The Friant Water Authority board of directors met at the World Ag Expo facility in Tulare on Thursday, September 26, 2019. It was another beautiful day in the Valley. FWA met first in Closed Session so Chairman Chris Tantau called the meeting to order at 10:00am. Director Cliff Loeffler led us in a prayer for God’s blessing to make wise decisions. Public comment was next and after I invited everyone to my WATER CONCERT on Saturday, September 28th, 4:00pm at my home in Clovis – not to be too pointed but the invite is at www.WaterWrights.net/2019/08/29/water-concert-saturday-september-28th-4pm-til/ – a director from Teapot Dome WD announced his district has left the South Valley Water Association and rejoined FWA.
The consent calendar was passed and the 2020-2021 budget was discussed. CFO Don Willard gave an introduction to Delano Earlimart ID’s General Manager and former FWA engineer Eric Quinley gave some of the Friant Division of the Central Valley Project’s non-FWA contractors concerns. Quinley emphasized the willingness to continue repairing the canal but wanted to make sure the money allocated will be fairly billed, if I understood his talk.
Willard then dropped the $500,000 plus quarterly call for funds and that actually went over pretty well. Good for him.
Attorney Don Davis announced the choice of Bender Rosenthal Inc. for the right of way acquisitions of the Friant Kern Canal repair project. There is more than 15-miles of right of way needed and Davis had good things to say about BRI and its staff. It’s going to cost about $1 million to hire the firm and the land itself is estimated at about $20 million in voluntary acquisitions – here’s no eminent domain funds in this pot. Friant CEO Jason Phillips reminded the board this money has already been budgeted so this isn’t a new request. Fresno ID Director George Porter was concerned about the timeline. He said the Authority could end up spending millions of dollars without the corresponding funding. Davis said this work has to take place before the construction begins and this isn’t an offer to purchase any property. Phillips said this money is in place and isn’t new and the work has to be done no matter what. There are many contracts FWA could shut down immediately and save money on the short term but lose time and ultimately money in the long term. Porter was also concerned about where BRI comes from. Davis said they have extensive experience with the US Bureau of Reclamation with offices in Fresno and Sacramento. Arvin Edison WSD Director Edwin Camp said for the districts downstream from the choke point on the FKC thanks everyone for the recognition of the need to get the canal repaired as quickly as possible. Davis also said getting this particular duck in order will help with the bonding in the near future. Lower Tule River ID visiting Director Tom Barcellos asked which account the money’s coming from and I was sure the answer. But Tantau said he shares the concerns with the smaller districts (he represents Kaweah Delta WCD) about the expenditures but he is confident this is a necessary portion of what has to happen. The board approved with FID voting nay.
Alexandra Biering rides herd on what craziness takes place in Sacramento for Friant. She reported Governor Gavin Newsom has until October 19th to sign pending legislation. SB 1 sucked a lot of the oxygen out of the room but DWR was charged with participating in the NASA Arial Snow Survey now it needs funding. But it’s a start. SB559 was made into a two-year bill and will be taken up again in January. Consultant Mike Villines said he’ll be working to make the relationship with State Senator Melissa Hurtado and Governor Newsom tighter. Hurtado wants to bring a delegation of state senators to tour Friant and build support for SB559. Barcellos said California Secretary of Natural Resources Wade Crowfoot will be in Visalia soon to address the ACWA Region Six and Seven and this might be a good opportunity to get him involved a little more. Could happen. She also mentioned there was a bill by Fresno Assemblyman Joaquin Arambula to have the State Board expedite groundwater recharge projects. More about that as it matures.
Phillips said the Valley Water Blueprint efforts have so far been playing a leading role in the Governor’s Water Resiliency, so that’s a good thing. He said SB1 was incredibly districting even for end of term Sacramento standards and this took the focus off of SB559. He said he is optimistic as the FKC is on many peoples’ radar. Phillips praised California Citrus Mutual’s Casey Creamer in being a big help in keeping the proper advice and momentum continuing. He asked Villines what he sees happening in January for SB559. Villines said there were a great bunch of partners on promoting SB559. He said it could pass in January because of the education and outreach that’s already taken place. He said it could be amended or rolled into a new bill that includes a larger coalition including the Delta Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct. He said his gut says it would be advantageous to combine with other groups and help get the Governor’s wind in the sail instead of blowing against. Camp asked if there could be more money and Villines said it very well could do so. One message received was some federal dollars would also have to come into play to get state funds – at this point that’s the view. Phillips added because the FKC is owned by the feds it is ineligible for federal loans. Kern Tulare ID Director Kent Stephens pointed out the FKC has been completely paid for by California farmers so this isn’t helping to pay the feds for construction.
FWA Consultant Johnny Amaral said there were two open house events regarding the repairs of the FKC in Porterville and Delano. He said they were well attended and he’s available to attend home board meetings as well. He and other Friant staff along with the Exchange Contractors, San Luis Delta Mendota and Glenn Colusa ID, pretty much the lion’s share of the CVP, visited Washington DC. He said it was very good to show congress a united bunch of heads nodding in unison. Moving on the VWBp has reached its first budget goal of about $250,000 I believe. That’s good. Phillips added Senator Diane Feinstein has a bill to put $25 million into the Bureau’s budget that the FKC could be a beneficiary of. Tantau added Loreen Loeffler also went to DC to help balance the plaid shirt mafia of men farmers and her contribution was invaluable. Good for her.
