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Merced Irrigation District January 12, 2021

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Ger Bennett BannerBy Joel Hastings

The monthly meeting of the Merced Irrigation District board of directors was held remotely on the phone and online on January 12, 2021. General Counsel Phil McMurray called the meeting to order at 10:01 a.m. He called the roll with all five directors present. After the pledge of allegiance, the agenda was confirmed and there was no public comment. Chairman Jeff Marchini obtained unanimous approval for the four items on the consent calendar.  Included were approval of the December 15, 2020 meeting minutes, the November cash transactions and treasurer’s report. For the month of November, nearly $9 million was received and warrants were issued for about $8 million. Also approved was the proforma report that showed no dollars paid out for tort claims in the month.

Board elections were held with Marchini approved as president unanimously. Marchini was given the authority to appoint committee chairs. Bob Weimer was reelected unanimously as vice-chairman.

A report on post-employment benefits and the pension fund was delivered by either Vic Moreno, director of administrative services, or by Donald Knapp, chief financial officer. Neither was visible on the WebEx screen and I just could not hear who was introduced.

Two items here included the fact that the District provides health insurance for retirees who leave employment before age 65 when they can obtain Medicare. Also, the pension fund, after three years of no deposits, is now in a shortfall situation of about $4 million. In 2014 the District joined the California Employers’ Retiree Benefit Trust and made contributions for four years, but did not put in funds in 2018, 2019 or 2020. The Fund returns about seven percent each year.

The District has an obligation to make up the shortfall and could do so with a single, one-time payment which is financially unrealistic. Instead, staff has asked for solutions from the auditing actuary and recommends a contribution of $300,000 beginning in February this year and annually thereafter for 20 years. After some discussion which the audio would not let us hear clearly about why no contributions had been made, it was decided that the Finance Committee would take this under advisement and report back to the Board next month. One comment we could hear was that the Board needed to take its medicine, but the question was how sick the patient and how much medicine is needed.

The Energy Resources and Hydroelectric Report was given by Juan Sandoval, Deputy General Manager, Energy Resources. He summarized sales and customer counts for November with a presentation of peak demand for electric and usage of natural gas. He cited costs per KWH and BTU. His information showed that this part of the business is in line with budgets and recent years and his report was accepted. The District serves over 11,000 utility customers.

He also presented information about 13 construction and repair projects that were done on the three hydroelectric plants during the planned December outage. He said there had been no power interruptions in November.

Brian Kelly, Deputy General Manager, Water Resources, presented a detailed report of offseason winter maintenance and construction. He reviewed everything from weed removal and pump work to major canal construction and piping projects. He also described work on the Merced River at several locations including flood control and fish habitat improvement. Work was done across the district in eastern Merced County from Fairfield and LeGrand in the south to Livingston in the north.

He concluded with a description and drone photos of a lovely facility for public access of non-motorized boating on the lower Merced River with parking, toilet facilities and a concrete boat launch.

Details for both the energy and water resources reports and financial report can be found as part of the board agenda included on the District website at

At 11:18 a.m. the Board went into executive session to discuss contract negotiations with employees who are members of the IBEW Local 1245.

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Merced Irrigation District – 744 W 20th St, Merced, CA 95340     209/722-5761    website

Staff: General Manager – John Sweigard; Deputy GM, Water Rights / Supply – Hicham Eltal; Deputy GM, Water Resources – Bryan Kelly; Deputy GM, Energy Resources – Juan Sandoval

Board: Jeff Marchini – President, Robert Weimer – Vice-President, Mario Bandoni, Suzy Hultgen and Dave Long

PROFILE: The District was organized in 1919 in eastern Merced County encompassing approximately 164,000 acres. The District owns, operates and maintain three hydroelectric facilities with three lakes as the primary water storage facilities on the Merced River. The District’s water system diverts surface water from the Merced River at two locations, conjunctively managed together with groundwater supplies from approximately 220 wells. These water supplies are conveyed through approximately 800 miles of conveyance facilities consisting of canals, pipelines, pump stations, creeks and drains. The District generated electricity beginning in 1927 and began providing retail electric service in 1996, serving approximately 10,000 customers. This District owns and maintains five recreation areas adjacent to Lakes McClure and McSwain.