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San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority February 8, 2024

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By Don A. Wright

The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, February 8, 2024 at its Los Banos headquarters and on Zoom. As time goes on the SLDM boardroom has been filling up. Pre-Covid it was standing room only. I believe I once used the analogy of a slave galley and of course that caused I can’t recall who to have a fit over using the word slave. Who knows why? I think they did it for fun or worse, frustration over their own life’s direction. Anyway, I had to get there early to get a seat in the corner near an electrical plug. Next time I purchase a computer battery life will be a bigger consideration. If you didn’t get there early you might be sitting in the hall for the meeting. I think I’ve been back once since the show went online. It does appear to me from a distance more folks are showing up in person. I do hope they continue to preserve the online portion. It saves me a lot in gas money.

The Meeting

The meeting began at 9:30am on the dot with Chairman Cannon Michael calling things to order. Things began with a salute to our great nation’s flag followed by roll call. I believe Directors Justin Diener and Bill Diedrich were both attending online but Diener was only listening, not voting. There were no additions or corrections to the agenda and there was no public comment.Lidco Inc.

The consent calendar was next. The minutes were approved, the financials were approved and the staff reports dealing with Operations & Maintenance budget to actual, O&M, the science program, activities agreements and procurement activities were all covered.

Action Items

The Board was given a list of recommended compensation for the executives. What you might call the C suite. The board approved, the folks work hard after all and it included praise for staff and managements diligence.

Next Executive Director Federico Barajas laid some budget recommendations on the board. He explained the nuts and bolts of these recommendations went through the committee process as well as a workshop to get it in shape for the board’s approval. The board was asked to approve the 2025 budgets for O&M and the activity budget, as well as the complete 2025 budget. The board approved.

COO Pablo Arroyave gave the board some recommended OM&R water rates. There are rates of 20 and 40 percent and it could include another rate adjustment in June, all based on the year’s water allocation. The more water moved the more maintenance needed and that impacts water rates. There are many costs included in water rates; the actual cost of the water, the cost to convey the water and the wear and tear on facilities used. The O&M rate is the way the wear and tear is addressed. A staff member walked the board through the various scenarios presented. Energy costs alone are getting bigger and so is everything else.

This presentation led to a lengthy and in depth discussion. As with most things financial it is very difficult for me to try to keep up and provide an accurate representation of what is going on. This meeting is being recorded and a public event. If you need greater detail it is available. I can say Director Anthea Hansen said she was surprised there wasn’t another point between the 20 and 40 percent marks. Overt the years Hansen’s leadership has grown at SLDM and her opinions carry weight. She suggested paying closer attention to certain fixed and variable costs when prioritizing the inputs impacting rates. I believe I heard Michael say the US Bureau of Reclamation’s new Regional Director, replacing Ernest Conant will be visiting in the not too distant future. Diedrich asked why there is such a big swing in the rates based on allocation instead of deliveries. Arroyave said the members were polled earlier and this is where the numbers of 20 and 40 percent came from. Diedrich said his district, San Luis Water District, has a good idea on how much water will be delivered under the previous allocations.

Report Items

Next Kristin White gave an update on the USBR and Central Valley Project. She is Deputy Regional Director of Operations. If I understood there are four such positions impacting the CVP’s sphere. She’s involved in the rules and regulations involving the Delta and the San Joaquin River. She said she hopes to fully understand what’s going on within two years. She said this with self-deprecating humor and got the laugh deserved. It’s a very complex subject.

White said there have been some other changes in the Bureau’s California-Great Basin Region line up. She named names and it was interesting to see how many positions there are. She said with filling about three more positions there will be a completely new front office. She also said replacing Conant will be a big chore for Karl Stock.

White said she is from a small coastal town in Virginia that specialized in crab fishing. Her town was in a marsh and that may have spurred her passion for flood control. She said when you make a decision on water supply you see results. Flood control decisions may not be know for years. She said she worked Texas and Florida so she swapped hurricanes for earthquakes.

She said California has a water problem and she see the Bureau’s corporate culture changing to a willingness on solving problems and is working to develop better relationships with its partners. She said collaboration is critical. She sounded a bit like she’s swallowed a big dose of climate change worry. She also pointed out the regulatory climate is very unpredictable, especially the State Water Resources Control Board. She said the Bureau is hoping the State Board is listening and thanked the board for SLDM’s comments on the State Board’s draft staff report on through Delta unimpaired flows and the Voluntary Agreements.

White was asked what she thinks the allocations will be. She said there’s still the rest of February to work through. She hinted the March forecast may be very good if the weather holds like it has. Hansen asked if the Bureau’s efforts at giving allocations could be helped by different reporting by the contractors. White said it comes down to the Delta yield and matching that with contractor needs. There is water in the San Luis Reservoir but the Bureau needs better data on who owns how much. She’d welcome more cooperation with the contractors.

