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Friant Water Authority September 22, 2022

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By Don A. Wright

The Friant Water Authority held its Thursday, September 22, 2022 board meeting at the Visalia Convention Center and on an off brand online meeting platform, the preferred choice of the US Government. I remember a time way back during the Clinton administration when a guy named Bill had built up this amazing computer software company with an operating system named after doors or some such hole in the wall. Bill was quickly becoming one of the richest men on earth and yet somehow he didn’t avail his company with a lobbying presence in Washington DC. He really didn’t need one, his product didn’t depend on federal support, he paid his taxes and generally lead the life of a wealthy man with a thriving business and a public persona as king of the nerds. That only lasted so long, as the feds came after him with threats of antitrust prosecution. Bill wasn’t a good old boy. He wasn’t paying his dues. So he doubled down on the lobbying and started getting weird about climate change and farmland and had many other adventures we’ll probably never know about this side of the throne. Bill drank the Kool aide and joined the club and the feds backed off.

I can’t help but wonder if Bill held a bit of grudge at being forced into the DC way of paying tribute. If a root of bitterness did find purchase in his soul it would explain Micro Soft Teams.

The Meeting

The meeting started late. It was scheduled for a 10:00am start but Chairman Cliff Loeffler wasn’t able to rein in the sederunt nature of the closed session until about 10:30am. He began the meeting giving thanks and asking the Lord for wisdom and rain. I gave thanks for the late start since I didn’t arrive until 10:10am. Then you figure in it takes five minutes for the squirrels in my computer to get the wheel going fast enough and things worked out well for me to be ready when the meeting began. There wasn’t anything to report from closed session.

I didn’t hear the public comment called so it’s a safe bet no one had anything to contribute and the consent calendar was passed.

Action Items

CFO Orvis Wilson presented the 2023 Operations & Maintenance budget for final approval. City of Fresno Director Brock Buche and Arvin Edison Director Edwin Camp had some questions about increases and no inflationary surprise there were some. Orvis and Superintendent Chris Hickernell were able to answer them to their satisfaction. The board approved.

In these times of rising prices cost of living allowances are important to all of us. Finance Committee Chair Josh Pitigliano presented the board with options. Loeffler said there could be a sliding scale – sliding upwards – depending on the rate of increase in the inflation track. Buche said the City of Fresno rarely goes over three percent but the feds are paying out four percent. There was more discussion. Attorney Don Davis said there are limitations on any public employee retro active compensation. But, you can pay more in the future. Director Chris Tantau moved for a five percent COLA with the amount to be revisited in six months. Porterville/Saucelito/Terra Bella IDs General Manager Sean Geivet said eight percent is needed for employees to make ends meet.

Friant WA Executive Director Jason Phillips was asked his opinion. He said he’s checked with San Luis Delta Mendota WA, Tehama Colusa Canal WA and Westlands Water District and FWA is at the upper end of employee compensation. Aaron Fukuda, GM Tulare ID said his district is including paid time off in its compensation. Lower Tule River ID Alternate Director Tom Barcellos said the growers who pay for all of this will not see any increased profitability to make up the difference and supported Tantau’s motion. The board approved.

Updates & Reports

The reports started with Hickernell giving the board an update on the SCADA system, this was pulled from the consent calendar under Item 2C, a five year contract with IntelliSite. If I understood correctly there has been some struggles with the contractor providing the service under the current agreement. He said the current situation is cloud based and it’s a disaster. Keeping the system maintained and getting immediate service when there is a problem has been challenging. He has to call in with a problem and get a ticket and it takes a while to get the bugs out.

Side rant: Why have we allowed companies to cut out customer service? I call GoDaddy or Integrity Networks and I get a cheerful, helpful man or woman who helps me with a problem and they don’t make me feel like a luddite. At most other technology companies and far too many government agencies (but not all) getting a live person to help can take a tremendous amount of tenacity and is often a futile attempt.

Does this sound like a familiar voice at the other end of the line to you? “Hi, how can I help you?”

Or does this? “Due to a higher than expected volume of calls your wait time on hold listening to – well we don’t call it music exactly, let’s say saccharine ear pudding on infinite repeat – may be longer than 72 hours. For quicker service go to our website’s FAQ section and scroll around there for a while until you find something similar to the problem you’re having. Then we’ll ask you to spend even more of your time filling out a customer satisfaction survey.”

Included in the upgraded contract are technology upgrades on hardware and software. Water quality sensor data, constant monitoring of 356 electronic units along the canal, upgraded cameras and give Friant greater control. Buche was concerned the software may be too proprietary. Orange Cove ID GM Fergus Morrissey said he recommends the district managers be consulted on this before going forward. He said this is something the managers deal with constantly. Arvin Edison GM Jeevan Muhar said he’d like to look this over more before anyone signs. Geivet said he trusts Hickernell and Friant to make a good choice. COO Johnny Amaral said the current agreement is still in place and there is time to review further. Buche suggested sending out an RFQ for a consultant to review the matter since it will cost more than $160,000 per year. The item was tabled.

