The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, January 14, 2021 on Zoom. I don’t know about conditions in Los Banos but here at the foot of the majestic Sierra Nevada things were sun shinny and clear. Nice but rain and snow would be nicer. Chairman Cannon Michael asked attorney Rebecca Akroyd if there was a quorum and there was. So Michael called the meeting to order at 9:30 on the dot. Wow, Michael started the meeting by announcing the passing of Jim McLeod, Director of Banta Carbona Irrigation District. This is another difficult loss. McLeod was exactly the right man to speak out fearlessly against foolishness masquerading as policy. He was one of the old school farmers and we’ll miss him.
Roll call was taken and Manny Amorelli is the new General Manager at James ID and he will now be representing JID, or at least he is today. There were no changes to the agenda and no public comment. The consent calendar was next and no items were pulled. Got to love the CC. The way SLDMWA takes the vote is by roll call. So it takes a while due to the larger than normal board.
The first action item was the DHCCP Steering Committee recommendation that had something to do with revenue bonds. The item description was lengthy and I found it somewhat confusing, but I am a layman in the bonding of millions of dollars. COO Pablo Arroyave explained all the districts but Pacheco ID, Laguna ID and Byron Bethany ID have agreed to the recommendation. LID and BBID will pay off their share upfront. Bond Counsel Lora Carpenter explained the Preliminary Official Statement that describes the bonds and the payments. In industry jargon it’s known as the POS, I’m smirking and giggling as I write this. Doug Brown, another Bond Counsel further explained how SLDM will be responsible and why a resolution will be needed. The DHCCP stands for Delta Habitat something/something Program. This program is a science based look at what is actually happening in the Delta. That doesn’t come cheap so those representing the people impacted by the economic backbone of water deliveries have to pony up. The board voted to – I think refinance the bond at a better rate and continue funding the studies.
Next the board was asked to spend $21,000 on a cost share agreement with State Water Contractors for facilitation support for decision making of the Delta Coordination Group. Director of Water Policy J. Scott Petersen gave such a great explanation the board voted unanimously to fund the request. Westlands Water District General Manager Tom Birmingham asked who is on the Coordination Group and Petersen said he and a lady Darcy, didn’t catch the last name, of the State Water Contractors and other folks I don’t know.
The last action item was presented by Executive Director Federico Barajas. In addition to the monthly board meetings there are several committee meetings that need to be scheduled. It is like herding cats getting everyone at the same meeting at the same time with a minimum of conflict. If there isn’t an entire branch of epistemology dedicated to this there should be. The board approved the calendar for 2021. Well done.
Item 10 was cool. There is a Delta Fallowing Program and Frances Mizuno gave the set up saying SLDMWA entered into a contract with Land IQ and the Delta Water Master’s office entered into a contract with UC Davis to study how fallowing land in the Delta will impact water supplies. Mica Heilmann of Land IQ spoke first going over the methodology of the study. She said UC Davis installed and operated the field stations to measure site specific evapotranspiration ET. Land IQ (these guys are everywhere) used its satellite imagery to draw up a map of ET use. Seth Mulder said there were three types of stations used that all gave data in different ways but could be used to calibrate, if I understood. Much like billion dollar bonds my knowledge of satellite data gathering’s interaction with radiometer sensor contributions is limited. What I can tell you is it appears the data is very accurate so the conclusion draw is not biased by poor input material.
Heilmann presented the maps drawn up from the data gathered and after taking daily readings a monthly representation of ET was made into a map showing the entire Delta; not just study fields, not just fallow, but everything. Variations considered included: weed cover, crop residue management and soil types. The normalized difference vegetation index NDVI was developed. NDVI is not the Roman numeral for 20-something but a graphic representation of vegetation from space which lets you know what’s growing.
One of my favorite speakers is Delta Water Master Michael George. George is generous with his time and knowledge and I find his approach to be very balanced. Imagine if we had a man of his integrity in charge of the DMV. He was billed as speaking but unfortunately he wasn’t available. Lindsay Kammeier from his office was pinch hitting. She summarized George’s takeaway that there isn’t much extra water to be ringed from the Delta by fallowing. Ellen Wehr from Grassland WD said fallowing for water savings is controversial in the enviro community as it could impact bird habitat. Wehr said it would be valuable to consider cover plants. Heilmann said some of the fallowed fields were wheat stubble. They were eventually tilled to control weeds but it did show a type of habitat can be beneficial to wildlife after fallowing. Birmingham said this presentation wasn’t included in the packet and he’d like a copy. Mizuno said this is very doable and someone posted it on the SLDM website immediately. Director Bill Diedrich asked what’s next. Mizuno said there doesn’t appear to be much water gained from Delta fallowing and she didn’t think there’s much to be gained from in Delta water transfers at this time.
