By Don A. Wright
The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, August 10, 2023 at its Los Banos headquarters. The meeting is also held on Zoom and the transmission began at 9:32am. It is a good start to begin by dialing in the Zoom link well before things kickoff. SLDM hired Rebeca Harms as Deputy General Counsel to help Rebecca Akroyd, the authority’s General Counsel. Fortunately for all involved Ms. Akroyd goes by Becca and that, in my mind at least should reduce confusion. Had I tuned in late I doubt I’d have noticed this looking through the view provided by a Zoom camera of someone sitting across a big room. I would have thought it was Akroyd instead of Harms.
Chairman Cannon Michael called things to order and there were 24 folks listening in online. We all saluted the flag of this great nation at the start – as it should be for any public government meeting. Next everyone around the table introduced themselves. There were some new faces in the crowd, new to me anyway. Under the public comment item no one spoke up. The consent calendar was passed with nothing pulled save a slight change to a date in the minutes.
COO Pablo Arroyave said SLDMWA has revised rates for the third time this wonderfully wet year. Arroyave said there are options and thanked everyone for handing in their projected use amounts. The Finance & Administration Committee along with staff recommended basing the rates on the 100 percent allocation.
Director of Water Policy J. Scott Peterson informed the board the State & Federal Water Contractors Water Authority has some funds from the Lower Yolo Ranch Project to disburse. You’d think accepting money would be something folks would jump on but there was some debate. In the end the board didn’t turn it down.
Arroyave next told to the board about 24-miles of the road on the Delta Mendota Canal banks need some work. He said Talley Oil will do a chipseal for only $311,000. This money is included in the O&M budget and Talley Oil has proven reliable in the past. The board said two thumps up.
Arroyave introduced Jacob McQuirk, a satrap in the DWR’s O&M planning organization. McQuirk spoke about temporary rock barriers in the South Delta gates. These barriers help mitigate effects of pumping. The South Delta is impacted by pumping to the Delta Mendota Canal and the California Aqueduct. The impact is so drastic the good folks at the South Delta Water Agency sued in 1982. There are now two agricultural barriers and two fish barriers in the Delta.
McQuirk showed photos and the barriers are rocks dumped across the channels. Tide and other impacts can flow over them. The project still costs money and there are complaints about the Bureau not getting engaged and not paying enough. The barriers are OK at best but like most of the water infrastructure in California it needs an update. McQuirk said the continued permitting has gotten out of hand. He said the latest report he had to send to the Regional Water Quality Control Board was more than 40-pages and cost a couple of million dollars.
Barriers were meant to improve water quality and fish passage in the South Delta. Pumping can cause water levels to drop and stagnation occur in the water supplies for South Delta farmers. The barriers don’t help with this and can be an impediment to migrating salmon. McQuirk said including permanent gates in the barriers could be very helpful. Both water quality and fishery migration could be improved. It sounded like this would even help with pesky aquatic weeds like hyacinth. He said the benefits of improved barriers could also improve relationships between exporters and South Delta interests. And of course it will somehow help long-term climate resiliency. Really? This will be addressed in combating sea level rise. He said the past predicts the future but the climate is less reliable these days. Ok. You wonder sometimes how many have actually swallowed the Kool-Aid and how many are not free to express rational views that don’t jive with elite views.
McQuirk said there is a unique window of opportunity for federal and state funding that won’t add costs to SWP and CVP contractors. In fact they expect it to lower costs in the long run. It will cost $184 million to put this all together in a working order by 2028. He said he is talking about this to San Luis Delta Mendota to get their help in getting the feds involved. He said at this time DWR doesn’t have a partnership with the Bureau on this. Arroyave said in 2022 SLDM almost lost its Yuba transfers and would have without the current barriers. McQuirk said it is a thin line to make this work without causing permitting violations. It was a good presentation. Director “Honest” John Varela* said it sounded like a good thing to get involved. (Whoops. My apologies, it was actually Director “Honest” Richard Santos, also from Santa Clara Valley WD.) Director “Flying” Bill Diedrich** asked what if DWR had the magic wand what barrier would McQuirk like to see. McQuirk said SDWA General Manager “Handsome” John Herrick*** would tell you dredging also needs to be done in the channels. Now would be a good time to have a tour of the Delta. McQuirk said the current system, even with record flows, didn’t provide enough water to fully realize the barrier benefits as currently constructed. I corresponded briefly with Herrick after the meeting and he asked how unimaginable it is in a year like this with the record flow South Delta farmers can’t get enough water. Yes, something needs fixing and it ain’t High Speed Rail. California’s priorities are way off.
McQuirk said there is enough funding to do design but not construction. Michael asked if there will be a SCADA system to operate the gates and would it include water quality sensors. McQuirk said they already burn a dumpster of cash on water quality monitoring in the Delta so there is room for improving this process.
Petersen reported on government matters and as usual his delivery was world class. I would hire him to read these reports if I could. But he does speak at a fast clip. He said there is a comment period open for ESA regulations that could impact South of Delta operations. There has been a big chunk of work on the Waters of the United States. This WOTUS work has yet to show up in the Federal Register. The Army Corps and EPA are bummed out over losing the Sackett Case and some of their ability to boss around the common man and woman, which ought to make any American worth their salt smile.
As to Congress the Western Caucus has formed an endangered species working group and our friend and former NRDC lawyer/Congressman Jared Hoffman has asked to join. That’ll be fun to watch. Petersen does not expect congress to pass a continuing resolution next month to keep the cash spigot open. What happened to passing budgets and spending within the limits?
