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Friant Water Authority March 28, 2024

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By Don A. Wright

The Friant Water Authority board of directors met at the Bello Vita Event Venue in Visalia on Thursday, March 28, 2024. I know what you’re thinking. With lawsuits flying hither and yon, with the disappointing allocations from the US Bureau of Reclamation and theLidco Inc. Department of Water Resources, with the looming State Board SGMA hearings – you want to know just like I do – will any of the districts in the Wasco area be hiring cannibal hobos to provide security for their installations vulnerable to copper wire theft. The officials I queried had no comment as displayed by their either ignoring me and the question – or snorting derisively and walking off.

The Meeting

Things got officially started at 10:45am instead of 10:30am like those of us in the hallway were hoping. Chairman Jim Erickson asked Director Cliff Loeffler to say a prayer. He gave thanks for the rain and Easter.

There was no public comment, nothing new out of closed session and the consent calendar was approved. CEO Jason Phillips asked attorney Don Davis to explain the first action item. Davis said there is Resolution Number 2024-02, a Memorandum of Understanding between Friant and the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority. During the 2014-15 drought the San Joaquin River water Friant depends on was sent to SLDMWA by the US Bureau of Reclamation. There has been a great deal of negotiation since then according to Davis and others. The MOU deals with replacement costs for water delivered through the Central Valley Project, collection and payment of Operations & Maintenance costs and related actions. Davis said the MOU has the Bureau’s blessing. This type of document is a financing agreement and makes it CEQA exempt.

CFO Wilson Orvis spoke further on the matter. He said a lot of this had to do with the SJR water in the Mendota and the intertie costs. The MOU will give Friant a vote on the SLDMWA board when matters involving financial impacts are shared. Phillips shared he had respect for the hard work SLDMWA’s CEO Federico Barajas and Chair Cannon Michael and their staff put into this work. He said there were compromises on both sides and they’ve found a way to work together. The board approved.

The next item was a Third Quarter 2024 call for funds from the members. Orvis got the job to tell the folks why they owe money. He explained the O&M budget is approved and divided into 12 installment payments. The quarterly member call is reviewed by the finance committee monthly and the amounts calculated then. The board agreed to billing themselves.


The first report was from Janet Atkinson from Stantec Engineering about the progress on the repairs on the Friant Kern Canal. The north FKC bifurcation tie in is now receiving water. The south bifurcation is getting close. She said the machine paving has been completed and the work crew has decreased. There has been some very good weather off and on during March that helped make up lost time from the rainy February.

Atkinson showed the Deer Creek siphon. Much of the rip rap has been placed and Deer Creek is flowing over both the new and old sections of the FKC. She showed some impressive photos of the completed and ongoing work. She reported change orders are at three percent of the contract, which sounds good to me. Most of my projects cost twice as much and take twice as long as I plan.

On that note the repaving on a couple of the roads that had to be tore up during the repairs has “slipped” behind schedule. Partly due to the weather and partly due to having to correct the grades for subsidence. There were questions about the concrete pouring methods and the paving of the sides and the bottom.

Phillips reminded everyone the canal work zone is federal property. Although it is impressive there are safety issues and it is trespassing on federal property to visit the location without permission. However, Friant is happy to set up tours. A Director from Coffee Pot Dome Water District* said he told the job foreman he knew Phillips and was told go wherever you want. Phillips said that explains the reports of the rude man on site.

Water Operations

          Next Katie Duncan sat in for Ian Buck-Macleod and she reported temperatures have been a bit above average and snowpack is at average. There will be no call on Friant as the Exchange Contractors will get their full allocation. On the San Joaquin River watershed the snowpack is above average. Shasta is above average. South of Delta allocations are only at 45 percent. The current storm has some impact on the USBR allocations to Friant. It looks like at least an 80-percent allocation if I understood.

Duncan reported there were two planes up in the air yesterday to conduct the Airborne Snow Observatory flights. There was a window of clear, cloudless skies. I think she said this is the last scheduled flight but with this new storm there may be another one scheduled. The ASO flights have proven to be very helpful in setting realistic allocations as the flights give a much better estimate of the snowpack than current, on the ground methods.

Phillips said Friant’s internal modeling shows a much better than 90 percent allocations. He expects an increase from the Bureau after this current storm system is taken into consideration. He said when there are differences between Friant and the Bureau’s estimates he pushes to up the Bureau’s figures. It makes the difference between the Friant growers pumping groundwater or not. Phillips also said having the pumps at the O’Neil Forebay taken down during April/May was throwing the allocations off and that could impact the Exchange Contractors forcing a call on SJR water. They have agreed to delay this until the fall. Phillips pointed out there is nothing on the calendar but bad news from the regulators.

