The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, November 9, 2023 at its Los Banos headquarters and blessedly on Zoom. SLDM is an outstanding example of how it is possible to hold a public meeting with directors attending in person and providing the public online access. It’s a shame so many taxpayer funded organizations are not willing to let the light shine. In California in the 21st century why aren’t all public meetings online?
The meeting was called to order at 9:33am by Chairman Cannon Michael and the board and those attended started with a flag salute. Good for them. Next folks introduced themselves in person and online. There were no considerations or corrections to the agenda and there was no public comment. The consent calendar was approved without pulling any items.
Scott Petersen gave his report about H.R. 5664 (Schrier) Water Infrastructure Finance & Innovation Act Amendments of 2023. It sounded to me like this proposed bill will help water suppliers like SLDM with paying its bills. He added the Water Resources Committee recommending supporting the bill.
The board was then presented with an opportunity to adopt a resolution authorizing staff to apply for a grant worth $871.1 million from the Aging Infrastructure Account. COO Pablo Arroyave said the funds can go to projects at the O’Neill Pumping Plant and subsidence corrections on the Delta Mendota Canal. CEO Federico Barajas explained some of this money would be repaid but not until the US Bureau of Reclamation deemed the projects successful and the payments will be negotiable if I understood. This is a competitive grant and the board approved trying to get a slice of it.
Next Arroyave told the board they may have to dip into the Emergency Reserve Fund to fix some concrete panels that have popped and allowed water to pass behind them. That goes on for very long it will wash out the canal. There is also a bridge near where Solano Creek intercepts the canal that is hanging on by a thread. The combined expense is less than $2 million. It can be paid out of the emergency fund but has to be paid back and the idea is to charge a little more per acre foot. SLDM is required by law to keep this reserve and somehow or other the USBR has a say in it. The board approved the expenditure by resolution.
Barajas then presented the board with a memo and resolution to adopt dates for the board, the finance and water resources committees. It’s herding cats to get all these folks in the same room at the same time. The board agreed.
The Exchange Contractors have an annual agreement as an activity agreement and regular agreement to transfer water for 2024-2025. The agreements were presented together and adopted separately.
Next up under reports Michael said the performance evaluation of the Executive Director and General Counsel process has changed a bit. Surveys were sent out online for the first time to the board and Michael encouraged everyone to participate or hold their peace. Or is it piece? I’ll have to look it up later because the next item was Petersen’s legislative report and you got to pay attention while that’s going on and not get caught Duck Duck Going for answers to questions when Petersen has a head of steam worked up. His reports are very informative with a fast deliv. . . Whoop there he goes now.
Petersen said there was someone appointed to something on the federal level in the Department of Interior. Someone else is retiring and the Bureau of Land Management is looking for a new California Director if you’re looking for work. He added there are federal grants available for districts on the federal delivery system. Petersen said re-consultation on the Delta biological opinions is going on.
Petersen said Louisiana Congressman Mike Johnson has been elected new Speaker of the House but the same problems that plagued Congressman Kevin McCarthy are still there. The government is about to shutdown again without a short term continuing resolution. Personally I don’t care of the government shuts down but for the Farm Bill. Health and security services don’t shut down. But the folks sucking on the government boob have whiny fits and the one party that really encourages government boob suckling goes nuts and blames climate change and crop circles on the other party.
There was a bit of a delay but Dennis Cardoza was able to get ahold. He said the House spending bill won’t get past the Senate and if it did there’s a veto threat from President Joe Biden. He said trying to find a solution is putting Johnson in the same place as McCarthy. Cardoza said a reporter called him to talk about what California ag will do now without Senator Dianne Feinstein and Congressman McCarthy as Speaker. Cardoza said any agreements ongoing with the Department of Interior and Agriculture stop during a shutdown. He also said it actually is more expensive for the federal government to shutdown and start up again than to just keep going.
Petersen said there will be workshops on the Voluntary Agreements coming up. There will be analysis presented. Staff and I think he meant State Board staff, won’t be taking a position. There are some problems for many with the staff report that will open up many comments meant to straighten out the record. Barajas said SLDM is coordinating with other agencies federal and state, to get the information correct.
Petersen said the California Water Commission will meet next week to discuss flooding amongst other things. He said there will be a focus ecosystems and drought with a comment period ending December 15th. The recommendations coming out of the CWC are influential and comments should be made. This can impact budgets more than regulatory actions but those two issues do impact each other. The California Department of Pest Regulation is coming out with a buttload of regulatory systems already imposed on Southern California counties. Like killer bees it creeps north. He also said to expect reconfigurations of last year’s bad bills in Sacramento. Also, SLDM is looking to put together some legislator tours.
