The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting Thursday, February 4, 2021 on Zoom. Chairman Cannon Michael called the meeting at 9:30am and it took me by surprise. I didn’t have time to come up with a rambling introduction to this report. One thing to remember is SLDMW’s area involves three of the key surface water storage projects going in California. There is the repair and possible raising of the BF Sisk Dam on San Luis Reservoir, the expansion of Pacheco Reservoir and the construction of the Del Puerto Canyon Reservoir.
The Meeting Begins
Things started with the usual housekeeping, changes in the agenda, public comment and the consent calendar. No changes or conflicts, no public comment and approval of the consent calendar without comment cleared the path.
Next the board considered items requiring a vote. Director Rick Gilmore presented the board with a proposal for five percent increase in salaries and benefits for the executive staff. The amounts were listed and Gilmore said after a salary survey of similar positions this raise is warranted. Director William Bourdeau asked in these trying times, even though the staff is working hard, is this the time to make these raises? Michael said we can’t afford to lose the experienced and capable people to some other organization. In an attempt to be modest I’m not going to list the amounts. It’s in the public record and easily found online, but they do make bank. And why not? It’s a valuable service and very few folks have the breadth of knowledge to provide it. The raises were approved.
The next item was the budget and the board was asked to approve the 2022 proposed budget. I confess I had to step away to deal with an important phone call. When I returned to the meeting I thought I heard Director of Water Policy J. Scott Petersen recommend funding increases for the bowling team. Seemed a little out there on top of the raises just granted. Well, maybe SLDM shines at the winter bowling party in Reno when the CVP Mid Pacific Region has its meeting, but? There was a quiet, yet nagging voice telling me that can’t be right. In any event the new budget was approved.
Next COO Pablo Arroyave asked Controller Joyce Machado to give the board an update on the Operations & Maintenance water rates. Machado showed the board the costs associated with many different facets of moving water into the Valley from the Delta. It adds up to the tens of millions of dollars annually. There were too many variables for me to present in this report but the data is available online. But it kind of boils down to basing the O&M costs on a 10-percent allocations. Director Tom Birmingham asked about the cost of energy estimates including the potential increases if the PG&E rates go up in April as anticipated. Machado said that wasn’t included. He also asked about the San Luis Drain O&M rate at $.53 per a/f and that has almost doubled in today’s report to $1.10 per a/f. Machado said the increase was based on a different allocation. The board approved the new rates.
The Finance & Administration Committee wants to change the performance evaluation process for the Executive Director and General Counsel. Executive Director Federico Barajas said this comes from some feedback from an earlier performance review last year. He said two specific items are on the table. He said improving the relevancy of the questions and changing the rating scale. Six steps were recommended for the XO position. A self-assessment report by the XO would be given to the Human Resources director and this would be passed on to the directors who would fill out their own assessment and send that back to HR. All of this is in confidence per the Brown Act. Attorney Becca Akroyd confirmed it’s all copacetic. The board was OK with this and approved the modifications. That was the end of the action items.
Report on The Cowboy Pond
A report was given by Frances Mizuno and it was about the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Project. Mizuno said some of the SLDM members have a direct involvement in this project. Marguerite Patil was invited to speak for the Contra Costa Water District and the LVR Expansion Project. Patil said the reservoir was designed to be a regional project and that is why there is a need to increase storage from 160,000 a/f to 275,000 a/f. That would bring storage capacity up to a little more than half of Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River. The LVR sits in the foothills northwest of the Delta and the expansion will include tying in the facilities to the CVP which is a benefit to the San Luis Delta Mendota Division of the federal facilities. This includes the US Bureau of Reclamation’s buy-in for a CVP operational flexibility. Patil said the Santa Clara Valley WD doesn’t want to work with the other SLDMWA and prefers an individual agreement. A list of Local Agency Partners looking to join a JPA was given. And there is room for more to join.