Next Akroyd told the board about debt management policy and the development of O&M and capital improvement payments. She said a memo laying out why the policy is what it is has been written. Staff is seeking input from the board. She’d like to know if amending policy is needed. Director John Varela of Santa Clara Valley WD said his entity has a similar policy and he’d like to see the needed modifications take place. Birmingham said this ball started rolling in response to the rewinding of the pumps at the Jones Plant, a multi-million dollar project. He suggested the finance committee further refine the existing policy and include specific criteria about amending the policy and guidance when considering spending large amounts of money on projects. He said if a project has a 25 year life span the costs should be spread out to those who will benefit in the future and not all placed on the current growers. One thing they all agreed on was the finance committee has some very talented people and that committee should wade in and then bring it back to the board.
Politics as Unusual
Legislative reports were next with a talk by Petersen and former congressman Dennis Cardoza. Petersen said there’s not much going on expect the incoming Harris administration, I mean Biden admin is retaining Tom Vilsack as Ag Secretary. The recent congress was surprisingly successful when it came to water policy according to Petersen. The Friant Kern Canal, the Delta Mendota Canal, the Sites Reservoir and other projects will all benefit from a fund for aging infrastructure being established. There’s now funding for snow measurement and that is as important as it gets. Petersen listed many projects and their related funding. The new congress reelected Pelosi as speaker of the House unfortunately but I guess it could be worse. The Georgia elections put the Senate on a different footing and McConnel and Schumer are expected to work out some agreement. There is a $3 trillion China virus package – amazing. Advancement and improvements in enviro regulations enacted during the Trump administration could be decimated by congressional whims. Governor Gavin Newsom has a new budget and had enough to put some money in reserves. Alex Padilla will fill Harris’ seat and Shirley Weber will fill Padilla’s seat. The California Water Commission will be hosting a water conveyance workshop later this month. The state legislature has respawned but no major damage yet.
Cardoza said due to all the nonsense in Washington DC the capital has been shut down with 20,000 National Guard troops with AK 47 guarding the Capitol building. You can’t move around and visit neighborhoods without showing identification. He pointed out Trump’s approval is down. He said it will become increasingly difficult to meet with elected officials. They are under increased security because they’re scared. I didn’t ask if they are more scared now than when Congressman Steve Scalise was shot.
Cardoza said there are thousands of appointments needing Senate approval and the impeachment will bugger that up. Rules say an impeachment process takes precedence over other Senate business. Cardoza said Congressman David Valadao has been appointed to some committee or other but I didn’t hear which one. I did see that Valadao voted to impeach Trump. There’s a guy from the district south of Bakersfield who would be a good ally for water issues. Earmarks are back and even the Blue Dog democrats are concerned legislation about virus and climate change could be the boats that move pork. Cardoza said there is a new caucus being formed that requires for one to become a member they have to bring a member from the opposite party along. It’s called the Problem Solvers Caucus. A similar caucus is in the works in Sacramento. Senator Liza Murkowski is rumored to leave the Republican party and become an independent and caucus with the dems. Cardoza said to expect a tsunami of new regulatory red-tape. Director Gary Kremen asked who are the elected folks in Sacramento joining the Problem Solvers. Cardoza said he can’t really say and he’s not sure if they’re going to reach out to Republicans. Director William Bourdeau said he’s encouraged to hear this as the country needs something. Cardoza said as a private citizen he thinks there has to be some compromise to get things back to normal.* Cardoza said he has really appreciated the opportunity to work with SLDM. Listener Mitch Partovi asked Cardoza about pay-go changes. Cardoza said more one-off expenses should be expected. Cardoza was one of the members of Congress who helped get pay-go in place. You can’t spend new money without cutting an equal amount of spending, you have to pay to go. Cardoza explained that will be changed. The current House has changed the rules to allow discretion by the House whether or not pay go applies in a case by case. If I understood correctly. It was said there could be more hope for funding infrastructure projects if they can be linked to climate change.
Another kink in the Brown Act was dealt with. Akroyd said some folks call in by phone and they can’t see what is happening on the Zoom chat. She read the chat comments to even the information field and asked for attendees call in comments and questions so the discussion can be heard by all.**
Barajas asked Mizuno to give an update on the San Luis Transmission Project. She said there have been two private entities willing to invest and that requires buy in from the Bureau.
