The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, July 14, 2022 at its Los Banos headquarters and online with Zoom. Good for them. By the way while waiting for the meeting to start the SLDMWA logo was on the screen. That’s a good looking piece of artwork. Sort of a Ben Shahn Depression era, if I’ve got the correct artist.
Vice-Chair William Bourdeau was running the meeting, no word on where Chairman Cannon Michael is today but we hope he’s healthy and happy. Under public comment Director John Varela said Banta Carbona’s Jim Macleod passed away. Macleod was great for quotes. He spoke his mind and said things others only thought; and he said them plainly with passion. He had courage and will be missed.
Next attorney Rebecca Akroyd spoke about the rate of Covid cooties going up again and asked the board to consider whether or not to meet remotely. Westlands’ Tom Birmingham said if we are in a state of emergency, meetings should be held remotely. But he feels the benefits of meeting in person are more efficient and effective. There was no action taken.
Scott Petersen spoke about HR 127 and recommended SLDM support the legislation with an amendment. This is a funding bill and ties into Water Infrastructure Financing Act and will be a good tool to help pay for infrastructure. The board agreed with one director abstaining for some reason and I learned Michael is participating remotely, so he’s OK.
Executive Officer Federico Barajas asked Michael Jackson from the Fresno US Bureau of Reclamation offices to speak. Jackson said pumping at the federal Jones Plant in the Delta was increased this past Sunday from two to three units. He said the plan is on target with good water quality as the high tide has receded. Folsom releases are holding steady and that helps with South of Delta exports for Exchange Contractors and Health & Safety. That allowed a cutback of downstream releases from Friant Dam to the Mendota Pool. Downstream releases are limited to restoration flows and Friant Division allocations should be going up. He said next week or the week after Friant should be getting an increase. Jackson said this will be incrementally raised to ensure things in the Delta are moving in the right direction. The Restoration program wants to keep a cold water pool in Millerton Lake for October releases. Anthea Hanson of Del Puerto Water District asked how much Friant may get and Jackson said 30 percent.
Petersen said SLDM has long worked with and supported the Public Policy Institute of California. He said PPIC has been tracking where water goes in the Delta. He introduced Ellen Hanak and Greg Gartrell of PPIC. Hanak is a familiar face in the Valley and always has something cogent and informative to share. She’s started trends, so keep that in mind. I used to think PPIC was just another NGO making a living from complaining. It is not. If I’d have read the agenda closer and known she was going to be giving a live presentation I’ve got up early, transferred a good share of my bank account into my gas tank and attend the meeting in person – providing the public can do so.
Hanak said this information is posted online at the PPIC website. Hanak said the study looked at sources, uses and outflow. Under sources runoff, reservoir releases in Delta precipitation and all other inflow. The usage was calculated on an annual basis, for upstream depletions, in Delta uses – farms, cities and enviro – DWR and CVP exports and ecosystem outflow. And uncaptured outflow is included. She said even without environmental usage there is still a need to prevent salinity intrusion.
Hanak said droughts are a part of life in California but they are hotter and dryer than in the past. There is an increase in evaporation stressing plants. She said this isn’t a climate prediction but multiple wet years are less frequent since 2000. There is less water reaching the Delta and much of the water that does is used to keep salinity from intruding. More water is used to protect ecosystems but species declines haven’t stopped. Exports have decreased and there is more reliance on emergency orders. The year 2021 and related upstream depletions was represented on a graph that made no sense to me at first glance. Chris White of the Exchange Contractors understood it immediately and asked some pertinent questions. Gartrell gave some pertinent answers. There was 10 times as much outflow in 2017 than in 2021. Hanak said for 2021, the reservoir releases went to salinity, ecosystem purposes, and exports. (100 percent of the runoff went to upstream and in-Delta uses, so the water stored in reservoirs had to meet all the regulatory needs for salinity and ecosystems and exports.)
Hanak said there is room for improvement in tracking diversions and return flows. There is also a need to manage for “hot droughts” with more realistic spring forecasts. The old modeling isn’t working as well. A better streamlining of the curtailment process would help. She said they could even help protect senior water rights. Birmingham said there is an anomaly in 2021 transfer loss and he believe it was lower due to in Delta curtailment. He said due to temperature control the transfers came later in the year and that helped limit losses. Hanak said to make note, Birmingham agreed with her.
Birmingham asked if PPIC will endorse SB 88 and enforce more metering and Hanak said enforcement needs improvement. She said there are challenges meeting SWP and CVP contracts. There is a need to revisit these senior contracts because they are not being met. A better salinity barrier in the Delta could be very helpful. White said Exchange Contractor contracts don’t impact inflow.
Hanak said the current regulatory system needs to be retooled to follow changing hydrology instead of water year type. The regs need to be simplified and she pointed out the WINN Act did provide more flexibility for water users but what’s needed is more flexibility for both water users and ecosystems.
Infrastructure is needed. Storing more water in wet years is needed and PPIC is for it. Both surface and recharge storage will benefit both water users and ecosystems. (Interesting that the presentation doesn’t list ecosystems as water users.)
