Photo: Weed removal at the Jones fish screen. By WaterWrights.net
By Don A. Wright
The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, February 9, 2023 in person and on Zoom. There are many new directors. We’re hearing about new crop of freshmen legislators in Sacramento but the ladies and gentlemen serving on our special district boards take the same oath of office as the President of the United States. I once took a deep look at how many elected offices would appear on the ballot in my precinct in Fresno County if they were all up for election at the same time. Including judges there was well over 150 elected seats from the national to the local.
Chairman Cannon Michael called the meeting at the scheduled 9:30am start time. And God bless them, things began with a flag salute followed by a roll call. The usual cool kids were there and there were a few folks on the peripheral who couldn’t be heard. There were no additions or corrections to the agenda. There was public comment and the consent calendar was passed with no items being pulled.
COO Pablo Arroyave presented to the board the need for a new SLDMWA representative on the ACWA JPIA. This is the Association of California Water Agencies Joint Powers Insurance Authority. Rick Gilmore of Byron Bethany Irrigation District used to represent San Luis Delta Mendota but they got some new folks. Director Beau Correia will take over with an alternate from the staff and the board agreed. Correia will get three votes as he not only represents the SLDM he also represents two other entities.
J. Scott Petersen reported on H.R. 186 by Congressman Tom McClintock dealing with a water supply permitting coordination. Two state bills AB 30 by Ward dealing with improved research and weather forecasting in light of recent atmospheric rivers and AB 62 by Devin Mathis dealing with four-million-acre feet to expand water storage were also mentioned.
Petersen explained the difference between support and favoring a bill. Favor includes sending written information to authors. Supporting a bill goes further where staff will actively go out and spread the good word. I think I have this in the correct order.
Petersen said HR 186 would put all the permitting into one process instead of having to go through multiple federal agencies. That sounded good to the board as it will have some benefit as the BF Sisk Dam on San Luis Reservoir undergoes an expansion and retrofit.
The board was asked by Arroyave to consider the Finance & Administrative Committee’s recommendation regarding the water year 2023 operations and maintenance rates. He said the figures are based to a 10-percent Central Valley Project South of Delta allocation. He also said they realize it is early in the year and the allocations are most likely going to change. At this point he asked Finance Director Ray Tarka to spell it out in more detail. The screen locked up but the audio continued. Director William Bourdeau, Westlands Water District spoke saying WWD is looking at a 15-percent starting allocation and some folks wanted to go with that amount. The video came back and the meeting no longer had a Twilight Zone feel to it with folks frozen in place.
Michael said he is looking at a discussion but he doesn’t want to compare every possible percentage. Director Bill Pucheu moved to use the 10-percent allocation base and that passed if I understood correctly. Pucheu has been working on finances for many years. Anthea Hansen, General Manager Del Puerto WD chairs that committee and pointed out there will be more consideration of the matter.
Petersen reported on state and federal mischief, also known technically as political shenanigans. He said ACWA is working on approach for potential engagement related to water rights and that will be one of the topics at the upcoming ACWA State Legislative Committee meeting. Water rights are under attack as another form of property rights in California.
On the federal side Petersen said there is an efficiency expert now on the Biden Administration. I didn’t catch the man’s name but he is a known player and from what I heard doesn’t have a luggage fetish. The federal farm bill is coming up for its five-year review and that’s going to rile things up.
Consultant Dennis Cardoza reported on the recent State of the Union saying there wasn’t much President Joe Biden mentioned that impacted ag. He also said it would be a good idea to get the legislative wish list requests in as early as possible so they can be prepared and submitted to the proper committees by deadline.
Cardoza said he plans to be at the upcoming ACWA meeting to help report on legislative matters. Cardoza’s colleague Bill Ball said Congressman Doug LaMalfa was able to get some response to Biden on the State of the Union address. He also said to expect the House chair of the ag committee to be at next week’s World Ag Expo in Tulare. There will be a farm bill “listening session” on site.
Petersen said there is a state task force on drought being formed. If I heard correctly there is an application process for the public to join this effort. He said it would be beneficial for someone from this area be on that task force. There are limited seats available and now is the time to gear up and get that process started.
Consultant Kristin Olsen-Cate reiterated it is important to get moving on the drought task force. She said State Senator Anna Caballero is working on the Big Bold Water Bill, the name may have changed. She said the new bill introduction deadline is next week and she expects water to once again be a major legislative target, good and bad. She said 80-percent of the bills to be introduced by next week will be spot bills and there are 30-days for the writer to flesh them out. Olsen-Cate also said there is much better conditions in Sacramento for in person meetings. The Assembly Water Committee Chairwoman Rebecca Bauer-Kahan introduced AB 460 to give the State Water Resources Control Board more enforcement power. Amazing the priorities some folk’s harbor.
There is talk about a water and/or resources bond and Olsen said resources usually means parks and trails. There is also a climate resiliency bond. She said they are all being tracked. One of the folks at the table said it would be good to get a water need in California hearing to goose them in Sacoftomatoes. Olsen said there are new budget subcommittee chairs in both the state Senate and the Assembly. Unfortunately, she uttered the name Steve Bennett as chair in the assembly. You may recall AB 2201 was a Bennett bill that would have shut down well drilling under the guise of strengthening Groundwater Sustainability Agencies. There are so many examples of unintended consequences, at least I hope they are unintended, from poorly written legislation.
The new alternate Director from Santa Clara Valley Water District, Jim Beall* said this is the last election cycle Governor Gavin Newsom will be able to push a water bond. Cardoza said the state’s deficit may be twice as bad as originally stated after the elections. So what would that be, something like $60 billion in the red? Big difference from $96 billion surplus touted before the election.