Consultant Bill Ball said he’s tracking the appropriation process. The Senate has marked up its bills and the House is in the midst of doing so. He said there is a new set of NEPA rules proposed. One part is to implement reforms that came out of recent legislation. There is also an effort to go beyond executive orders and implement critical race theory and the green/enviro movement wish list. Ball said this could speed up and slow down NEPA at the same time. There is small wonder to me if Kamala goes down in history as the greatest life insurance policy ever to serve a president. I’m not sure she wouldn’t be better to finish this term. Perhaps her communication skills would help slow down the insanity by casting so much confusing sand in the gears nothing is done.
Petersen said SLDMWA will be working with ACWA and other organizations like special districts and cities with implementation on the coalition plans. A survey is going on. My red face-o-rama but I didn’t catch which coalition he was referring to. Thanks to Petersen himself we find – there’s a coalition working on the Advanced Clean Fleets regulation recently adopted by the California Air Resources Board that includes the California Special Districts Association, the California League of Cities, ACWA, and CSAC (counties).
Kristin Olsen reported the California legislature is returning to work next week. She expects about 400 bills are left to move through the Assembly and State Senate. I think she said they have to wrap by September 17th. A new chair of the ag committee may take control soon and she recommended planning for this. The bonds, including water bonds are on pause at the moment. Governor Gav wants the mental health bond advanced before any other. She doesn’t see anything bond-wise taking shape before 2024. There is a legislator tour of the area being set up for October.
Executive & Other Management Reports
Exec Direct Federico Barajas reminded the board there will be a strategic plan workshop following today’s meeting. There will also be a Yuba Water Agency tour next month and he’d like everyone to welcome them.
Arroyave gave his report saying the Jones Plant had to cut back pumping due to unusual problems at the fish screens and that will require more draw down at San Luis Reservoir. There is a lot of debris from hyacinth and other problems. Barajas said there are resource issues going on at the fish screens. Arroyave said there will be a Jones Plant and fish screen tour coming up.
Liz Kiteck of the USBR gave the water report and we couldn’t hear her and then we could but she couldn’t hear us. She trouped on anyway. She said the trash at Jones is a problem. There are releases up north and a Hoopa Tribal flow I think she said, coming up. Shasta is still above 3 million a/f, Folsom is at 800,000 a/f. New Melones is high as is San Luis Reservoir – SLR is setting records. There is salinity controls in the Delta until next week and there’s a fall X2 requirement but it is less onerous than in the past. I’m hearing drums in the distance calling for a reworking of the X2 calculations. She said the snowpack is gone but for a few north slopes above 10,000 feet.
There were no committee reports but Mike Wade from the California Farm Water Coalition said the newsletter directed to the state legislature prepared with the California Water Alliance is on the topic of conveyance. Last time the topic was on water rights. He spoke at a recent ag media conference in Palm Springs on water and food supplies. It made him realize how much food California produces and how much foreign supplied food is consumed. The elected officials need to be very aware of this. The regulatory burden placed on farmers in California is prohibitive. Production costs of material inputs have gone up remarkably but even that amount was far exceeded by regulatory cost increases.
Diedrich reported SLDM member agencies made the ACWA news on a predation study that demonstrates other stressors are impacting fish populations and therefore water supplies. He said they are bringing in social media influencers to the Valley to learn.
Petersen gave the board an update saying the 2019 biop rules have been on the radar. The Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin benefits Groundwater Sustainability Agencies and the GSAs have been invited to contribute to the funding. Letters have gone out. A contribution tier was adopted and it is extensive. However, I know contributions of any amount are welcome. The next Blueprint meeting will be August 14th in Fresno. He said there was some concern about duplicated funding like when a SLDM member contributes and the SLDM contributes as well. That’s a double tax. Nice to get it if you can but the Blueprint is there for us. Petersen said the Collaborative Action Plan workplan has been provided in the board packet.
Board Report & Closed Session
Diedrich added the ACWA election is going on and if you have any questions contact him. Chris White Exec Direct Exchange Contractors will be holding a tour of the area for the ag leadership team. Michael said this has been an excellent effort. He also noted Congressman Adam Schiff toured the area recently. He wants to be a senator. The meeting went into closed session at 11:23am for six cases of anticipated litigation and more than a dozen cases of actual, ongoing litigation involving everybody who’s anybody and some water purchase wrangling. That was that, go be good to yourselves and others.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2023 by Don A. Wright
SAN LUIS & DELTA-MENDOTA WATER AUTHORITY was established in January of 1992 and consists of approximately 2,100,000 acres of 29 federal and exchange water service contractors within the western San Joaquin Valley, San Benito and Santa Clara counties. The governing body of the Authority consists of a 19-member Board of Directors classified into five divisions with directors selected from within each division. The main conveyance is the Delta-Mendota Canal that delivers approximately 3,000,000-acre feet of water within the Authority service area. Of this amount, 2,500,000-acre feet are delivered to highly productive agricultural lands, 150,000 to 200,000-acre feet for municipal and industrial uses, and between 250,000 to 300,000 acre-feet are delivered to wildlife refuges for habitat enhancement and restoration.
Board – Chairman: Cannon Michael,
Staff – Executive Director: Federico Barajas, COO: Pablo Arroyave, Attorney: Becca Akroyd, Director Finance: Ray Tarka, Director Water Policy: J. Scott Petersen, Director O&M/Facilities: Bob Martin