Engineer Chris Park gave an update on the B.F. Sisk Dam raising’s feasibility report. The Bureau and Department of Interior submitted the report finding it is technically and environmentally acceptable. That allowed the final EIR/SEIS to be released in December. Caltrans has a say in this because of impacts on State Highway 152. The USBR has been working to get an endangered species statement ready to give to Fish & Wildlife, hopefully by the end of this month. There’s also the cultural inventory and the San Joaquin Valley Air Resources Board to placate, I’m sorry to secure permits from. Park said the schedule looks like construction can begin in 2025. Barajas thanked Park, his team and Arroyave for the hard work that went into this. He also gave kudos to the Bureau. Bourdeau also thanked the folks for working so hard and so successfully.
Barajas said the RFP for the Los Banos SLDMWA office relocation and museum has yielded four responses. The Exchange Contractors are also in on this move. Speaking of moves Barajas said the new Sacramento offices should be up and running next month. He invited us to all stop in whenever we’re in town.
Arroyave reported there was an electrical burnout at the Jones Pumping Plant. This was due to a manufacturer’s error. There was a similar event in Montana and the Bureau has worked up some very specific steps to deal with this matter. There was some talk about CVP contract rescheduling between the Bureau, SLDM and Friant. Birmingham said the Bureau can’t do this. The Bureau can’t talk with SLDM or Friant as a substitute for conversing with individual contractors. The contracts are with the districts not with the JPAs. Good point. Wehr said this unusual and the Bureau appears to be changing its way after decades of contract contact. Arroyave agreed to diplomatically inform Fresno Bureau Chief Michael Jackson of the expressed opinions.
Tom Boardman gave his water report saying the Jones Plant has been pumping at minimum and the state Banks plant has been pumping more. The COA account is keeping track of this so hopefully things will even out once it rains or snows. Boardman said there is no precipitation forecast before the end of the month and that’s not good. Storage at Lake Shasta is very low and there could be a Shasta Critical designation without above average rainfall for the rest of the year. A Shasta Critical means the Exchange Contractors and the refuges get a 75 percent allocation. Snow level in the Folsom watershed is at 50 percent of average. San Luis Reservoir could be way more than 100,000 a/f short of filling. Not only is the amount of available water an issue so is time. It takes a while to fill up San Luis Reservoir and time is running out. It’s not too late but it is getting later. Listener Eric Johnson asked if we aren’t tracking far drier than a 90 percent exceedance? Boardman said yes things are tracking 15,000 a/f below the Bureau’s projections for San Luis.
Birmingham said the water resources committee met and reviewed the actives budget.
Director Rick Gilmore said the finance committee met but had nothing to report.
Director Chris White said the technical committee met but had nothing to report.
There was no State Federal Water Contractors Association report.
Mike Wade reported a number of projects for SLDMWA including a press release on the Sisk Dam updates. There was also an “Insider” newsletter for SLDMWA staff produced and distributed. The California Water Coalition released a comment on the lack of smelt in the Delta. There is also a fact sheet being worked up with Petersen on the economic impact of irrigation. And finally he’s working up a subsidence fact sheet.
Diedrich gave the ACWA report and thanked everyone for the behind the scenes work that goes on. He said Westlands WD’s Ryan Ferguson has joined the ACWA board and he thanked him for that. He said welcome all to the world of California water where common sense can be beat down by politics. Diedrich wanted to mention McLeod was on the ACWA board for more than 20 years and that should be remembered.
Anthea Hansen said the San Luis Division CVP Association (not sure if that’s the correct name) isn’t mentioned in these reports and she said there so many financial matters being dealt with and there is a new executive director. Perhaps Miss Anthea or someone will correct me if I have reported in err. Birmingham suggested adding this organization to the SLDM agenda.
Banta Carbona ID GM David Weisenberger said an hour before McLeod died he was walking the halls with a nurse trying to get released from the hospital so he could go home. Weisenberger shared a couple of sayings by McLeod, “NGOs are environmental terrorists.” When asked why farmers grow so many almonds he responded with a common sense, “Because that’s what people are eating.” And he always wanted to know why salmon hadn’t returned to the Eel River (I believe it was) since there are no dams there. A very good question. Birmingham said he wasn’t aware McLeod was 91-years old. His energy and mental acuity was amazing. Diedrich said McLeod was always generous with his time. He said he was talking with him about a fishing trip to the Hidiguy (sp?) River and McLeod launched into a history of the Hidiguy Tribe. Diedrich said McLeod was a superior thinker and retained the knowledge he acquired. I think Michael summed it up for everyone when he said he was glad he knew Jim.
The meeting then went into closed session and that was that.
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*I’m hearing a lot more talk about cooperation and compromise now that the dems are in control. What was wrong with compromise and cooperation last year?
** What if someone doesn’t have a phone or poor phone service? Unlikely, but any more unlikely than someone not having a computer? Maybe the government can solve this by writing realistic, thoughtful legislation with provisions to limit harmful unintended consequences.
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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