By Don A. Wright
The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, March 9, 2023 at its Los Banos headquarters and online with Zoom, thankfully. Chairman Cannon Michael called the meeting to order at 9:30am and we collectively saluted the flag of the greatest nation yet. The folks in the room then introduced themselves followed by those of us online.
The first items were housekeeping; no public comment or changes to the agenda took place. The consent calendar was passed with nothing pulled.
The first Action item was electing officers for fiscal year 2024. CEO Federico Barajas instructed the board on the bylaws requiring this election. He said the executive officer will be the board secretary, that would be him. David Weisenberger, General Manager of Banta Carbona Water District nominated the current officers be reinstated and the board voted to do so.
J. Scott Petersen presented two pieces of legislation for support: SB 23 State Senator Anna Caballero, Expedited Permitting for Water Supply and Flood Risk Reduction Projects and SB 361 Senator Bill Dodd, Water Resources: expanding the stream gage network. The board voted to support both bills as recommended.
The board then voted to extend the contract with the current auditors on advice of the finance committee. Barajas also reported the finance committee recommended in light of the US Bureau of Reclamation’s allocation of 35 percent – and based on contractors’ comments – to adjust the Operations & Maintenance rates with a mind to the real possibility of increased allocations. If, and this is a big if, I understood correctly the more allocated the more water the more O&M needed to move that water. There are many factors to setting these rates. Barajas said in the past San Luis Delta Mendota doesn’t adjust this rate based on the Bureau’s moving target of allocations. He said with this year being very unusual staff stands ready to refigure the baseline of the O&M rates.
Westlands Water District’s interim GM Jose Gutierrez said his staff is prepared to provide input from any allocation ranging from zero to 100 percent. The more water Westlands can deliver the cheaper the cost. He said Westlands isn’t even looking at purchasing supplemental water this year. Director Bill Pucheu, Tranquillity Water District is also Chair of the Finance Committee and said the formula is sound and depending on the Bureau’s actions should work well. The board approved staff recommendations.
COO Pablo Arroyave introduced Taryn Ravazzini representing the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Enlargement JPA. Ravazzini said although there are many of the districts in the room that are JPA members and the others are pretty wolfy on water, she will be presenting a higher level of informative overview.
Someone said during the Mid Pacific Water Conference Los Vaqueros said it is rolling at as fast a pace as possible. There is political will at the moment. I continually hear about Governor Gavin Newsom’s political ambitions making him willing to go for water infrastructure project advancements in ways he didn’t used to. Funding from Prop One – if it ever gets out of the California Water Commission (which is somewhat handcuffed under its own legislative burden). Los Vaqueros is off stream and currently holds 160,000 a/f. The expansion would raise the dam with an increase to 275,000 a/f of storage. This would be a source of eco-water, an increase supply for wildlife refuges in the San Joaquin Valley and help for migrating salmon. The reservoir will also provide emergency and drought water storage. Ravazzini said the reservoir will add operational flexibility to the Central Valley Project.
In addition there will be improved drinking water quality, facilitate transfers and improve climate change resiliency. There are four intakes to the reservoir and there are plenty of outlets to allow access to the California Aqueduct.
The JPA was formed in October 2021 and provides governance by the members. It is about ready to enter into contracts and agreements. Ravazzini said the business and administration functions are being transferred to the JPA and a solid management team is being sought. Funding is 21-25 percent federal, about half state and the rest local/agency participation.
Ravazzini said the JPA isn’t actively looking for new members but there is room for agreements to be made. She suggested the service agreements could be reached sometime in August and the whole deal will go down by October. I swear I heard her say her goal was to have a lot of meat on the mountain. Could that be right? Never heard that one before.
Barajas said the report in the board packet shows key priority items, this year there are 15 of the little guys. He said staff is on it like green on grass and many of them are either completed or in the midst of being completed. He said overall the implementation plan is on track fiscally and timeline wise.
Barajas said San Luis Delta Mendota is working with Martin Rauch of Rauch Communications. Rauch will be conducting interviews with the members and being sure all the concerns are being addressed. Rauch has conducted other services for San Luis Delta Mendota and Friant Water Authority and maybe the Exchange Contractors. That’s where I first met him, at Ex Con. There’s reason these entities keep coming back. There will be three to four workshops focused on the strategic plan later this spring and Barajas said he expects a five-year outlook will be ready by the end of summer. Michael said he has seen strategic plans sit on the shelf but praised staff for its work to implement and follow through. Good for them.
Petersen said he and other staff members met with many satraps in Washington DC on a recent trip. He said there was good engagement and some results have been seen already. The White House Counsel on Environmental stuff is trying to create streamlined NEPA permitting outside of congress. I don’t know, is this a good thing? There is a new undersecretary at USDA from New Mexico. She used to be a congresswoman and is considered pragmatic. I didn’t catch her name. Petersen gives an incredibly competent presentation, he could easily be a national news caster, but he doesn’t wait around and I don’t always catch everything.
Petersen said the Senate and House Appropriations Committees have released guidance for community projects. There are opportunities for programmatic earmarks if you can get them in within two weeks or less. Farm Bill requests are also being solicited. I understand that is open at the House until March 15th.
Dennis Cardoza said the past week’s trip was very productive, the best in years. (Wonder if this has anything to do with control of the House changing.) He said there were meetings of substantial progress with Congressmen David Valadao, Speaker Keven McCarthy and Senator Alex Padilla. He said the Army Corps of Engineers’ budget was cut by 15 percent by the Biden Administration. He said it is part of the budget dance because it always gets added back in the long run. Cardoza also said Dan Keppen from the Family Farm Alliance did a great job representing western water interests in a recent DC testimony.
