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Friant Water Authority May 27, 2021

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Bermad irrigationThe Friant Water Authority held its Thursday, May 27, 2021 board of directors meeting from the Visalia Convention Center on WebEx. The meeting was slated to begin at 8:30am in closed session and scheduled to reconvene in open session at 10:30am. And bless those poor souls, an ethics training workshop is scheduled after the meeting. The agenda showed four property negotiations for property in Tulare County, so it kind of figures they’re about land impacted from the Friant Kern Canal repairs, or as the big boys like to call it the – Middle Reach Capacity Correction Project. A cost share agreement negotiation with FWA and the US Bureau of Reclamation is listed. Two potential litigation exposures and three potential initiation of litigation matters were also listed.

At 10:50am Chief Executive Officer Jason Phillips announced the remote only meeting format may end by next month. He said he hopes folks will start meeting in person. He said he doesn’t know what will happen. He understands the remote meetings are convenient but they are also a lot of work. Yes they can be work but the benefit from allowing access to folks who otherwise couldn’t attend should weigh heavily in the decision of any public agency. My two cents.

On that note Chairman Cliff Loeffler said in light of current water allocations it may be best to refer to the official portraits as something other than headshots. I think the term mug shots was adopted. Loeffler also brought back the tradition of starting with a prayer for wisdom. Good for him.

The Meeting

The open session began at 10:54 and attorney Don Davis said there was no action taken. Davis said two directors recused themselves from two of the property negotiations to avoid any conflict or perception of conflict. The consent calendar was approved.Conterra

Action Items

The first action item was the new CFO Wilson Orvis’ request to establish a new accounting position – that of financial analyst/project accountant position. Orvis explained this new position would specialize on the canal repairs and be mostly chargeable to that project. It is a big project and former Chair Chris Tantau said this is a much needed addition. City of Fresno’s Brock Buche said it appears this position is primarily to support the canal repair it will be temporary and he said the city has had experience in this type of project. He recommended it be a temporary, contracted position. Loeffler said as former chair of the finance committee FWA will need someone to groom into the senior accountant position as a retirement is expected. Director Edwin Camp said he somewhat agrees with Buche and would at least like to see a breakdown of existing expenditures and accounting positions before making this decision. Orvis said after the canal repairs are finished there are other projects beyond routine OM&R. Tantau said he shares Camp’s concern about staffing getting too heavy and that could be dealt with at the committee level. A motion was made and seconded to approve filling the new position. The vote was in favor but for City of Fresno and Fresno Irrigation District voting no.

The next item was to appoint Orvis to serve on the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority’s finance and administration committee as the alternate. Right now Phillips and COO Doug DeFlitch serve as committee member and alternate. Someone asked how much time this will take from Orvis’ duties. Phillips said he expects Orvis to sit in as alternate for every meeting. Friant members pay more in O&M to SLDMWA than they do to Friant and Phillips wants a specialist on top of this. The board agreed.


The FKC repairs report was given by DeFlitch saying contractors bidding on the repairs visited the site. They asked to extend the deadline for putting in bids and that was deemed reasonable. Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineering said the webinar for bidders was well attended. She said her firm has experience with many of the participating contractors. She said the firm Tudor Perini showed up – I believe they are working on High Speed Rail.* Atkinson said there are more questions from bidders and in general she was pleased with the turnout and quality. Bids will come in during July.

DeFlitch said there are still a couple of permits that need to wrap up. He said the Bureau is working with the Army Corps of Engineers to get that in on time. Davis added the negotiations with Tulare County are still moving forward and it has been an interesting conversation. He said he believes the County isn’t used to working with a big agency like the Bureau. The County is used to telling the developer what to do and the Bureau wasn’t as malleable perhaps to that. In time trust has been built amongst the parties.

Camp asked if the time from bid submissions in July to awarding the contract in October can be shortened. DeFlitch said the goal is to streamline that period of negotiation between the Bureau and the contractor. There is a possibility to start sooner if that process can be shortened. But I vibed an undercurrent of don’t hold your breath.

Water Report

            Ian Buck Macleod reported something we all knew, it’s dry out there. Inflows to Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River are less than 2015 but still better than 1977 – the year I graduated from high school and had a very difficult time finding a decent job.

Macleod said the pumping in April was optimistic and those hopes didn’t last. There expectation now is one pump for the rest of the summer. The Bureau just released its updated ag allocations – they are zero north and south of the Delta. There’s nothing coming out of the Delta but minimum health and safety flows. The State Board is being asked to approve a temporary order to allow additional pumping. They might do so but they might attached some onerous strings as well.

Macleod said the new Cooperative Operating Agreement has proven beneficial. However, there is still concerns of a call being made on San Joaquin River water to go to the Exchange Contractors. But as of now that isn’t carved in stone. He said the Bureau has projected hitting low point on its federal share at San Luis Reservoir. But the figures he showed didn’t include any carry over impacts.

At Friant the SJR runoff ratios have been worse than originally projected. There’s only 40,000 a/f of runoff expected this year from the San Joaquin River watershed. That’s not much. Macleod said he still feels hope to get the projected 20 percent allocation on the Friant system.

The low flows have taken conveyance space at Banta Carbona and Paterson IDs and the restoration flows aren’t being taken. Macleod said there is another report coming up in this meeting about State Board and Bureau actions. Phillips said Friant’s Alex Biering spoke to the State Board and it made a good impression on how what happens at Shasta impacts what happens to the San Joaquin Valley’s eastside Friant service area. Phillips said some of the State Board’s members said they hadn’t taken that information into consideration. Good for Alex, bless her heart.