More from the state side as Kristin Olsen reported this is legislative caucus retreat time. Lots going on. The assembly committee chairs have yet to be decided and won’t be announced until December. There are big changes expected in ag, water and power before January. The State Senate Pro Temp Toni Atkins will hand over the reins to Mike McGuire sometime next year. There is a February 16th deadline for a bill to become formal so start now. The resources bond would have to pass the legislators by June. It is expected to go on the ballot in November. It’s polling well at this time. I heard a poll showed people in California are very receptive to more reservoirs but are also anti-dam. Speaking of dams, there may be some state funding for the BF Sisk Dam raise. There should be, it’s a state project as well as a federal project. I haven’t heard how Santa Clara Valley Water District’s effort to raise a dam across the street from San Luis Reservoir is going. Anyone know? I hope well.
Executive Director Report
Barajas said the fiscal year 2025 budget process has started with the operations and maintenance. The relevant committees are moving the draft along. There will be an activity agreement budget workshop pending next month. Maybe December 19th.
Barajas thanked folks for completing the strategic plan survey and providing much needed feedback. There was a Sisk Dam event a couple of weeks ago that culminated with a record of decision being signed. He blamed Petersen for the day going off without a hitch.
Arroyave reported the Jones Plant is down to one unit as PG&E does something with the power grid. Next week the USBR is going to shut things down to get some work done as well. He said SLDM is working hard to line up the critical O&M activities in conjunction with the least outage. The O’Neill Forebay is going to be out of order from mid-April to May. There is hyacinth building up in the Delta again.
Water Ops & Forecast
USBR’s Liz Kiteck reported releases in the Sacramento Valley are at a minimum with the pumps slowed down. There is a major storm showing up next week and it isn’t sure where it’s going to hit the coast. There should be three or four days of rain and snow. This looks like the first atmospheric river of the season. With the reservoirs already well stocked with water this could be a very good year for operational flexibility. The water supply index forecast from DWR will come out next month but there won’t be any snow survey information included. Delta outflow of 4,500 cfs is controlling flows this month. The fish aren’t expected to impact pumping in the near term.
Committee & Outside Agency Updates
I don’t know who gave the first report or what he said. Couldn’t hear him. Barajas said some reimbursement funds are on the way to member agencies. Jumping the Thanksgiving holiday Barajas told the board – Merry Christmas.
Mike Wade of the California Farm Water Coalition spoke saying there were social media influencers on tour through the San Joaquin Valley. There was very good feedback from this. There will be more tours in the Imperial and Salinas Valleys next year.
Wade said there is good support from lending institutions for the Cultivate California program. He said video content is proving very engaging with audiences. There are ACWA surveys that show CFWC is swaying public opinion. The public believes farmers should get water to grow food and in the event of very limited supplies, farming is second only to safe drinking water. The public might be smarter than it looks. Director Bill Diedrich said he is on the CFWC board and they are fund raising to expand their outreach capabilities.
Director John Varela said the next ACWA conference will be held in Indian Wells and congratulate its ACWA Diversity Inclusion and Equity Foundation for a one year anniversary. There are 10 members on the Board of Trustees and the DIE Foundation is giving out scholarships and looking to hire an Executive Director with skills in fundraising. They are also hiring interns and getting them ready to work in the world of California water as the workforce in this industry is going grey.
Petersen said the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley recently hosted a Delta Farmer to SJV Farmer meeting in Sacramento and from what I’ve heard it went well. There will be another meeting in the SJV soon and opportunities for expanding relationships are ripe. Michael was one of the participants and he said when farmers get with farmers they tend to get along. He said the north, central and south parts of the Delta have diverse needs and perspectives. He’s looking forward to hosting Delta growers in the Valley. Petersen said the CAP is still moving along. I couldn’t hear him very well but I think he said the caucuses within the CAP are going to pass some funding recommendations to the governor. I’d like to pass some funding recommendations to the governor regarding water reporter justice. There will be an in person meeting in December held in Merced. I’d like to see that too.
There were no board member reports but for Michael who said it is important for those representing public agencies receive the appropriate training. Since this is California the training may not be necessary or appropriate but it is mandatory. Attorney Becca Akroyd said SLDM will be offering this training for its directors.
The meeting went into closed session at 11:18am for what I counted to be an even dozen items dealing with the seedy underbelly of the legal system. So, that’s that. Go be good to each other and yourselves. Freedom is worth fighting for and so are good relationships.
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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