Dedicated storage is available for individual agencies. Pooled storage and conveyance alone are also options for partners to subscribe to. The LAPs are evaluating what option or options may best suit them. Methodology of how to determine the costs and the pricing are being developed. I believe Patel said it’s getting close and there are models that would allow a partner to estimate outcomes based on how much and what kind of participations is input. So far, if I understood correctly most of the storage interest is from wildlife refuges.
The project is almost $1 billion with the state paying about half and the feds and locals providing about 25 percent of the remaining costs. Patel said something that struck me almost as remarkable as increased bowling team funding but I’m sure I heard her say there is the possibility of the costs estimate coming down. I guess that depends on how much progress can be made and how soon. The EIR has been completed and the final feasibility report was cleared by the Secretary of Interior last year.
Mizuno said Patel has been making this presentation to the SLDM activity partners. She said it is now time for the participating districts to decide if it wants to be a part of the JPA. No one spoke up from the board.
Strategic Plan & Gov’t Matters
The next item was an update by Barajas on the strategic plan. There are seven goals with multiple objectives each. They include: optimizing water supplies, improve policy directions, utilize staff optimally, effective operations, increase sound science as a basis for policy, improve communication and engagement, improve understanding of SLDMWA representation and a better understanding of finances. Director Sara Singleton said she really appreciates how this document wasn’t just put on a shelve.
Petersen said the first virtual trip to Washington DC is being planned for directors and staff. He reported new Biden cabinet level appointments. So far six have made it through the Senate confirmation. There is a new USBR Commissioner, Camille Touton and many know her. Petersen said Biden has been signing executive orders; like crazy, a big bunch of them. I don’t remember before Obama there being so many executive orders but it has become common for a new president to try and cancel the previous president’s orders. There is a new federal policy that attempts to limit regulatory burdens on DACs. We’ll see. Tom Vilsack will remain as the Secretary of Agriculture. At the Senate Schumer and McConnel have worked out some kind of power share. I didn’t follow. Biden has met with democrat Senators about a budget.
On the state side Petersen said Governor Gavin Newsom reported a bigger budget surplus, like $10 billion worth. Well, OK. Dennis Cardoza is a former congressman from the Valley and is now a lobbyist. He said Michael Reagan was appointed to the Department of Interior. My guess is this isn’t the former President’s son. Cardoza said they’re working on the new Senator Alex Padilla trying to get him up to speed on federal water matters. Cardoza introduced William Ball who has been working with Republican representatives in Washington. He said Valley Congressman David Valadao was put on the House Agriculture Committee.
Barajas reported the change of office space in Los Banos involves the City, the Exchange Contractors, the local history museum and of course the SLDMWA. There have been four responses to the RFP put out. He spoke about a new building as opposed to finding existing space. Or maybe he was talking about remodeling existing space. In any event, Barajas said the city is very excited about these developments.
SLDMWA has moved its Sacramento offices and Barajas said Akroyd is there for this meeting. He said the new office is up and running and invited everyone to come and visit.
Barajas asked Mizuno to speak about the San Luis Transmission project. Fortunately an elite team of synchronous two-stroke leaf blowers began practicing outside her window, or maybe she has a mobile office on an airport runway somewhere. I couldn’t hear what she said but I’ve seen Mizuno’s work for many years and I am confident the project is moving forward and Mizuno is making not just better decisions but the best decisions. Prove me wrong. You won’t be able.
Barajas said the EPA is doing an audit on the WIFIA application for funding the Jones Pumping Plant. Normally the feds will charge $100,000 upfront but that was waved. Now the EPA has come back and decided it may have to charge the Authority after all. Way to go EPA, I thought only the Department of Indian Affairs did such things. Birmingham said he recalls EPA saying it would at the most only charge for staff time. Barajas said EPA now wants to bill for consultant fees incurred. Don Willard, Friant Water Authority CFO asked if $100,000 is the limit EPA can charge. Barajas said it shouldn’t be any higher than that. Barajas also said there is an election for new officers at the SLDM board.