Bill Ball, who works with Cardoza said the federal projects have a big gob of cash, $4 billion or more? But it looks like really good flexibility in spending.
Petersen said SLDM will be scheduling meetings with the new Delta Water Master, Jay Ziegler. The state budget revenue projection continues to contract. This will cause a funding scramble by all kinds of outstretched hands in Sacramento. He said there will also be a workshop with Cal Strategies on, I believe electric vehicles. Can that be right?
There were more than 2,000 bills introduced in Sacramento. It appears elected officials believe they get paid by the word. Petersen said there are number of bills introduced on water rights. There is a lot of talk at ACWA on how to engage on this topic. There is an ACWA faction that wants to fight and those who want to make their own proposals. He said to hold back, keep the powder dry until we know more, then attack.
Kristin Olsen-Cate said this is the biggest year for water bills in Sacramento in maybe forever. The Assembly Water Parks & Wildlife had a hearing on atmospheric rivers. (They also had one on water rights and climate change.) The state senate is looking at forest fires. She said state Senator Melissa Hurtado’s office has been very good to work with.
Michael also said Barajas was a rock star in DC and he was pleased with the trip’s results. Cardoza invited folks to come hang out at his new office whenever in DC.
Ex O Report
Barajas said there is a Monday workshop at 10am on O&M matters. He also said he’s going to start touring the member agencies board meetings and looks forward to seeing everyone in their natural habitat. Director Bill Diedrich thanked Barajas and staff for the hard work that took place in Washington DC.
Arroyave said there is 8,400 a/f is going to the federal side of San Luis Reservoir daily and if that pace can be maintained the fed side will fill by the very early April. He also said there was a tremendous amount of debris backed up at the fish screen and it was all hands on deck. They were able to clear it out and have a plan in place to keep it that way. The State’s Boats & Waterways has an RFP out to clean up the hyacinth from the Delta to the Mendota Pool.
Diedrich thanked Arroyave for taking some of the directors and others to the Delta facilities. He said it was an overwhelming sight. He likened it to chopping down a giant Sequoia with a stone axe. He said after seeing the problem first hand he was amazed at the progress made. Anything in the creeks, streams and rivers washed down to the fish screens. Mattresses, old boats and all kinds of crap.
Liz Kiteck from the Bureau gave the water report saying there is another series of atmospheric rivers coming in. The first storm is on the colder side but there will be increased flows with rain on snow. The next storm is even warmer. She said precipitation in the north is lagging way behind the rest of the state. That’s opposite world. She said Folsom has been filled and drained once already this year.
Kiteck said the releases at Shasta have been low – trying to fill it up. She said the flood control won’t be a problem at Shasta. New Melones is at 47 percent and there is a good snowpack but not a huge watershed. The fed side of San Luis is at 67 percent and there is room for 300,000 plus a/f to fill and it could happen.
Kiteck said the DWR snow index is normal in the Sacramento Valley and the San Joaquin Valley is wet by all categories. Snow pack in the north Sierra is 156 percent of average, the central Sierra 196 percent and the southern Sierra is at 230 percent of average. That could go higher as the ASO data comes in. She said in February Shasta levels was concerning as the upper temperature flow gates wouldn’t be in good shape. She hopes the new storms bring more inflow to Shasta. Trinity has had much inflow so diversions will be low. Pumping should continue into April and May and she hopes to see increased allocations. If San Luis fills she said there could be a 215 Water offering from the Delta. Folsom should have higher than normal releases all year and the overall forecast for March is cooler than normal.
Someone asked about the Kings River runoff and if that has any impact. Kiteck said the Bureau is keeping in touch with Friant and she sees this year being similar to 2017. The Kings River folks are expecting 17,000 cfs where that river passes under Highway 99, when the warm storm hits.
It wasn’t mentioned where Tom Boardman was. He usually gives the water report.
Barajas reported there were meetings last month with CalPERS and administrative concern with that. Michael said there is report from the Family Farm Alliance’s recent meetings. Mike Wade said the California Farm Water Coalition in conjunction with SLDMWA will release a statement on the air quality concerns of raising the dam at San Luis Reservoir. He said Keppen did a great job and his statement will be released. He also said the Water Blueprint is working through its strategic plan.
Diedrich said ACWA has established an election committee to develop a more formal election policy. He said the election committee will meet and review nomination and eligibility requirements. He said the voting will be electronic and he expects much more participation. He said to be sure to designate your agency’s voting delegate. There will be a Spring Conference in Monterey.
Petersen reported the Blueprint will be holding its March 15th meeting at the International Ag Center with PPIC’s Ellen Hanak speaking about the future of ag in the San Joaquin Valley. Petersen is vice chair of the advocacy and working with the communications committee. The Collaborative Action Plan met and the steering group has expanded its workgroup membership. All the SLDM members can participate in this way. He said he can’t cover it all and it would be helpful to him for more participation. At this point something happened to the audio and the rest of meeting was a mere whisper.
Open session ended at 11:25am and closed session had two cases of exposure to litigation, one case of initiating a suit and a trash can full of existing courtroom drama. That was about it for this month.
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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
Email: email@example.com 209/826-9696
P.O. Box 2157 Los Banos, CA. 93635