The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, November 4, 2021 at its Los Banos headquarters and on Zoom. SLDMWA is a joint powers authority that has interests in the Delta Mendota Canal and the San Luis Reservoir. Just in case you don’t know a JPA is a common form of government where more than one special district comes together and forms a legal organization to perform some function. In the federal Central Valley Project there are three JPAs, SLDM, the Friant Water Authority and the Tehama Colusa Canal Authority. It’s more than just a oversight committee. A JPA can enter into contracts and kind of functions like a corporation of special districts.
Chairman Cannon Michael began the meeting at 9:30am on the dot. Director John Bennet has stepped down and Michael Linneman has taken his place. Panoche Water District General Manager Ara Azhderian has become the alternate. Attorney Becca Ackroyd took roll and there was a quorum. The board approved the agenda without additions or corrections and public comment was next, but there was none.
The consent calendar had three items pulled for discussion having to do with minutes. Director Anthea Hansen had corrections to the September 30th, October 7th and 21st workshop minutes. Sounded like she’s a good editor.
CPA Brian Nash gave the board a report on the final 2021 audit. Nash said new accounting rules required SLDM staff to build a new report. His was a long report but SLDM had a lot going on with bonding for power transmission and the pump rewinding at the Jones Plant in Tracy. Can’t blame Nash for getting a little windy when the State Controller keeps adding more hoops. The final word is as one would expect – SLDM is running a clean ship. I don’t know this for a fact but I suspect there are few institutions, organizations or businesses as clean as SLDM. However, some of the adjustments dealing with closing entries were points off but Nash said Controller Joyce Machado is doing a good job in coming to compliance with the new rules. Director Tom Birmingham asked if staff will be implementing the recommendations by the auditors and when. Machado said staff is working on addressing these issues and that was good enough for Birmingham. The board approved the audit. Michael thanked staff for working so hard through a challenging year.
COO Pablo Arroyave reported to the board the Finance Committee recommends SLDM get involved in ACWA’s JPIA. They fooled us here with an extra letter – Joint Powers Insurance Authority. ACWA has its own insurance arm specifically designed for water related districts. Arroyave said there is a safety program SLDM can join once five members sign off on it. This comes with grant funding possibilities. The board agreed.
CDM Smith is a firm working on the BF Sisk Dam raising project at San Luis Reservoir. It needs another $300,000 and that money could be taken from the legislation budget. The board agreed.
Executive Director Federico Barajas next reported to the board on the cost share agreement percentage for raising the dam. Barajas said there were several splits between the state, feds and investors on the table. He said having a 50/50 split would be the most flexible at this time. Things can change, but for now the US Bureau of Reclamation was more comfortable with the 50/50 split. Barajas also said a two year Delta outage for planning purposes is now the preferred stance as opposed to the former one year Delta outage. Another possibility is Disadvantaged Communities’ participation with non-reimbursable shares. There were further divisions outlined within the internal SLDM sharing plan and the board approved.
Next the board had to pass a resolution on whether or not to continue meeting online through next month. Birmingham said if there is an emergency then the board should meet remotely. If not everyone should meet in person. Michael said his feeling is to have online only until the end of the year. That sounded good to everyone and the board agreed. The resolution had to have tweak by Ackroyd and it passed.
The last action item was with the City of Tracy to amend and restate the activity agreement regarding the Los Vaqueros Reservoir Expansion Project. Arroyave explained to the board this will decrease SLDM cost share and the board approved.
The first report was on state and federal affairs. J. Scott Petersen, Dennis Cardoza and Kristin Olsen always give interesting reports. Michaels calls it the dream team.
Petersen mows through his report like an old school Huntly/Brinkly newscaster. The new Bureau Commissioner’s appointment should be before the Senate next week. The powers that be under Biden want to rehash the biological opinions for the Delta. There is some talk about improving NEPA and public comment is open through November 27th. There are also habitat regulations up for grabs and how Fish & Wildlife can define habitat, if I understood correctly. This is also open to public comment. Petersen said staff will work with others to get the new administration to work cooperatively. Two vaccination mandates will be announced soon. This is coming from the Whitehouse. Birmingham asked Ackroyd if SLDM would fall under these mandates and she said not at this time. Cardoza offered to work with the authority on this matter.
Petersen said the Democrats failed to pass the infrastructure bill and instead passed a continuing resolution. The progressive Dems have tied their mule to the larger $3+ trillion socialist candy store/climate change bill in order to get their support for the $1.7 trillion budget package. They got their heads stuck somewhere in a greedy neighborhood of Porkville.
Cardoza said he’s feeling flu-ish after a vaccination and apologized. He said he had dinner with Congressman Jim Costa who isn’t pleased with the new junk in the package progressive wish list. The Blue Dogs sent letters to Pelosi and the Whitehouse saying they won’t vote for the package until there is a financial score. Taxes would have to be raised $4 trillion to pay for the current hot mess.