It seems if it isn’t salmon, it’s smelt, if not smelt then steelhead. An endless game has developed. It sounds like the question is “how do we block contractors from getting water?” is the goal instead of “how can we help the environment?” The two questions are not synonymous. Blocking deliveries from the Delta isn’t the same as helping the fish.

External Affairs

            Mike Villines was calling on the phone saying everything in Sacramento is being driven by the budget and the deficit. He said the real fallout will hit next year. The state is papering over the deficit and this will be mostly media hype. The $15 billion “climate” bond is expected to be shrunk by half. I guess you have to call water, drought, flooding and fire climate to get any pennies from the wallet. He’s watching three water bills but he expects any significant spending to be killed in committee and there is a veto threat from Governor Gav Newsom.

Phillips thanked Villines and said the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin is tracking the water legislation. He also said Johnny Amaral is in Italy and he’ll be giving most of Amaral’s report in the CEO report.


Superintendent Chris Hickernell reported on the recent dewatering of the Friant Kern Canal and maintenance in general. There were a couple of “incidents” involving machinery. Someone dug and hit a powerline. Weed control is being dealt with by mowing until the vegetation becomes to dry and then the goats take over. Good for them. Love to see a herd of goats grazing peacefully along the canal banks.


            Austin Ewell began with thanking Juan Lopez, Congressman Jim Costa’s Chief of Staff from Washington DC for attending today’s meeting. Ewell reported the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley is partnering with Southern California and some entities from the Bay Area in commenting on the water bond. This is an ongoing coalition and helps to strengthen the Valley’s position.

Ewell said along with the California Water Institute there is a water plan that will provide a foundation for congress and other government agencies to use for planning considerations. He also acknowledged Eddie Ocampo as the new Blueprint Chair and Geoff Vandenheuvel as the Vice Chair. Vandenheuvel was also recognized for writing a good report on the Blueprint that will be published in the monthly Tulare County Farm Bureau Newsletter. The ongoing Delta farmer/Valley farmer in person meetings are laid the groundwork for better cooperation between the two water interests.


Orvis reported the reelection of Chair Michael and Vice Chair William Bordeaux was the deal at recent board elections at the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority meeting.


Phillips reported the South of Delta Drought Resiliency Framework is in the packet and it is significant. He said Friant has worked with the Bureau at the Director’s level, the Exchange Contractors and SLDMWA. There have been many issues building up over the past 10-years that threatened to spill over. Along with USBR Commissioner Camile Touton and Ernest Conant a parley was called for the leaders in DC.

He said calls on Friant water resulting from zero South of Delta allocations, and the westside’s dependance on surface water were causing harm on all sides. Extraordinarily large repair projects such as the Delta Mendota Canal repairs and the Sac Dam were on the table. The Del Puerto Dam has been an issue. A subset of Friant members has filed litigation against the project’s operational guides, but Friant would actually, potentially be an investor in this new westside storage. All of these matters are part of the MOU agreed to earlier.

The Voluntary Agreements are causing issues. Friant was backing out but is now back at the table. There are losses in Reach One of the San Joaquin River that need to be explained. The San Joaquin River Restoration Settlement is needed. The lack of accounting improvements in the Delta has called into questions calls on Friant’s supplies. Phillips said things have changed in the past 70-years since this accounting started and instead of water interests beating on each other, upgrade and clean up the process.

Phillips said the agreement is now public and there is a drought pool created. He said this 100,000 a/f common pool is under a pilot plan that cuts that by 50-percent. There is already more than 80,000 a/f available. He said he’s happy to discuss this plan that was signed last week in Sacramento. He said the Bureau Commissioner is currently evaluating spending some of the big DC money on this plan. He hopes it will come to fruition. He mentioned again Costa’s help in this.

Phillips also reported the new Bureau Regional Director Karl Stock toured the FKC repairs lately, garbed in the appropriate safety gear. He spoke on the Ag Council at Sacramento and at the Conant retirement party. There was lengthy tribute to Conant in Reno at the recent Family Farm Alliance conference. He also toured the salmon fish hatchery near Friant Dam. It’s a $44 million facility and it looks like the matrix. One of the issues is being able to get 20 cubit feet per second out of Millerton Lake. It dries out the trout hatchery. This should be an easy fix for a small problem that could yield great results.

Finally more than 100 folks have RSVP’d for the annual Friant dinner in Madera on May 16th. With that the meeting adjourned for and excellent lunch cooked on site at 12:21pm. And that was that. Go be good to yourselves and each other.

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*The name of the district was changed to protect the director’s identity, after all this is trespassing on federal property we’re talking about here.

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.