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Friant Water Authority March 23, 2023



By Don A. Wright

The Friant Water Authority board of directors met at the Bello Vida Event Center in Visalia on Thursday, March 23, 2023. The meeting was called to order at 11:00am by Chairman Jim Erickson and Director Cliff Loeffler led us in prayer. During public comment a director said it is incredibly difficult to get a pump so he found one that worked off his tractor’s PTO. He said it doesn’t move as much as a standard pump but it’s better than nothing. He offered to lend it to desperate growers. Another man attending said there is a petition to direct to Tulare County Board of Supervisors to take into account farmland has value, it has homes and other structures and shouldn’t automatically be flooded.

The Meeting

The consent calendar was passed with some minor corrections to the minutes. Action Items were next and Chief Financial Officer Wilson Orvis spoke on financial matters. There was a proposed cost of living allowance increase of 3.3 percent for the second half of the year to take into consideration the impact from inflation. Lower Tule River Irrigation District Director Tom Barcellos said with the feds raising interest rates a quarter of a percent this is the right thing to take care of the employees but he hopes to be able to pay them next year. Orvis said there are budget offsets to cover this and the board approved.

Water Resources Manager Ian Buck-Macleod presented the board some further information about what could be next for the Friant Kern Canal after the subsidence fix. He said more reservoirs near the canal like Lake Woollomes in Kern County could add a good deal of flexibility. There was a recommendation to enter into a MOU with Stantec and others for more than $149k with Stantec Engineering shepherding the process. Director George Porter asked about this impact on the O&M budget. He wanted to be sure this is an activity agreement. The study would be Friant wide but participation in the projects from the study would be under an activity agreement. Porter said this is putting the cart before the horse as the current FKC repairs haven’t been fully paid for yet.Technoflo

CEO Jason Phillips said right now the federal government has a large chunk of change in the bank to help fund the next phase of refurbishing the FKC. There is a great need for reservoirs to park water as shown this very wet year. He said this may be more fiscally sound way to increase deliveries without increasing canal capacity, a far more expensive upgrade. The board approved the study.

Next Orvis went over the Operations, Maintenance and Recovery cost recovery revisions. It was a complicated accounting exercise having to do with the conveyance rate of $11 per a/f based on a 25-year rolling average. Orvis said there are significant cost increases since this methodology was agreed to years ago. For example the amount Friant pays the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority has gone up substantially. He said he had a meeting with managers recently and picked over a myriad of options. What is being presented today is the most acceptable to most of the participants. There are still some questions of including Warren Act water into the mix. Warren Act water is when non-Friant water is introduced into the FKC. It doesn’t happen every year but it happens. Friant contractors move water into water banking and the movement of that water is charged to the contractor. However, there is no charge for moving that water out of banking. Even with those issues the OM&R cost allocation policy is ready for a 60-day review process that will include all the Friant contractors and the US Bureau of Reclamation.

Loeffler said his district, Lindsay Strathmore ID would be the most significantly impacted by a change in methodology. He said his district is small but is located along a spot on the FKC that allows it to wheel water for other districts. If this policy change would be adopted as is – the financial impact on his district would be a very heavy lift. Orvis said there is an uncertain future but LSID can determine its own transfer costs to pass on to those wishing to utilize those services. Phillips said today’s vote would start the 60-day review but this will be brought back to the board. Loeffler said with the provision his district’s concerns are address he moved to start the review. The board agreed.

Next Orvis had to do the unpopular call for funds thing. He said there is a need for the general membership to kick in on a quarterly call or the bank account will be in the red. The board agreed.

General Updates & Reports

The first update report was to be the FKC capacity corrections. But there was an item e added dealing with the San Joaquin River restoration flows. Attorney/Raconteur Don Davis said the flows could mean some adjustments to the restoration flow plan, like making it last an additional 60-days. Everyone was good with that.

Phillips said the FKC repair construction report was largely written before the major rain. Janet Atkinson of Stantec reported some weather delays and road closures. She listed roads near Terra Bella. Earthwork was impacted the most by the rain but that part of the task was ahead of schedule. There was a collapse on a part of the work along Avenue 112 in Tulare County. No one was harmed.

Deer Creek got hit hard when the first series of storms passed through but that is being addressed. In general there is a lot of flooding in the Valley along rainfed streams. Most of these don’t have dams to control the flows. Even some of the snow fed rivers with dams are having to release water to make way for increased snow melt. The Central and Southern Sierra Nevada snowpack is estimated to be 200 percent or more of average.

Atkinson gave a slide show of what happened on Deer Creek. All along the course of the FKC are intersections with natural water ways. They have siphons under the canal to convey the water. The Deer Creek siphon couldn’t handle the load as Deer Creek swelled beyond its banks creating flooding and standing water in the construction area and elsewhere.

