case.

Orvis next spoke on non-routine O&M. This is known as beyond Phase I, Phase I is the current repairs. This next step is a systemwide look at what needs to be done. There are water quality, capacity correction in the less drastically impacted portions of the FKC and much of Friant’s costs come from the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority and keeping track of that is staff time intensive. The cost for this group of items was much cheaper than last year at $590,000 or so. Much of the non-routine can be accomplished by an activity agreement members can enter into voluntary – or stay out of but not reap the increased benefits. The routine OM&R for all members is $9.5 million and last year’s was $9.6 million.

Hickernell said dewatering is scheduled every three years unless the board defers the procedure. Director Kent Stephens suggested with the year being wetter it might be a good time to defer the dewatering. Director Michael Brownfield recommended dewatering only the northern part of the FKC and filling it up as soon as each check point is reached. That way if the entire canal isn’t finished it’ll be ready to start deliveries with at least part of it restored. Those suggestions will be taken into consideration and the board allowed moving the draft budget forward. There was also a call for funds that passed.

The last action item was to appoint COO Johnny Amaral to another term on the ACWA Region Seven board. Amaral said the Region Seven board congregates and helps to present a united voice to the larger ACWA group. Amaral won the reappointment by resolution 2023-02. Good for him.

Updates & Reports

Stantec Engineering’s Janet Atkinson reported on the ongoing repairs to the FKC. She gave a summary of work accomplished and despite the heavy rains the project is on schedule and in some cases ahead of schedule. Overall, if I understood, the job is about halfway complete. The completion date is September 2024. There was a good deal of mess created when Deer Creek flooded this past winter but clean up is well underway. There were five change orders for $341,000 this past month. In total change orders for the entire project are less than three-percent of the contract total.

Director Josh Pitigliano asked about the timeline for reopening some roads in Tulare County that have been closed due to the canal construction. I didn’t hear a definitive answer to this question. However, Atkinson said the US Bureau of Reclamation is working with the contractors and there should be a more accurate time estimate next month. Stephens asked if the 2.3 percent change order is a good amount or not. Atkinson said she believes that is well within the industry standard. Deer Creek could throw a wrench in the things but it’s still too early in the clean up to tell for sure.

Water Report

            Ian Buck-Macleod reported the temperate May and June have kept snowmelt to a manageable level. There has been a small amount of precipitation in the higher elevation. Records are being set across the state. So far Millerton Lake is experiencing its second wettest year on record. He said North of Delta wasn’t as wet as most of the state but still Shasta is full.

In the Delta the Jones Plant dropped to four units this week because demand is less due to the cooler weather and San Luis Reservoir is full. That means some of the westside carryover is going to be used.

The Friant Kern Canal is running at its current peak capacity. The question is when will Uncontrolled Season end – Buck-Macleod said not until July and then maybe even later. What will the low point be. Southern California Edison may be releasing some upstream water from its reservoirs in late summer and that will impact Class II supplies in a positive direction.

Government ReportsLidco Inc.

Lobbyist Mike Villines gave a report on what’s happening in Sacramento. He said the three water bills of concern will be in committee next week and he’ll keep folks informed. The bill by State Senator Ana Caballero to improve the State Water Plan is going well.

On the federal side Amaral reported Congress is going on vacation or recess I guess they call it. Washington DC, same place that calls Internal Revenue a service. He expects showdowns over the bills by Congressman David Valadao and that is a bill Friant supports. The Farm Bill will most likely be the center of attention when Congress comes back.

Amaral announced Meredith Bezdek, daughter of attorney John Bezdek is Friant’s new intern. She’s taking care of social media. Good for her. There is a Friant staff party on July 7th at Rawhide Park and there will be softball and food and such.


Hickernell said the Friant staff has had a record breaking string of days without an injury or accident. He said it won’t last forever most likely but they are living as right as they can. Some aquatic herbicide chemicals have been applied.


Consultant Austin Ewell gave an update on the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley. There was a board meeting yesterday in Clovis. He said the major point was the criteria ranking for projects of consideration. So far Patterson ID’s east/west conveyance has ranked high. The California Water Institute at Fresno State University has received a $1 million grant to research drinking water in rural areas and communities. Phillips said he’s tracking evaluation criteria. Once those are established the Blueprint will be putting much effort to moving the project forward. He said reoperation of the Delta has ranked very high. He said the Hallmark Group, consultants, will be helping develop the strategy to get things done. Phillip said there is a request going out for ways to develop two million more acre feet of new supply. As that number is determined it will shed a light on how much land retirement will actually be needed. The goal is to solve as much of the water problem as possible instead of running farmers off the land.

SLDM Matters

Orvis said release of San Joaquin River to the Mendota Pool has caused a discussion. Davis added one of the things going on in the San Luis Delta Mendota area is a reorganized GSP to get everyone on the same page and avoid problems with the State Board or DWR. The State Board met yesterday and decided which subbasins will go to tier one and tier two probationary status. SLDM was in tier two and it will be interesting to see how they deal with subsidence on the Delta Mendota Canal.

CEO Report

Phillips said he’s been getting around to the member district board meetings. He offer to even meet for closed session. Phillips urged directors to start signing up for the fall “off site” – that’s what they’re calling the board retreat. He explained there are new faces on the board and Friant’s history is long and storied. Friant has split into at least four distinct entities and came back together since I’ve been following. Phillips said the off site session’s agenda is set to some degree by who is attending.

As of June 1st, Phillip’s son is underwater on boomer somewhere in the Atlantic Ocean. No way of communicating. That was the last of this meeting and Erickson called adjournment at 11:21am. How about that? Sometimes these meetings go long and sometimes they don’t. We all enjoyed a wonderful lunch of tri tip, grilled vegetables and pilaf.

DISCLAIMER OF RESPONSIBILITY; Waterwrights strives to provide it’s clients with the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate information available. Nevertheless, Waterwrights does not serve as a guarantor of the accuracy or completeness of the information provided, and specifically disclaims any and all responsibility for information that is not accurate, up-to-date, or complete.  Waterwrights’ clients therefore rely on the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of information from Waterwrights entirely at their own risk. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not represent any advertisers or third parties.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2023 by Don A. Wright


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

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.


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