Friant Kern Canal Repairs

            Janet Atkinson of Stantec Engineering gave the board an update on FKC repair work. She said the crews have been working extremely hard. The earthwork is ahead of schedule and a good deal of concrete work has been started. There are a few roads in Tulare County that have been closed and a few that have remained open. She said the Deer Creek Check and Siphon work is continuing at a fast pace. Formwork and rebar is in place and inspected. All the bottom slabs in the siphon floor have been poured. She said they are pouring concrete every day.

There was a concrete quality issue on a small structure that will be replaced. When concrete is tested they pour a little extra in a canister. After it dries it’s crushed to determine compression strength. There were some ecological considerations requiring a buffer zone between nesting birds and construction.

It sounds like the work being done on this project is moving along very well. Large, complicated water infrastructure can be difficult. Good for them. Atkinson said the work is ahead of schedule. The amount and cost of change orders has been very reasonable. Orvis has been keeping a close watch on expenses and all is well within the plan.

Pitigliano asked what’s going to happen on Deer Creek if there is a decent rain. There is no dam on Deer Creek so there is a water diversion plan but they are working feverishly to complete this portion before those expensive measure need to be put in place.

Camp asked if there is any part of the project behind schedule. Amaral said no. Everything so far is on schedule or ahead. Atkinson added there is some built in flexibility in the schedule. Arvin Edison is after all at the end of the line on the FKC and needs it operational asap.

FKC System-Wide Matters

            Ian Buck-Macleod, Water Resource Manager presented the board with a proposed reconnaissance study. Evan Perez from Stantec took over and said the presentation includes hydraulic modeling, formulating engineering alternatives and what this means to the estimated benefits. Perez’s father Gary used to be the Friant Superintendent I believe. Phillips said developing this understanding will help guide some of the discussions at the board retreat in November.

Perez said there are some preliminary results from data gathered. The next step will be to continue analysis to identify economic breakpoint for improvements based on the cost benefit. There are also additional details and modeling results that will be available at the retreat. Much of the presentation went over my head but I was in a room full of engineers who were sitting up straight so I’m guessing it was good stuff.

Water Report

Macleod gave the water report next and said there are some inconsistencies in Friant and the US Bureau of Reclamation’s estimates of what color water and how much is in San Luis Reservoir. There hasn’t been clarity in my mind about how increasing or decreasing allocations this late in a water year benefits anyone. It’s the getting to the end of September, harvest is going on and there isn’t as much demand. It would seem to the causal observer with demand dropping off sharply and the water year ending the amount of allocation is a moot point. But this is California water so there are no moot points or much reward yielded from intuitive thinking. Allocation amounts could be the key to higher or lower carryover into the new water year. It is also a can of worms to be sorted out between CVP contractors and the Bureau.

Exclusive: I got to sit next to Barcellos during the meeting. While that fine gentleman is the first to admit there is no guarantee he has pointed out the remarkable accuracy of hog spleens to predict rainfall. A quick check on slaughtered porcine entrails reveals a wet December and January. Barcellos left the meeting before the water report and made no public announcement of his findings so only readers will get this inside scoop.

CEO Report

Phillips said there will be a trip to Washington DC next week at the same time as the Family Farm Alliance and the fruit and citrus guys are going to be there too. So it could be a good trip, strength in numbers. He spoke about the importance of the retreat. And Amaral’s excellent podcast has another installation coming out this week. Keep your eyes open. Also Amaral will be conducting an ACWA tour on October 13th and moderating a legislation panel the next day for ACWA Regions Six and Seven I believe.

Phillips said Congressmen David Valadao and Kevin McCarthy have a good water bill coming out. Not sure of the number but I’ll take a look through my plethora of press releases.

In other news the San Luis Transmission Project is dead. The Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley has sent a letter to Governor Gavin Newsom commenting on his water strategy. The Blueprint is there to help the Gov in water plans impacting the Valley. There will be a Blueprint large group meeting in Madera at the Farm Bureau October 12th at 2:00pm. Congressman Jim Costa will be speaking.

Phillips commented when the Governor’s strategy came out some members of the Blueprint who are not directly involved in water showed support for parts of the strategy that don’t support keeping farmers farming. He said as the Blueprint matures this will decrease.

Lastly Phillips introduced his son Ryan Phillips who is in the Navy and about to deploy. The younger Phillips sat through the meeting. Director Matt Leider, Teapot Dome WD asked if making Ryan sit through the meeting was part of his survival training in case he ever gets captured by an enemy who uses boredom as a torture device. With that the meeting adjourned around noon for a good taxpayer funded lunch.

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

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/COO Johnny Amaral and Attorney Don Davis.

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