COO Johnny Amaral said the breach did not inundate the FKC but it did flood the realignment project. No one was sure how much water flowed through the construction zone as the meter was washed away. The photos looked more like chocolate milk flowing through the canals, flood zones and streams than photos of water. Amaral said the flows on Deer Creek has lessened some but the area is so saturated it’s not even safe to walk through parts of it. There was a large borrow pit next to the project and it’s full. Fortunately there is still some area of the pit that has yet to be excavated so there will still be supplies when things dry and work starts again. Friant staff is pumping water from the borrow pit and Amaral said there is some sediment being introduced into the FKC.

I don’t know what possessed me to ask but since this flooding is taking place in the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency boundaries I asked if the ETGSA is getting any recharge credits. It wasn’t received as a funny statement. It’s just a fact of life I’ve learned to live with; sometimes journalists are as welcome as former politician/used car salesmen/Jehovah Witnesses selling Amway door to door.

There are still risks of big trouble throughout the construction area. Erosion and other hazards need to be addressed as soon as possible. Amaral did say the Friant crews have been more than responsive, going above and beyond the duty to get things running along again when the weather breaks and work can resume. Superintendent Chris Hickernell deserves some time off one of these days.

Water Report

Buck-Macleod reported the current storm is just about over but there is one more atmospheric river heading California’s way. He said the northern part of the state has had twice the average snow but the Southern Sierra has three times the average snow. Shasta has seen a good deal of improvement. The four million acre feet storage has been exceeded and that means San Joaquin River flows won’t be diverted to Exchange Contractors by the Bureau. He said Shasta should fill as will Folsom by the end of May.

Buck-Macleod said the Jones Pumping plant is running full bore but for some mechanical problems. San Luis Reservoir is expected to fill by April 10th and SLR will start to spill non CVP water. There is a turbidity situation in the Delta and a steelhead condition and none of that matters with flows this big. He said Friant is getting 215 Water and100 percent allocations. Releases on the San Joaquin and Kings Rivers are going to be big.  There will be 2.2 million a/f of spills at Friant and even with this there should be a 70 percent Class II. He said take it now when its available even though there is so much water coming. The Bureau expects some Unreleased Restoration Flows until May before the uncontrolled season is over. Overall Buck-Macleod isn’t concerned about losing allocations this year. He does hope there are no higher elevation rain-on-snow events.

The San Joaquin River flows are so high Patterson ID can’t take recapture flows. Not sure how that works. There will be transfers available at the Mendota Pool for 215 and Class II CVP water if I heard correctly. Buck-Macleod said California is teetering on this being the wettest year on record.

External Affairs

Amaral introduced Mike Villines who gave the Sacramento report by telephone. Villines said flooding and budget deficits along with bonds are the big deal at the moment. Yesterday was the deadline for amending spot bills which ushers in a new round of legislative review. Reviewing water rights is the subject of bills that will give the State Board more power and allowing changes in water rights. He said this is a trend of government overreach. He said the budget is not getting any better. Be on the look out for cuts in growth and a good chance for current spending cuts. Bonds have been moving along dealing with flood water and other items of interest. He said all oil contracts will be reviewed by a government agency to interfere with private enterprise. There isn’t a process to oppose this and this could be look at what could happen with water. He said the new state legislature is more progressive and against private property.

Amaral said fiscal year 2024 federal budget negotiations have begun. He said there is a Washington DC trip planned for a Friant team to make the rounds. He said there will be a House Resources Committee hearing April 11th in Tulare. He said as more details come in this is a good opportunity for ag to speak up. Phillips is expected to testify. Amaral will be moderating a panel on storage at the Water Association of Kern County summit in Bakersfield. There will be an annual Friant Dinner next month near Visalia and he welcomed everyone and their families. And once again Amaral thanked Superintendent Chris Hickernell and the Friant crew for their hard work.

Water Blueprint

Austin Ewell gave the Water Blueprint of the San Joaquin Valley update. He said there were about 100 people at the board meeting last week in Tulare. He said there is a draft of priority responses for the Blueprint. The Hallmark Group has come on board with management assistance. The USBR and the California Water Institute has made available almost one million dollars for the Blueprint. Hallelujah. Also the Public Policy Institute of California made Ellen Hanak’s Power Point presentation available.

Phillips reported on the SLDMWA saying due to insufficient infrastructure a decade’s worth of South of Delta supplies is flowing out to sea. He said Friant does support repairs of the Delta Mendota Canal but there are some concerns about the process being way too slow. Orvis said FWA is looking closely at this situation.

CEO Report

Phillips said he will be a witness at the upcoming Congressional Hearing. He said congratulations to Westlands Water District for hiring Alison Feebo as its new GM. He’d worked with her in the past and he is looking forward to working with her.

Just before adjourning at 1:06pm Barcellos reported the pig spleen sends its apologies but you asked for it. Dissected pig spleens have had an amazing rainfall predictive record. That was that for Friant. Go be good to each other and yourselves.

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, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.


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