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Friant Water Authority March 24, 2022

The Friant Water Authority held its Thursday, March 24, 2022 board of directors meeting at the Wyndham Hotel in Visalia. Chairman Cliff Loeffler called the meeting to order at 10:00am and we began with a prayer for wisdom. Wouldn’t be nice if all decision makers did the same? Under public comment Michael Maher introduced himself to the gathering. Maher is a candidate for Congressional District 22 which has a special election coming up very soon. He has a pretty impressive background. Good for him.

The Meeting

CEO Jason Phillips said the presentation about the San Joaquin River Restoration Plan will be delayed until next month. The representative, Don Portz SRRP Manager wasn’t able to be here today. That was a bit disappointing as the restoration is a major component of Friant Dam operations. The consent calendar was passed.

As expected there is a hiccup in the Friant Kern Canal repairs. It would be unrealistic to expect a half a billion dollar construction problem to not require some adjustments as things go along. Fortunately there were plans in place to address this. The issue is an increase in the utility relocation costs. There is a need to reroute power and gas lines and such. The board agreed to the budget adjustment.


The next item dealt with the FKC system-wide capacity correction reconnaissance study. Stantec Engineering would be tasked with conducting a study on downstream capacity and benefits. There have been a couple of districts upstream of the subsidence point who have been not even Lukewarm, really cool on paying for much. They are once again concerned about the costs of this study with questions about the values and the results. One of the benefits of the study as pointed out by Lower Tule River ID’s Tom Barcellos is understanding how the repaired canal could be used for on farm recharge. Friant’s Water Resource Manager Ian Buck Macleod will be running point on this. Orange Cove ID General Manager Fergus Morrissey said to his knowledge there has never been a case where Class One capacity has not been met, even with all contractors taking a full allocation.

Fresno ID Director George Porter was a bit upset saying we just got started on the repairs, wait until that sticker shock wears off before asking for more money. Lindmore ID GM Mike Hagman said in the past Friant has had to spill into the Kern River during wet years. That doesn’t bode well from now on. He said the  study is needed to bring the options to light.

Phillips pointed out while this study does fall under Phase II the US Bureau of Reclamation already has the Phase II funds on the books. He said the discussion at the recent board retreat included shooting down a special activities plan proposal. Had the board agreed to a special activities individual districts could opt in and out on certain projects. Unless the board changes its mind on that it all or nothing – at least that’s what I understood. The estimated cost I believe is $800,000 for the plan and Phillips said that’s the top end, it could be less.

Matt Lieder, Director Teapot Dome WD said to recall the long, drawn out initial discussion about paying for the repairs and avoid a repetition of that painful episode. Eric Limas, GM Lower Tule ID said there are opportunities for the districts who won’t directly, immediately benefit from the information gathered, even the districts with bigger Class II contracts. Even Brock Buche, City of Fresno said there is a great need to understand the data, without it you’re flying blind. I say even Buche because at one time the city was one of those members cool on the payout plan.

Loeffler polled the board and most of them felt that they are all in it together. Even some of the holdouts from the original repair payment discussion felt there will be value in having a clear knowledge. Director Kent Stephens, Kern Tulare ID said he strongly recommends moving forward with the study. There was a motion and a second and after Toni Marie took the roll. Fresno ID and Orange Cover ID voted no. Everyone else voted yes.

Update Reports

Consultant Austin Ewell gave a San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint report. He said the Blueprint now has a sitting board and a Chairman, Ian LeMay of the Fresh Fruit Association. Ewell said there have been some productive meetings and momentum is building once again after slowing during the Covid panicademic.

There is also the Collaborative Action Plan made up of five caucuses moderated out of Stanford University. Drinking water, environmental, agriculture, water agencies and government all meet to find common ground. It was interesting that the only group to drop out of any caucus was the Leadership Council for Justice and Accountability law firm based in Fresno.

Phillips is a member of both groups – the Blueprint and the CAP, not the leadership council for justice and accountability. He said there was a Blueprint strategy session earlier this week. He said there was a well facilitated meeting and all agreed a unified Valley voice is critical. He said individual players do a good job fighting over a shrinking water supply. It is now time to fight together to increase the pie. Phillips said there will be another session in April to further flesh out what needs to be implemented.

Phillips said the ag caucus at the CAP was expressing some concerns about some of the hardlines being drawn by the enviro caucus regarding Delta operations. He said he thinks the enviro caucus is very worried a study will show there is a good chance a good sized amount of water leaving the Delta above any regulatory needs or environmental benefit. This water could be used to recharge the aquifer. As Dr. Scott Hamilton head of the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint Technical Committee has said many times it is much cheaper to store water underground than to build reservoirs.

Canal Repairs

Next Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineers reported the Deer Creek area didn’t have any burrowing owls. They are endangered, maybe by making their nest underground instead of in trees? They are as God made them and kind of cool. But as a species they won’t be hindering the construction. She also reported on a $25,000 change order. COO Johnny Amaral praised FWA Superintendent Chris Hickernell and his crew for the above and beyond work performed in preparing the work area. He said they accomplished in one day what was expected to take three or more. Good for them.

CFO Wilson Orvis gave an update on the state funding agreement. He said there is good news. FWA has executed a funding agreement for state money this week. The negotiations was completed in record time in a large part for DWR’s efforts. The initial award is $29 million if I heard correctly.

Phillips reiterated the really good cooperation that came from DWR, in particular Chief Karla Nemeth who stayed engaged and kept things moving forward. Loeffler said Orvis’ financial team is providing diligence and doing a great behind the scenes job.

From a press release from the state – “Through this investment, we are furthering a partnership to restore California’s major water conveyance systems to improve the resiliency of California’s water supply during drought and flood conditions,” said DWR Director Karla Nemeth. “The projects, when completed, will maximize the canal’s capacity to move water efficiently through the system and improve California’s ability to boost and store its water supply.”

Water Report

Macleod said the tap turned off after December but there could be more rain next week but things aren’t good. He said the problem is statewide and both DWR and the Bureau have submitted emergency change petitions for Delta operations.

The big question is with so little water in Lake Shasta will there be a call on Friant for the Exchange Contractors’ use by the Bureau. Macleod said that is highly likely, something that will happen in April if it happens. That means there is a definite risk to the 15 percent Class I allocation for Friant.

On a brighter note Macleod said the ASO flight data shows a better buildup of higher elevation snowpack. The unseasonably warm weather is accelerating lower level snowpack melt and runoff. I was at Millerton Lake yesterday and it was 90 degrees. Loeffler said any glimmer of hope is appreciated.

Bureau Report

USBR Satrap Michael Jackson gave his report saying Macleod did a good job covering the news. He said they will be able to turn on two pumps at the Jones plant starting 12:01am tomorrow and they can run until April 1st. After that the pumping will be limited to equal the flows at Vernalis.

He said San Luis Reservoir storage is low and an extremely tight balance due to in-Delta health and human safety needs. In my recollection H&HS supplies are the last to be cut. He said the accretion levels in the Delta and along the Sacramento River are one of the most difficult figures for the Central Valley Project to figure in its operation. He said this month’s wild swings in weather from the 90s to rain to back down in the 60s is adding uncertainty to predictions. He said the ASO report is good because snowmelt at higher elevations is subject to less evaporation. Borba asked Jackson if there is a scenario where Friant gets a zero allocation. Unfortunately the answer was yes.

Water Quality

Macleod reported on the issue of water quality in the FKC. He said there has been a monumental increase in progress. There have been issues with water quality for years. Sierra snowpack is pristine but as more sources of water are added to the canal it can get a little mucked up by the end of the line. Phillips pointed out the new GM at Shafter Wasco ID Chris Lawrence has done a very good job of contributing helpfully to the water quality ad hoc committee.

Gov’t Stuff

            Alex Biering spoke from Sacramento saying she included a list of bills in the packet Friant is watching. SB832 is a bill intended to broaden monitoring and the technology requirements and supports open ET. Open ET has been questioned for its accuracy and not many entities in the Central Valley that I’m aware of have opted for Open ET. She said there was a bill dealing with appropriation of existing streams and SGMA needs that hasn’t popped up for a while.

Before becoming COO Amaral was also involved in governmental matters. Now he gets to be COO and still report on federal matters. He said consultant Mike Villines is keeping a close watch on the Open ET. Amaral also said earmarked bills are now being called community funding requests. He said there is a trashcan full of money in DC and he urged FWA members to reach out for seed money.

Amaral said the Family Farm Alliance and the California Farm Water Alliance is putting together a full page ad in the Wall Street Journal to show the danger poor water regulation poses to our nation’s food supply. He also thanked Tulare ID GM Aaron Fukuda for hosting a tour of ag lenders and appraisers and feeding them lunch yesterday.


Hickernell gave the O&M report and there is a good photo of the goats being used for weed control along the canal. The use of goats has proven very helpful. As Hickernell said he’s no tree hugger, but these goats have been responsible for a major cut in chemical expenditures and have cut down on the squirrel holes without using poison. Hickernell said a lot of other things like the SCADA system is up and running well.

San Luis Delta Mendota

Orvis reported he’s still tracking the San Luis Transmission Projects and while progress is being made, it’s being made slower than hoped. He said the Bureau had an outreach session about the transmission project that proved helpful.

CEO Report

Phillips said having Maher here this morning, who served in the Navy, reminded him his son is now stationed in Boston with the submarine service. So he’s got some Oakland A’s verses Red Sox tickets. He also said he’ll be speaking tomorrow at the California Water Alliance lunch in Fresno and urged folks to come cheer on Friant. With that we broke for lunch which will be followed by another closed session. And that’s what was happening in Visalia at 12:18pm.

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854 N. Harvard Ave., Lindsay, CA 93247, Office 559/562-6305 Email: information@friantwater.org www.friantwater.org

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 Johnny Amaral and Attorney Don Davis.


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