There was a discussion about how headwaters impact the system. Hanak said there are ways to try to positively impact water. Run of river releases are not the best management criteria. Director Gary Kremen asked which storage projects are beneficial. Hanak said the Yuba River has managed storage and groundwater in a manner that has benefited both farms and fish. The Prop One investments are being looked at. There could be a scenario with an entire reservoir managed for the ecosystem and extra supplies could be sold.
It was asked what that would look like. Gartrell said there are times in the year when current operational management limits exports. There is an average of 400,000 a/f going out to sea because there is no place to move it when it’s available. I believe that is an average for wet years. This sounds like a job for the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint and Hanak said so. She said working on the Blueprint and the Collaborative Action Plan is a good direction. Petersen pointed that out also. Gartrell said taking advantage of these flows would barely impact overall outflow.
Someone asked if this report has been vetted with the state and Hanak said some of that has been going on. She said there is a six page executive report for laymen that isn’t very “wonky” and the longer report for those who want to wade in a little deeper. Hanak said there is a lot of interest in developing recharge basins but on field recharge is also a very cost effective way to get water underground. Gartrell said regulating away from water year type to actual conditions in real time management may well yield the best results. I asked him about something I’ve heard for years. If there were no dams like some of the enviros want, would saltwater reach Sacramento and Stockton? He said the furthest intrusion of saltwater on record, including paleo records was in 1920 when a massive amount of rice land was added in the Sacramento Valley. If I understood correctly it sounded like the perfect lack of storm. Very dry and a sudden diversion onto rice paddies.
It sounded like everyone was very appreciative of the report and the presentation. It was good to hear there are solutions out there that don’t include the abolishment of agriculture in California. Go here to see the report – https://www.ppic.org/publication/policy-brief-tracking-where-water-goes-in-a-changing-sacramento-san-joaquin-delta/
Petersen reported on law making. He said taking a look at the Delta Biological Re-consultation is making some headway. He pointed out the good work Westlands attorney Jon Ruben had done in the long term operational planning for the Delta.
Dennis Cardoza gave his report saying the ACWA Washington DC fly in was lightly attended. California Senator Alex Padilla was the keynote speaker. Padilla said he’ll become more active in water than he has been. Cardoza said the Supreme Court recently ruled the EPA overreached its authority in greenhouse gas. The appropriation debate is ongoing at this time. There is a amendment that could make things tougher on the Delta tunnels.
Bill Ball spoke saying there were 70 something amendments impacting water. There are no markups on the Senate side and the House will have more influences. Petersen said there is a chance there will be some markups in the Senate Energy and Natural Resources.
Petersen introduced Kristen Olsen for California matters. Olsen said the main budget and most of the trailer bills were passed in Sacramento. However, the water bills for $3 billion for drought relief won’t take place until August when the recess is over. She said the $100 million for canal repair is secure. Senator Melissa Hurtado is asking to have this increased to $300 million since there is such a big budget surplus. Good for her.
Petersen said there is a State Board workshop on Critical Race Theory’s Racial Equity Action Plan on July 20th. The State Board passed a resolution endorsing CRT that included an Equity Action plan. This includes making all employment and water rights decisions through the lens of racial equity. Not equality. This is absolutely a Marxist paradigm and has no place in the United States. It is the epitome of Woke racism. You are urged to be educated on this matter and to fight it. It would be good to see some serious pushback, but so far any opposition has been tepid. I suspect due to apathy, confusion and some cowardness.
Ex Director Report
Barajas asked Frances Mizuno to speak to the board about the San Luis Transmission project. She said Golden State Energy (I think that’s the private partner) is still motivated to complete this project as it is needed for their solar project. Barajas thanked Mizuno and said SLDM will keep an eye on the USBR not being willing to enter into an MOU.
Chuck Gardner, Hallmark Group reported on the B.F. Sisk Dam project. He said he’s looking at an August deadline to arrive at an investment agreement and come out with a complete draft of the operations plan development and cost share agreements. By the end of the year he sees that being wrapped up. At that point a timeline for additional funds will be forecasted by the end of the year. COO Pablo Arroyave said not all of the SLDM members will be participant partners.
Barajas said there was a successful public meeting at Los Banos for the proposed SLDM, Ex Con and museum facility. He also said there will be a workshop and tour of the Yuba water area coming up.
Tom Bordman reported Shasta Reservoir is trending a little above the1.4 million a/f carryover according to the Bureau. He said the Settlement Contractors aren’t getting the full allocation. On the good side Folsom’s storage is doing well and as Jackson said earlier in the meeting Delta pumping should be solid although smaller. San Luis Reservoir is drawing down but federal storage should be at 100,000 a/f at the end of the summer.
Mike Wade reported the California Farm Water Coalition is gaining traction from the Wall Street Journal advertising. Working with the Family Farm Alliance the warning about food security and water supplies is receiving website hits. He expects to soon complete an informational paper about the Delta Mendota Canal.
Petersen reported the Blueprint board met and adopted a mission statement. He also said a draft term sheet has been developed for the CAP that will be circulated.
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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, Director of Water Policy: J. Scott Pedersen