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San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority October 6, 2022

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By Don A. Wright

The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, October 6, 2022 at its Los Banos headquarters and on Zoom. Good for them. Looking over the agenda there is a report to be given by attorney Becca Akroyd concerning AB 2449. I lightly perused the text of the bill before the meeting and I’m interested to hear Akroyd’s take as a trained professional. My layman’s view is the bill alters the Brown Act to allow online and telephonic meetings without having to pass a resolution each time a meeting is held online or telephonically. That’s nice. But if they asked me – which of course they didn’t and I didn’t bother to share my opinion with any specific elected official – I would have strongly suggested there be a provision to REQUIRE a public meeting to be broadcast online/telephonically. That hurt to write because I don’t much care for the government to require things but not only would doing so nonaltruistically help me save on gas and provide more coverage it would help folks understand the state’s water situation better. They’d get a chance to see upfront the heavy lift people go through to get water on farmland so they can eat.

The Meeting

Cannon Michael, Chairman called the meeting to order at exactly 9:30am. We saluted the flag and those in the room introduced themselves. The agenda was approved and there was no public comment. The consent calendar was approved and that included minutes, finance reports and five routine staff reports.Conterra

Action Items

There was only one action item and it sounded like COO Pablo Arroyave updated and informed the board about a $90,000 plus payment to Fieldman, Rolapp & Associates from a reallocation of fiscal year 2023 Operations, Maintenance & R budget funds (what’s R stand for? Reimbursement, Radioactivity, Relapse? Most of the time I mildly enjoy deciphering challenges. I’ll find out after the meeting. (And the answer is Replacement, thank you Mrs. Mizuno) The discussion was about how bond issues determined the timing of the payment while the amount of the payment was determined by an hourly rate.

Tom Birmingham, General Manager Westlands Water District said the firm is doing good work and he is concerned San Luis Delta Mendota isn’t upholding its end of the bargain. He said FR & Associates agreed to do the work assigned – financial advising if I understood correctly – and agreed to so at an hourly rate deferring payment until after a bond was issued. The bond was never issued and SLDM is offering a lower amount than the agreement would have called for had the bond been issued. Staff indicated FR & Assoc. was willing to  accept the amount and has a keen interest in continuing to work with SLDM in the future.

Report Items

Next Arroyave reported on applying for money from the recent filling of the federal trough for aging infrastructure. Central Valley Project related spending is on the table. But you have to apply for it and the total amount is in the billions with hundreds of millions of dollars that could go to CVP projects.

SLDM is looking for projects in the millions of dollars range. Bob Martin explained there is transfer and reserve works at stake. Those are the two classes of expenditures and danged if I understood the difference, but the US Bureau of Reclamation and SLDM staff do. The projects identified are at the Jones Pumping Plant, Delta Mendota Canal and the O’Neill Pumping Plant and include improved system control, subsidence repair and rewinding motors.

Martin explained the Jones Plant excitation system, the motors that sits atop the pumps and regulates the synchronous operation and speed of the pumps. They are almost 30-years old, have parts from the 1950s and by today’s standards obsolete. However, a few expensive tweaks could improve things like pump efficiency by a great deal. I’ve been on a couple of tours and much of the Jones Plant controls do look like they came out of an old science fiction movie. Birmingham said the 30-year old instruments are obsolete but much of the plant is made from 1950 era equipment that is still working. His question was, will the new equipment have such a shelf life? The answer was the new, state of art equipment will have a long and fruitful life, but no one knows just how long.

The Delta Mendota Canal needs fixing and the estimate is $830 million to restore it to design capacity. A good portion of the study and estimates has been completed already and a final report from the Bureau should be released next spring. Once the studies, permits and funding is in place a chart presented shows the DMC should be fixed by 2034. Which seems like a long time. I wonder are they contracting with the Army Corps of Engineers for services?

The O’Neill Pumping Plant sits at the bottom on the dry side of the BF Sisk Dam at San Luis Reservoir. It needs a lot of work as it was built in the 1960s and there are plans to raise the dam. If you drive from the San Joaquin Valley on Highway 152 to Monterey you’ll hit a steep elevation change. On the west is the San Luis Reservoir and at the foot of the dam is the O’Neill Forebay. The forebay is where water from the California Aqueduct and the Delta Mendota Canal sits before being pumped into the San Luis Reservoir. It is also where water emptied from the reservoir and used to generate power waits to go down stream in the two canals. It is one of the vital parts of getting water south of the Delta, to Valley farms and Southern California. The O’Neill Pumping Plant is used to move water from the Delta Mendota Canal into the forebay and is completely a federal facility. The Gianelli Pumping Plant moves water from the forebay into the reservoir and is shared by federal and state agencies. Thank you Mike Wade for this clarification.

Birmingham also asked if SLDM might look at some way to use the Bidenflation legislation to get some money for the power transmission upgrade.

Brown Act Changes

Akroyd spoke about AB 2449’s impact on the rules governing teleconference. There are pre and post Covid regulations. The post Cooties were under emergency orders from the Gov’s office and not permanent alterations of the law. AB 2449 will relax notice reporting about remote locations and require a board meeting to be broadcast online and telephonically. It sounded to me like the new rules might require (there’s that word again) to provide something like Zoom. There are also emergency circumstances that would allow a board member to attend a meeting remotely as long as they called in as early as possible and a limit on how many times they can do so annually. I’ll have to interview someone to get the details straight. Director Bill Diedrich said it sounds complicated enough to require a staff member to monitor and guide this. Director William Bourdeau asked if a director were to participate from home would they have to let folks in? How about this? Would a director’s home or some other location have to be Americans with Disability Act compliant? That’s not such a far out question. Remember this is California government and water – two things when mixed create complication out of whole cloth.

One of the busiest and most productive people involved in San Luis Delta Mendota activity is Anthea Hansen, General Manager of the Del Puerto WD. She said something but I couldn’t hear her. I think I heard Michael say, “Don’t call me at home during the break,” and that raised a laugh. Bottom line is things are complicated.

Gov’t Report

J. Scott Petersen gave his report saying the State Board released a draft action plan for a Racial Equity Action Plan and I was gratified to hear SLDM will be reviewing this plan. Keep your eye open for a report on it to drop soon at this site.

Kristen Olsen reported State Senator Anna Caballero is inviting all kinds of folks to tour the San Luis Reservoir and the surrounding area.

Petersen said on the federal side David Hayes will be leaving the White House as a policy advisor on climate change. He’ll be keeping an eye on who replaces him. There is also an imminent move to list the Long Fin Smelt as an endangered species. There is a comment period and more information available from the Federal Fish & Wildlife. Petersen said staff is looking into getting some form of tax breaks not usually available to public agencies from the IRS for renewable energy and other forms of relief.

The federal western drought response has two buckets of cash available – one for Lake Mead and another for water savings. Congress passed and the Fresh Prez of DC signed a continuing resolution in place of a budget to keep the government going. The Senate has left and won’t be back until next month. The House will do the same.

Congressmen Kevin McCarthy and David Valadao introduced the Water for California Act recently and on the other side of the aisle Josh Harder and John Garamendi introduced the Stop the Tunnel Act. You should be able to guess which parties the congressman belong to just by the names of the bills.

Consultant Dennis Cardoza spoke about the lame duck session coming up. He said the CR passing was the big news this week. He said he and his coworker Bill Ball will be keeping a close eye on the November elections and will be providing analysis and news about the House and Senate if it flips or flops. He expects the lame duck session will be extra heavy on special interest funding due to Senators Patrick Leahy from Vermont and Richard Shelby from Alabama, both with highly refined earmarking expertise retiring. In fact he said they’ll probably name the session after those two. Ball said his team is following a Treasury Department briefing today on tax breaks for public agencies. At that point his audio got bad but I did hear him say some Colorado River contractors could move 400,000 a/f around to qualify for billions of dollars under the Bidenflation Act. Cardoza advised sending letters not just from SLDM as a whole but as many individual agencies and local governments as possible for inclusion on the payout when it comes.

Ex Director Report

Executive Director Federico Barajas asked Akroyd to discuss AB 2647. It is another bill with Brown Act implications that will change how documents are prepared for board meetings. All packet items must be available to the public 72-hours in advance. Barajas mentioned a new bill that will impact budget preparations but I didn’t catch the number. There will be lunch available after today’s meeting. I think at the Wool Growers. Wish I could be there.

Arroyave reported an operations agreement is being worked out with the Bureau on the BF Sisk Dam expansion project. Hyacinth is such a problem member agencies can team up with the state to tackle this problem. There will be some treatment at the Mendota Pool next week. I was out in the area earlier this month and it is becoming a big problem. It is a nightmare up in the Delta.

Water Report

            Tom Boardman, who used to work at SLDM and now works at Westlands gave his water report. This guy plays 3-D chess and I keep meaning to visit with him, sit at his feet and learn. He said this year’s Shasta Reservoir carryover is the seventh lowest ever but better than this time last year. There was some rain, not a great amount but a half inch. The volcanic soil up in that area is soaking it up so there wasn’t much inflow. However, it is preparing things for when the storms do arrive. He said there is a good chance for Shasta to reach four million a/f if there is a normal year and that’s enough to keep the State Board from getting its nose and nuts in the middle of Sacramento River management, at least for cold water.

Boardman said Folsom Reservoir could fill but it is too soon to tell at this time. He said tidal changes and increased upstream releases could keep Jones pumping at two units. The state still owes the CVP more than 60,000 a/f under COA, Cooperative Operating Agreement with DWR. San Luis Reservoir dropped 4,000 a/f this past month, most going to wildlife refuges but it looks like it can start filling again. Westlands Director Ryan Ferguson asked if the four million a/f storage in Shasta is the level that allows Sacramento Valley contractors to receive a 100 percent allocation. That’s true from what I understood. Diedrich pointed out managing the system for one species is devastating to everyone and the environment as well.

Grower Justin Diener asked about San Luis storage. Boardman said the Bureau is looking for a 90 percent exceedance in November and December. He said Diener is right to believe the Bureau isn’t usually as aggressive in pumping as it may be planning. If there is 600,000 a/f at San Luis on the federal side, there can be an allocation for south of Delta CVP contractors. Boardman said there is always the guess of fish actions in the beginning of the year that could dampen optimism a bit under just right conditions.

Woo Hoo News

Barajas said this month marks the SLDM’s 30-year anniversary. He wants to recognize everyone who has been serving for 10-years or more. Directors and staff Rick Ortega, Bobby Pierce and Jeff Cattaneo have been attending for at least a decade. David Weisenberger has served 20-years, he’s a real good guy. Bill Pucheu has served all 30-years and Barajas pointed out he was only 15-years old when he started. Pucheu said this is the second time in his life he was drafted. The incredible Frances Mizuno has also been with SLDM for 30-years. God bless her and all of them. Barajas said there will be a recognition for employees next week.

Outside Reports

Bourdeau said the recent visit to Washington DC went well with many meetings with high level folks back there.

Mike Wade said the California Farm Water Coalition is producing a new info-graph about the impacts of fallowing farmland. They are also working on a Colorado River issues fact statement. Wade said the Wall Street Journal advertising efforts started back in April and has yielded some good results about food security and agricultural stability. The CFWC budget is coming up and it wants to host a series of tours for urban folks to see where their food comes from. Diedrich is Chair of CFWC and said the organization is working well with the Family Farm Alliance. He also said ACWA is holding a regional meeting in Visalia next week and some tours. This is hosted by Region Six and Seven of the Association of California Water Agencies.

Petersen said there will be a technical meeting of the Water Blueprint for the San Joaquin Valley tomorrow and a big group meeting in Madera on the 12th. The Collaborative Action Plan is working on a new draft of its term sheet and that should be released soon. Diedrich praised Petersen for his work with the CAP.

Under board member reports Hansen said there was a successful women’s water conference recently but that’s about all I could understand. I suggest they get another mic at her end of the table. Someone else said something and I could no more understand or even recognize what was said than I can read Sanskrit. I did hear Michaels say those were excellent reports. All the other directors where taciturn in sharing any reports.

Closed Session

The meeting went into closed session at 11:46am for 17 items, most of which I suspect will not be discussed in great depth. Well that was that and another San Luis Delta Mendota meeting has been achieved. Go be good to yourselves and each other.

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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

Email: 209/826-9696
P.O. Box 2157 Los Banos, CA. 93635