Federico Barajas reported there is a strong working relationship on the BF Sisk Dam raising and the Delta Mendota Canal subsidence correction project between SLDM and the USBR. Barajas said consultant Martin Rausch will be involved in the strategic plan update. That’s always good news for a Valley water entity trying to up its game. Good for everyone.
Disappointing news from Arroyave. While all five pumps at the federal Jones Plant in the Delta were allowed to fire up, the amount of trash at the antiquated fish screens caused enough flow blockage to require throttling back to four pumps. Come on Fish Friendly Diversions. Save us from ourselves. Arroyave and Barajas said he will bring this up with upper US Bureau of Reclamation staff to brainstorm on this problem. He said anytime all five pumps run this trash, mostly invasive aquatic weeds, will wreck things. He explained the Bureau owns and operates the plant and the fish screens. Director Bill Diedrich offered to fly folks up to the Delta tomorrow and see what is happening. He said in the past they’d call out the National Guard to deal with this crisis management. He also said he’d take the nice plane and not the crop duster.
Westlands consultant Tom Boardman reported Shasta storage is at 2.6 million acre feet but the dry conditions have left things drier there than in other parts of the state’s rainfall. The snowpack, however is at 130 percent of normal and that is a good sign for the Bureau to use the temperature control pool to help exports. The DWR Bulletin 120 was released yesterday and that shows Shasta at 4.2 million a/f. That is a 90-percent exceedance forecast and a non-critical Shasta year. That should mean a full allocation scenario setting up for senior water rights holders.
Boardman said Folsom is carrying the load thanks to it being in the very place where most of the storms passed. He said there is a Decision-1641 requirement based on last month’s Delta run off and caused the Delta flow to be three or four times higher than usual. This is a water quality policy dealing with salinity based on last month’s conditions. This could cause a loss of 800,000 a/f of water supplies and this is a travesty to base flow requirements on the antiquated operating policy in the Delta. There is some speculation on my part the Bureau may choose not to comply with this standard. A pipe dream at best. The San Luis Reservoir needs 8,000 a/f of inflow daily and that could easily be hindered under D-1641. There are no major storms in the next week and that would force the pumps to cut back if D-1641 is invoked. Boardman said there is a scenario where San Luis could be filled but his best guess at this time is 800,000 a/f on the federal side of San Luis as the most likely amount. Delta outflow, irrigation demands and the biological opinions are going to be hard to get around and fill the reservoir even though enough water to meet Los Angeles’ needs for a decade was allowed to flow out to sea earlier this year.
Again, the great deal of water in the Folsom Reservoir watershed will play a big part this year. And there are also good snowpacks above Lake Millerton on the San Joaquin River and as usual a very similar situation on the Kings River’s Pine Flat Reservoir. This water could make its way to the Mendota Pool and alleviate part of the Bureau’s Exchange Contractor requirements further downstream on the SJR.
Diedrich asked with the snowpack above Folsom will there be flood flows, also on the San Joaquin River? Boardman said the snowmelt on the American River will pass into the Delta and either be flow through or used as export supplies. The current outflow requirement at the Delta is almost 30,000 cfs and needs to move the salinity line eight miles or more westward towards the Golden Gate. Boardman said he’s never seen such high outflow in his career.
Someone asked if the Bureau or DWR can opt to not comply with D-1641. Boardman said the State Board would have to approve any deviation. Attorney Becca Akroyd said it wouldn’t be good to speculate what the State Board would do but the Bureau or DWR would have to file a Temporary Urgency Change Petition.
Hansen asked why the Cooperative Operating Agreement is taking so long to resolve. The COA is the agreement between the state and the feds on Delta operations. Often one entity has to borrow from the other to meet its contract requirements and those amounts mush be paid back. Right now the state owes the feds about 59,000 a/f and the scenario is ripe for that pay back.
Michael said Boardman is the EF Hutton of water talk. His recent report impacted the cost of tomatoes. Not sure how that works but I have to agree. Boardman’s reports are a rare glimpse into the future of water.
Committee & Outside Agency Reports
Next Hansen said the Finance Committee will take a closer look this year at rates and try to refine the process to set rates.
Barajas said there is a meeting of the State and Federal Contractors Water Agency next week.
Mike Wade said the California Farm Water Coalition is preparing a report on what the recent storms have done to highlight the need for storage. He also reported he and Dan Keppen CEO of the Family Farm Alliance have been on a speaking tour promoting food security.
Director John Varela reported on ACWA saying Region Five covers from Santa Barbara to north of San Francisco and they are interested in all kinds of water matters and it sounded like he was pro public sector union. I may be wrong about that. I know the district he represents and serves as a board member, Santa Clara Valley Water District in San Jose has had contracts with the Service Employees International Union. He reported the upcoming ACWA spring conference will have a portion devoted to the ACWA Foundation for Water Equity and he invites everyone to get involved.
Petersen reported the next Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley board meeting will be held next Wednesday and DWR’s SGMA Chief Paul Gosselin and DWR Director Karla Nemeth will get to hear from GSAs. It also looks like the Hallmark Group is under serious** consideration of being hired by the Blueprint.
Petersen also reported on the Collaborative Action Program saying a portion of the budget includes a USBR grant and the CVP members in CAP will be talking some serious talk about this.
Bourdeau reminded folks the Family Farm Alliance Annual Conference will take place later this month in Reno. Michael asked the board members to review the financial information prepared by staff in preparation to the strategic plan update.
The meeting then went into closed session at 11:25am for a trashcan full of legal matters. That was all.
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*Pronounced Bell for some reason. Beall was a state Senator from 2012-2020.
**I think it’s going past hand holding and they might kiss.
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