Subsidence Near the Canal

Next Phillips said groundwater near the FKC is being monitored and he asked DeFlitch to update the board. He said new monitoring stations have been added to areas near the canal where subsidence has been taking place. A graph showed there was a drop in groundwater levels in the summer that recovered a bit but is now headed downward again as more pumping around Porterville takes place. The graph also showed subsidence loss. To my surprise there is some rebound, not much less than an inch, but I didn’t expect any. The current trend is dropping the water level by more than a foot a day and historic lows will be set on or about the 4th of July. Bummer. This could translate to 4.5 feet of additional subsidence within 15-years.

DeFlitch said the Eastern Tule GSA is creating a plan to arrest these conditions and FWA is working with them. Phillips said it’s a tough job for the GSAs. Shelly Abajian from Senator Dianne Feinstein’s office was in attendance and Phillips thanked her. He said as surface water is being cut off so is groundwater and this is coming from the state government more so than the feds. The government has zero plans to deal with this untenable situation.

Water Quality in the Canal

There are situations where non SJR water is pumped into the FKC. The cumulative impact can result in degraded water quality with higher salts. The Friant contractors came together to work out a non-lawsuit solution. The Bureau has to buy off on this and Phillips has been speaking with USBR area manager Michael Jackson and there is hope.

Macleod said there is a large monitoring project, water quality model and other efforts proposed. He said getting the Bureau to update its guidelines. He said the Bureau doesn’t want this to be made an official part of its policy. There are several adjustments that need to be made to allow greater flexibility when moving non-SJR water through the canal. What are the consequences if someone violates the standards or some other part of the agreement? Macleod said he believes the Bureau is willing to find the happy center and good progress is being made. Someone asked if the Friant contractors that don’t like this proposal have their own internal pump-in policy. I guess that was a rhetorical question as there was no answer. Phillips said his discussions with Jackson showed the Bureau would like a dispute resolution included and sign off by FWA members, at least those who support this plan. Loeffler thanked the ad-hoc committee and Macleod for their hard work.

Gov’t Stuff

Biering gave an update on SB 559. The bill passed out of the state senate appropriations committee with amendments that don’t really impact Friant much. The bill provides state funds to repair canals and water conveyance infrastructure. The changes deal with local or federal cost share, something Friant has already developed. This bill will be before the state assembly tomorrow for a vote. Governor Gavin Newsom has proposed some millions of dollars for canal infrastructure in his budget and that’s not yet a certainty. Phillips said if you believe users and those who created the subsidence on the canal should pay and that includes the state, it is important to convey your support on SB 559 to all your government connections. He said we all need to push together. Biering said this coalition is working well together. Loeffler thanked Biering for her testimony before the State Board and Biering said they are listening.

Johnny Amaral gave the federal update saying the Biden/Harris administration is making trillion dollar proposals for so called infrastructure funding. The Senate is making hundreds of billions of dollars of proposals. The two are moving towards each other, but how soon until a compromise is anyone’s guess. I wish I didn’t have to live within real math, economic constraints. Amaral said it is important to get this together so funds for FKC repairs can be realized. He said there will be a meeting tomorrow with almost all the Valley legislators representing areas within Friant. Phillips will lead this meeting and there is good all-around support from the Valley’s elected officials. Amaral said the latest Friant Podcast has been released into the wild. I think he’s interviewing Congressman Devin Nunes. Also at Nunes’ request Phillips testified somewhere I didn’t catch but I’m guessing before congress and that was well received.All Water Rights

San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint

Phillips said if all you want is the state to throw money at the GSAs you don’t need the SJV Water Blueprint. The Governor is willing to spend half a billion dollars on retiring land. Why not spend some on saving land?

Austin Ewell said there is momentum building for government support and it is extremely important to help guide that spending. The Blueprint is developing a project list to help determine what funding will give the best bang for the buck and that is being received by the governor’s office. This is expert input from the Valley of what is needed. Start with providing drinking water to humans. What projects bring water into the Valley? How will this impact recharge and the benefits that come from this? There are at least 20 recharge projects either shovel ready or close to it. The ability to move water from the westside to the eastside and that water being secured at the Delta without harm to the environment are part of the Blueprint. The memo to the governor’s office will include financials and other details on these projects.

Phillips said before the government spends a trash can full of cash on land retirement there needs to be an alternative identifying solutions presented to the elected powers. Ewell said there needs to be a stress placed on the viable solutions, as ridiculous as it is to have to say that. Director David Brown said there will be some land retirement but it is difficult to be optimistic with what is happening in the Valley. Phillips said many of the FWA member agencies have good relations with the local communities and that have to help let them know what is at stake. The local communities need to reach out in turn to the state.

O&M and Such

DeFlitch said they are planning on a Christmas party for staff in June after the virus lockdown is lifted. Also, despite plague FWA staff has had a remarkable safety streak. Good for them. It was announced the Allegretto Hotel in Paso Robles will be the location for an off sight board gathering. The meeting adjourned at 12:37pm and the ethics training was about to commence.

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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, COO Doug DeFlitch, CFO Don Willard, Government Affairs & Communication Alexandra Biering, Water Resource Manager Ian Buck-Macleod, Superintendent Chris Hickernell, Chief of External Affairs Johnny Amaral, Director of Technology Christopher Hunter and Attorney Don Davis.