Bill Ball is also a consultant who said the Republicans won’t support the Build Back Better agenda. Ball said he has heard there will be a vote today but he doesn’t think this will happen. Cardoza said Pelosi wants to jam this through as quick as possible before the full impact of the Virginia elections came to fruition, if I understood.
On the State side Petersen said the State Board suspended the in Delta curtailment temporarily due to the recent storm and will review that decision next week. There is $50 million provided to “repurpose” land and the Cal Department of Conservation is looking for public input on how to spend it. Repurpose is another way of saying land fallowing and retirement. That means there won’t be enough water to support the current irrigated ag acreage.
Olsen added Governor Gavin Newsom has spread the drought proclamation to all of the state’s counties but there are no mandatory water use cutbacks. The first “real” redistricting maps will be revealed next week. They probably won’t remain unchanged but they do represent some potential major changes for the San Joaquin Valley districts.
Engineer Joe McGahan reported plans for altering Mud Slough facilities in the Grasslands area. The comments have come in and the steering committee will advise SLDM to declare a neg-dec and start work on the check structure. He also said due to comments sent to the Regional Board an increase in reporting on fish is needed. There was some funky fish found and since part of Grasslands drain into the San Joaquin River more studies are needed.
Frances Mizuno reported on the costs of the San Luis Transmission Project. It’s more than $280 million and since that estimate was given they found out they could go to a 40-year agreement. She brought along Lora Carpenter, a bond expert working on the project to give information to the board. Originally the construction schedule was going to be three years and now it’s four years. That impacts financing due to changes in interest. The new cost estimate is $307 million. There is a worst case estimate of $317 million if the supply chain continues to mess up. Also if the infrastructure big bill passes the government spending could create a competition for funds. The vaccination mandate isn’t popular with construction workers and that could make finding labor difficult if anyone contracting with the feds has to take the shot. And the current rate of inflation could drive up the cost of materials. Already the steel needed looks like it’s gone up more than 50 percent. Let me answer the question why? with another question. Let’s go who?
Carpenter gave an update saying the first term sheet has been negotiated with the solar developer who will provide a big chunk of change to get things going. She then put up a spreadsheet showing 30, 35 to 40 year costs for financing. It also included what it will cost to not do the project with no corresponding saving. If I understood and I think I do, it costs more to not build out. If someone who could read that spreadsheet better has a clearer idea of what happened let me know.
There wasn’t complete buy in, at least at this time. Director Bill Diedrich, Jeff Cattaneo and Birmingham had concerns about the costs during dry years. Dry years mean less water pumped requiring less power moving down the line resulting in less revenue but extra capacity. During the dry years they want to know how to get revenue from others by renting out the extra capacity. Mizuno said they’re working on getting commitments from other contractors to use the extra capacity. This item will come back next month.
Barajas said Los Banos is looking to develop a museum and office space for SLDM and Exchange Contractors if I understand correctly. The land slated for this has passed a redevelopment hoop and things are one step closer.
Meetings are a challenge, at least scheduling meetings. There are a lot of meetings needed and finding a time to get everyone together with a minimum of conflicts is a chore. But SLDM is up to the task.
Arroyave reported the old and middle channels of the San Joaquin River barrier will be removed next week and that will almost certainly increase the amounts of weeds and other crap hitting the fish screens at the Tracy plant. He said SLDM is ready to lend a hand in clean up.
Tom Boardman reported Shasta got a decent input pulse from the last storm but they expected more. He said the dry soil took a lot of water and most likely the next storm will have more inflow runoff. Folsom Reservoir did ok as well during the last atmospheric river hitting the state. Folsom’s closer to average than Shasta. He said the Delta water quality and quantity is good. This is the first time since October of last year the Jones plant has been running at all five units. Inflow will go down again until another storm comes through.
Michael said all the committees met and asked if any of the chairs had comments. Birmingham said the Water Resources Committee met and the board voted on its recommendations today. Chris White reported the Technical Committee met and he was knocked out by SLDM staff’s hard work.
Petersen reported the California Farm Water Coalition is working on getting more awareness for salmon predation in the Delta and how that can be better managed. Diedrich reported the ACWA conference has sold out the in person portion.
Petersen also reported on the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint saying the executive committee is working on upgrading the governance structure. A nominating committee has been established and a slate will be presented at the next meeting. He also said the Central Valley Project Water Association has been active.
The meeting then went into closed session at 11:53am for two items of anticipated litigation, 14 items of existing litigation and that was it, no personnel or real estate matters. Well, there was a good deal of financial matters at today’s meeting. Between the audit report and the bond payment, if you would like more detail San Luis Delta Mendota is a public agency and anything presented in open session should be available. And that was that.
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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: