The San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority held its board of directors meeting on Thursday, October 7, 2021, on teleconference and in person at its Los Banos headquarters. Chairman Cannon Michael started things at 9:30am by noticing that only board and staff would be allowed in the room. That makes sense as the SLDMWA boardroom, although spacious, is often standing room only due to the fact they have 127 directors, ok only 19 but it seems like more after you put in managers, staff and slack jawed gawkers from the press.
The first action was a joint recitation of the flag salute and attorney Becca Ackroyd took roll. There were no public comments and Director Tom Birmingham had an observation on the minutes that needed attention. It had to do with explaining how the timing in the addition to last months agenda could be better expressed in the minutes. Everyone found that just peachy and the consent calendar a was approved.
The first action item, an item needing a board approval to go any further, began with the Finance & Administration Committee’s recommendation a resolution to approve SLDM issuing a $280 million plus bond to pay for a new power transmission line to keep the juice flowing for the San Luis/Delta Mendota portion of the Central Valley Project. If this was a regular Zoom meeting we could have seen the documents being presented but as it was by telephone only, well that part of the meeting was a bust, home spectator wise.
Frances Mizuno and a bond salesman named Doug presented the board with an explanation of what they were about to vote upon. Doug said today’s resolution deals with an “indenture of trust” and an “advanced payment agreement.” Including this advanced payment option gave the bond a chance of a higher rating. It required SLDMWA members to make advanced payments if the US Bureau of Reclamation had a delay or couldn’t make a payment. Westlands Water District and San Luis Water District will be responsible for an 80/20 split in the payment should their home boards agree. There was much more said but it was legal and financially technical, so read the minutes.
Friant Water Authority CEO Jason Phillips said on behalf of FWA members they support improving the power transmission. He said Friant will be on the hook for the largest share of these costs and there are still some questions about the benefit/cost ratio. He said FWA doesn’t object to moving forward so as not to hold up the schedule, but he wants SLDM to work with FWA further on reaching consensus on the financing of the project. He said he doesn’t want to see this project spiral in the wrong direction and would like to get this wrapped up before the December next step. Michael told Phillips thank you and as he understands it SLDM staff is working with FWA and things seem to be going along well. SLDM CEO Federico Barajas said he understands Phillip’s concerns and expects to find the happy middle. David Weisenberger, GM Banta Carbona ID said this project is meant to help mitigate the rising CAL ISO costs. With that understanding the board approved the bond issuance.
The next action item was a resolution all state entities must pass to meet remotely ratifying Governor Gavin Newsom’s waiver to the Brown Act allowing remote meetings. This resolution has to be passed each month because the legislation passed didn’t take into consideration all the needed moving parts. The resolution was approved. Birmingham said he voted no originally at the committee level but if this state of emergency still exists it’s irresponsible to conduct meetings in person. He suggested all meetings be remote until the emergency is lifted. He requested the resolution be amended to have meetings conducted by Zoom. Michael responded that he believes it is better to meet in person but understands the need for some in either higher risk groups or caring for family and loved ones in that group should be able to choose how to respond. Michael asked if the authors of the resolution would allow an amendment. Director Jeff Cattaneo, San Benito County WD suggested a proof of vaccination be required to attend a meeting. At first I couldn’t tell who made that comment and for a while there, no one was willing to tell me. That got me fired up. So I asked if whoever it was that said that has a medical degree or have they been following the controversy with vaccinations and masks. We’re in a unique time in our history where debate is being stifled on a number of subjects. That’s not what should be going on in a public meeting. There’s no one at that table or any other public entity table with elected officials who had a gun put to their heads and forced to represent constituents.
Anyway, after I found out it was Cattaneo who made the comment I felt better. He’s a good man and thoughtful about matters although I still don’t know if he has any qualifications to mandate vaccinations. In any event his suggestion wasn’t incorporated into the resolution. Santa Clara Valley WD Director John Varela abstaining and all of the Westlands WD representatives voted no, but the resolution passed as originally written. Also, it would be helpful and a sign that someone in Sacramento was taking things seriously if the Brown Act was updated to the 21st Century where the ability to have real time communication extends past the telephone.
One of my favorite reports is the legislative report. J. Scott Petersen, Dennis Cardoza and Kristin Olsen gave a glimpse into the sausage factory. Petersen said the confirmation to the Commissioner of the USBR is almost a done deal. Cardoza said the debt limit has been squeezing all the oxygen out of the room. The Senate kicked the can down the road to November. The trillion dollar infrastructure bill passed by the Senate earlier has USBR funding. There’s the $3.5 trillion infrastructure bill two Democrats won’t vote for unless it is reduced by more than half. The progressives in the House have vowed to block passage of anything without their $3.5 trillion. Speaker Nancy Pelosi promised the passage but didn’t deliver and that has caused a “Gordian knot” amongst the progressives, the moderates and the rest of the Democrats. It’s interesting how many lawmakers believe it’s OK to spend other people’s offspring’s’ money and further; present it as a laudable act of generosity.
An associate of Cardoza said water levels at Lakes Mead and Powell on the Colorado River are the main focus on the Western Water action and the rest of us have to stay vigilant and vocal about other needs the $200 million can help address.
Barajas said there will be an October 21st meeting to hear from the USBR on the San Luis Reservoir Dam project. This will take place before the board is brought anything to further the project forward.
Petersen was asked to update the board on the communication plan. He said a clipping service about all things water will be provided for board and staff. This will then be expanded to elected officials and finally to interested stories. He said this could be distributed at 3:00pm daily if the board wants a daily distribution. Michael asked, sensibly I believe, if other services could be included to save the staff work. Director Gary Kremen asked if there really was any need for anything beyond the Ag Leaders Twitter feed. Director Bill Diedrich thanked Petersen for above and beyond efforts. He said he’s already receiving a lot of information. I myself receive Maven’s Notebook, the California Farm Water Coalition and the Department of Water Resources’ clipping service. I’m really curious to see how Petersen’s information differs. Director William Bourdeau said he was happy to see more local news included. Michael asked if this goes beyond Mike Wade’s CFWC and Petersen said the triggers are different. Barajas said he and Petersen have worked this over and want to take it for a test drive. Director and Del Puerto WD GM Anthea Hansen asked if the first phase of recipients have been asked what it is they need in extra information. Petersen said there are more opinions given than most current news provides. Birmingham asked if this will be a distribution of articles or links. Petersen said it will be links with summaries and all of the copyrights have been cleared.
Diedrich said the problem is the tremendous amount of negative and slanted press has impeded support for water infrastructure. Barajas said one of the big problems is California’s general population is ill informed there’s even a drought going on. He said water managers need to be more strategic in making the positive stories and partnerships available.
COO Pablo Arroyave said staff has been working on hyacinth eradication in the system. The Bureau is willing to help out with the chemical costs because they see it as helping to get water to the wildlife refuges. In fact the Bureau has applied on behalf of the SLDMWA for a $90,000 grant to further the cause. Arroyave also said Fresno County has been working cooperatively on the hyacinth problems in that area.
Arroyave said there have been some problems with the big, pump rewinding project at the Jones plant. There was some quality control problems with components made in Texas that won’t cost the authority any money but will set back the completion date.
Tom Boardman gave the water report and said there is a storm coming to Central California and while that won’t help the situation in Shasta it is still welcome. The inflow to Shasta is the lowest on record. The conditions are bad and there is only a slight chance of getting the four million a/f into Shasta next year. Folsom Reservoir is also down a lot. So much that some water that would have been saved for power has been released for temperature. Water quality in the Delta is worsening and that will trigger a cutback in pumping at the Jones Plant. Right now there is only two units pumping and the state Banks Plant is pumping minimal. The Cooperative Operating Agreement balance isn’t being trumpeted until more data is gathered. The shares at San Luis Reservoir has been all over the place this year. The CVP share is low but the state owes water to the feds.
Diedrich asked about the discrepancy between the amounts of water on paper and the physical amount of water. Where is that water? Boardman said there are transfers that are part of the 200,000 a/f that should be moved to South of Delta by the end of October. There is another 20,000 a/f waiting for the State Board to authorize transfer. I’m not sure if that reconciled the two amounts but they talked it through. Boardman used to work for San Luis Delta Mendota but now works for Westlands and Michael thanked Westlands for sharing Boardman.
Chris White gave an O&M Committee report saying the committee met.
Wade said the CFWC is working on bringing the board’s desire to reality. They are putting together briefings and talking points for tours. He said there are disturbing trends in the media such as calls for California to “update” its water rights system and there is talk about moving California’s agriculture to other states. Wade said they’re working on responses to this foolishness. There is a Museum of Oddities, I think he called it, that is ready to open. The idea is to have ag’s interests presented by ag instead of someone else. At the same time there have been an increase in interview requests from the international media. Good for him.
Diedrich wanted to publicly thank Wade for his efforts, he called him a “whirlwind force” telling the story. He said ag owes Wade a great deal of gratitude. Michael said he hopes CFWC can get the supermarkets to state where the food comes from.
Diedrich said following this meeting the ACWA Ag Committee meeting will take place this afternoon. There will be several speakers including DWR Chief Karla Nemeth to speak on the drought. Tim Quinn, Carolyn Cooke and others will be talking about California’s Food & Ag drought programs.
Varela mentioned the ACWA Five Regional represents the Central Coast as far south as Santa Barbara and he encouraged ag to engage more. He said there is a new president for ACWA and all the nine regions have elected their officers.
The San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint report was given by Petersen. He said the executive committee met yesterday and there are proposed changes in the governing structure.
Hansen said the Central Valley Project Water Association will be meeting next week.
Board member reports were next but none were given.
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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, J. Scott Pedersen: Director of Water Policy