Arroyave reported the bonding efforts to pay for rewinding the pumps at the federal Jones Plant has been going well. He said the team has been able to bring the interest down by more than one million dollars. That closed at 8:00am this morning.
Mizuno said the process of water transfers from north of the Delta don’t usually begin until April but that has proven too late in the year. So, the Authority has already entered into more than a dozen letters of agreement with sellers. Should a deal be negotiated the Authority will assume the costs. There will be a meeting with the Bureau next week to iron all this out. Should this federal water end up going through the state Banks Plant the State Board isn’t open to approving this due to the ongoing lawsuit on the biological opinions. So, the water would have to change color from federal to state and then the State Board might OK using the Banks plant. Mizuno also said the Exchange Contractors should get their entire supply this year, if I understood. This includes 5,000 a/f that could go to M&I and that is being looked at.
Director Bill Diedrich asked what the transfer window is if Jones doesn’t have capacity. Mizuno said capacity is expected at Jones if things remain dry. She said there is enough time to determine in advance if the petition to the State Board is necessary. She also said the transfer is for 100,000 a/f and that would require water used on idle rice paddies. That water would have to be backed up at Shasta. This happens in May and June and that water could be lost, that’s like 40,000 a/f. It sounded like she has a way to protect against this loss. Director Anthea Hansen asked if the water has to go through the Banks Plant would a Warren Act contract be necessary and the answer was yes. Barajas asked Mid Pacific Bureau Director Ernest Conant to put together a team and former Friant man Jeff Payne will be the “Transfer Czar”. Good for him.
Birmingham asked if the water moves through Banks what happens to the energy costs. Mizuno said since it wouldn’t be CVP water at this point a separate cost would most likely be paid to DWR and that could drive up the price of the water. She’s working on it.
Tom Boardman said the recent storms were more impactful in the Central Sierra area than Northern California. He said the low snow levels in Shasta have been soaking into the soil and runoff isn’t as great as it might be. The same thing is happening in the San Joaquin River watershed. He said conditions in Folsom have improved. Delta inflows increased but are dropping. There is no precipitation forecast in the next 10-days.
Boardman said some of the inflow from the Sacramento River was very turbid and pumping was cut to prevent that muddy water from moving into the Central Delta area. He said another challenge is the X2 line, the place where salinity levels start impacting the Delta is held back by through Delta flows. That could reduce pumping or at least not allow an increase in pumping. Trying to fill San Luis Reservoir is going to be a challenge as well. He put up some charts showing some unpleasant downward curves. Remember the water in San Luis Reservoir comes from either the California Aqueduct on the state side or the Delta Mendota Canal on the federal side. This water is pumped into these two canals in the Delta, moved south and pumped into the reservoir for later releases. This is the primary source of water for the Exchange Contractors and they have the most senior water rights. If Ex Con can’t get its water from San Luis the Bureau may call on water from Millerton Lake, San Joaquin River water. Millerton Lake is also the source for Friant water. If a call is made on San Joaquin River water that could reduce or as in 2014 and 2015 eliminate supplies for Friant. That’s why what happens in the Delta can literally impact what supplies are available in Arvin. Diedrich said the next ACWA ag committee meeting in March will feature Conant and there will be what sounded like hard questions about the State Board’s actions and the cold water pool at Shasta.
Committee and Other Reports
Gilmore reported State Federal Water Contractors Authority will have a meeting coming up. Barajas said there needs to be a change on this board. Former SLDM attorney Jon Ruben used to be a member but he is now working for Westlands. Barajas said Gilmore and Hansen are on this board and traditionally Barajas would replace Ruben. He said due to the close timing he went ahead and threw his hat in the ring but he needs to get the board approval and he may have acted ahead of things. Birmingham suggested and Akroyd concurred this action be ratified at next month’s meeting. Everyone was good with this.
With that the board went into closed session for four anticipated cases of litigation and whopping 14 cases of existing litigation. Aren’t you glad you don’t have to sit through closed session? Go be good to each other.
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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 Ackroyd, J. Scott Pedersen: Director of Water Policy