Valley Water Blueprint
Consultant Austin Ewell was going to talk about the VWBp next and Phillips introduced him saying having the diverse group show up in Washington unified was a very powerful statement. Ewell agreed with Phillips saying DC staff was pleased with the presentations as well. He said there are almost 70 individuals representing various organizations working on the
Blueprint and the 8th draft will be sent to Newsom tomorrow. There was a Blueprint meeting two days ago and things went well and there will be another meeting in October to amongst other things to set a regular day for meetings. Cal Berkeley has a PhD in economics working on that facet and the Environmental Defense Fund and Public Policy Institute have all contributed. Ewell said he believes there’s a good chance much of the Blueprint will make it into the governor’s plan. He said there is more outreach to take place and getting some of the NGOs to realize the need to participate is anticipated. This is community organizing on a large scale, designed to help as many people living in the Valley as possible and there are women involved despite some reports to the contrary. There is a mindset in some parts of the state that agriculture is rapacious and harmful. It’s rumored those who hold these views are generally well fed and OK with golfing in Palm Springs. I haven’t heard them complain much about Los Angeles importing water or restoring the San Francisco Peninsula to pre-Columbian conditions. There was a novel by Colleen McCullough that came out in the 1970s called The Thorn Birds. Most of the story took place in the Australian Outback where there were far more sheep than humans. People from the urban sector found the treatment of sheep in the rural sector to be occasionally harsh in their opinion. People from the rural sector found the treatment of people in the urban sector to be occasionally harsh in their opinion. Supply and demand; what you have a lot of can become less important.
Next was COO Doug DeFlitch leading a long discussion of the financing portion of FKC repairs. This was one of those funding and future options talks. Replete with technical terms. Without getting into much detail (because describing financial flowcharts in writing is no fun for any of us) hundreds of millions of dollars are involved to repair the canal. The interest of the parties is intense. This isn’t simply an expenditure of someone else’s tax dollars. This money comes from the people in this room, it comes from their neighbors and getting the canal repaired will impact the income opportunities for their grandchildren and beyond.
Stantec engineer and world class drummer Bill Swanson told the board the CEQA and NEPA process is geared up and ready to roll. He talked about some of the other deadlines and Phillips said the December 2020 construction start date is the goal. No other date at this time is authorized here or on any other planet. He said there will be a meeting with the Bureau’s Commissioner level to try to cut out as much red-tape as possible. Phillips said this is not unprecedented and he worked with both the Bureau and the Army Corps of Engineers for 20 something years prior to coming to Friant.
Recharge, Wells & Subsidence
Davis led the talk about recharge near the FKC that includes wells. He said in particular projects in the Deer Creek and Tule River area had documents show up late. There have been some problems in the Eastern Tule Groundwater Sustainability Agency responsible for SGMA implementation for the ground-zero of FKC problems. While they like recharge there are wells associated with the project located very close to the FKC. Sean Geivet is General Manager of three IDs in the area and he said that they did meet with Friant and Davis said things ended up in a good place but he was just urging a very close cooperation from now on. He said Geivet’s districts have agreed to keep things close and accept input on how the recharge projects will be operated. Porterville ID Director Eric Borba said he wants it understood the area has been aggressive in bringing groundwater recharge. He asked how would any recovery be accounted for; how would the difference from recovery and subsidence from other pumping be measured? Geivet said he believes FWA has the responsibility to monitor the subsidence on the FKC. He said his district projects need to monitor themselves but not pay for Friant to monitor the canal. DeFlitch said Friant is monitoring the canal but putting a proposed eight or more projects along the canal will require a greater degree of granularity for everyone. It appears there will be more than enough cooperation to meet the needs of everyone involved.
As we got closer to lunch the reports got shorter. Transferring title of the FKC from the USBR to FWA is a topic of great concern. Louisiana attorney by way of DC, John Bezdek told the board once the Bureau agrees any contracts won’t be impacted by a title transfer a MOU will be developed to identify a timeline. He’s been talking with engineer Dennis Keller about some of the post-title transfer regulatory requirements to be sure Friant doesn’t step on a rake by taking on unforeseen burdens. DeFlitch acknowledged there is an equity matter with the non-FWA contractors to work out.
Water quality along the FKC varies with pump-in along the route can impact some of the downstream contractors. An ad hoc committee is working on this issue.
Payne spoke on the NASA ASO saying Biering is putting together meetings in Sacramento to help promote funding. It’s expensive to fly laser beams around the Sierra Nevada but there is hope for both state and federal funding.
Phillips gave his report saying getting Teapot Dome ID back in the fold will take place officially next month. There is also a board retreat in November and he urged anyone attending to please RSVP ASAP. He said having managers and directors at the table has been very productive in the past and should be fun this year since it will be held in Pismo. Then we ate lunch and went home.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2019 by Don A. Wright
FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY
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. Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Doug DeFlitch, CFO Don Willard, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.