It was encouraging to hear White say the Bureau is shaking the tree to get more funding for the Airborne Snow Observatory. That garnered applause. I believe I heard Michael Jackson from the Bureau’s Fresno office say they are working to keep the ASO flights and are gearing up to work on the San Luis Canal subsidence issues. I couldn’t see him but it sounded like him.

Gov’t Affairs

J. Scott Petersen reported on the federal side John Vlot or Blot (?) has started working with or at, the Bureau’s offices in DC or some other location. It was difficult to hear Petersen and he gives a report like a seasoned national newscaster, pretty quick. He expects a short review of some Bureau project’s draft EIS to be released soon. There is a two and four year review of the 2019 Biological Opinions and how that ties in with Delta operations. This has a direct impact on the Delta pumping plants. There will be a modeling review with public comments solicited.

In congressional matters there has been some budget progress favorable to irrigated ag in the San Joaquin Valley with an increase in energy and water. But beware, the money could just as easily go to the Department of Energy or the Army Corps of Engineers as the Bureau.

Petersen said the Farm Bill is still crawling along and he expects more legislation from the House on how federal habitat will be determined in certain projects.

On the state side Governor Gavin Newsom’s version of the budget is different than other people from this planet. The state not only doesn’t have any money to spend, it owes money. Newsom’s budget has about $30 billion more spendable dollars in it than the official state budget. If I understand. This leaves a good deal of uncertainty.

Lobbyist Kristin Olsen said she had breakfast with Assembly Speaker Robert Rivas and found out there is a lot of momentum for a resources bond. This is what a water bond is called these days. Olsen said the new Chair of the Assembly’s Water Committee Diane Papan takes a much more collaborative approach. Olsen said Rivas is getting pulled three ways to put forth bonds for other interests besides water and resources such as housing. State Senator Toni Atkins has passed the Pro Tem gavel to Mike McGuire and Kip Lipper will stay in his position.

Ex Direct

Barajas said there is information about the California Irrigation Institute’s conference coming up later this month in Sacramento in the packet. He said the Bureau has opted in not filing a joint petition for the Delta conveyance tunnel. The Bureau wants more flexibility in dealing with its contractors before signing off. Barajas said the Bureau and others are working together well on the BF Sisk Dam raise. A new director I didn’t recognize praised Barajas for his and his team’s negotiations on the dam raise.

COO Report

Arroyave said pumps in and out of the San Luis Reservoir will shut down during parts of April and May, preventing the movement of water in and out, save for pipes to the San Benito/Santa Clarita supplies on the back end. There needs to be three units operating at Jones to keep the deliveries positive. That’s not a given during that time of year. He said one option is to move water through the state’s Bank pumping plant. Neither is that a given. He said replacing a transformer is a much bigger and more difficult and more expensive than a repair. Liz Kiteck from the Bureau wasn’t sure what the state’s response will be but it is front of the stove talks between the Bureau and DWR. She said it’s on the contractors to manage demands if things go south.

Water Report

Kiteck gave the water report saying Shasta has 3.8 million a/f and is in encroachment. Folsom Reservoir is at five percent encroachment. Releases will increase this weekend. There is a significant storm forecasted but how much? Don’t know. The goal is to get out of flood control encroachment before the next wave of storms lands. Bad news, there’s a lot of fish at both the Banks and Jones plants and that triggered the Old and Middle River flows on the San Joaquin River. She said there is one station in the mid-Delta holding firm on low turbidity.

She said snow levels improved as the past storm was cooler than expected and the averages are improving. The Northern Sierra Precipitation Eight Station Average is at 88, so that’s good. She said her staff doesn’t have the bandwidth to develop forecasts without data input from others and supports continuing the ASO program.

Committee & Outside Agency Reports

            Mike Wade gave the California Farm Water Coalition report saying there was a huge response on social media posts on the San Luis Reservoir. There have been almost half a million views and hundreds and hundreds of questions they are trying to answer. He said they tried to duplicate this with Shasta Reservoir but it didn’t faire as well. He said there is a member survey to help CFWC to focus its attention.

Attorney Becca Akroyd said the ACWA legal affairs committee has met. Petersen said the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley will be meeting soon to consider an offer from the Hall Mark Group. Petersen said the Collaborative Action Program continues to meet and develop forward plans. There was a second meeting of farmers from the Delta and the San Joaquin Valley. This time the Delta folks came to the Valley and had a tour of the south and west sides of the Valley. The objective is to establish commonalities between the good folks in the Delta and the good folks in the Valley. There should be another meeting in March. There has been some agreement reached and that’s a positive.

Closed Session

The meeting went into closed session at 11:33am.

DISCLAIMER OF RESPONSIBILITY; Waterwrights strives to provide his clients with the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate information available. Nevertheless, Waterwrights does not serve as a guarantor of the accuracy or completeness of the information provided, and specifically disclaims any and all responsibility for information that is not accurate, up-to-date, or complete.  Waterwrights’ clients therefore rely on the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of information from DAW entirely at their own risk. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not represent any advertisers or third parties.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2024 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

Email: 209/826-9696
P.O. Box 2157 Los Banos, CA. 93635