The Semitropic Water Storage District board of directors held its Wednesday, April 8, 2020 by teleconference from its Wasco headquarters. I’m learning to call in earlier than the last minute. Not to get too technical but I’ve been told the teleconference trend is on an acute upswing so if you call in on the hour or half-hour you’re hitting the time the group phone system is most crowded and you got to keep trying. And I’m pleased to tell you the list of phone etiquette maneuvers published yesterday is being adopted by other organizations in the non-ag arena. I got that list from Kaweah Delta Water Storage District. I don’t know if someone wrote it or they got it from somewhere else. I’m not claiming authorship.
I wonder what we would have had for lunch today if we’d met in person. The glamorous lifestyle of a water meeting reporter has softened me both mentally and physically. I miss my free (or at least paid for by other taxpayers than myself) food. There was a time when the Kern County Water Agency put out a spread. They knew the good caterers in Bakersfield. Semitropic throws a good lunch as well. Friant has always been fortunate in landing at meeting locations with good cooks. Fresno ID deserves an honorable mention with its takeout choices. But, and I know this is going to anger some and raise controversy – so far nothing can beat Arvin Edison. They lovingly barbeque a lunch for each meeting. I could go on about it but the Semitropic meeting is starting.
It was somewhat troubled start due to a couple of transposed and extra numbers for the call and access code published on the agenda on the district’s website. I understand and have complete sympathy for whoever typed up the error. I once wrote the City of Lamont owed the US Government a quarter of a billion dollars. Anyone who has been to Lamont probably spotted the error right off.
Things got started at 12:40 instead of 12:30 which wasn’t bad considering. Chairman Dan Waterhouse kicked things off by asking us to consider our fellow Americans in lieu of a flag salute. A moment of silence was observed for John Jones, a long-time drilling consultant for STWD passed away. Waterhouse also said his role will be basically to introduce the item and call for the question. He deferred, wisely I think, to General Manager Jason Gianquinto to explain the items and the always intriguing Marsha Payne to take roll of the votes. Gianquinto said beyond the board, and there was a full quorum, there were more than 20 people listening in. I believe I heard a cat mewling in the background for a little bit but it might have been my calico Oliver Wallace* in the other room. Other than that there was no public comment.
The minutes, financials and agenda were all approved. There wasn’t a board package available that I could find so the part of the meeting that dealt with bookkeeping was even more difficult to follow than when physically present with spreadsheets in front of me. They got into a bit of little detail on allocations and such. It was also revealed in parliamentary procedures the chair should vote when a role call is conducted. GEI Engineering wanted a change order for something and the Northwest Kern Resource Conservation District wanted help in repair and upgrading Poso Creek where it flooded a couple of years ago. NWKRCD needs to start work now but doesn’t have the money. It’s waiting for FEMA and other sources to pay them so Semitropic will front them the money to get started and be reimbursed when the funding comes through.
The next item was working with PG&E on a solar project. Due to the interconnection telemetry options and size of the project PG&E needs to approve at least one option. Semitropic has recommended one of the options and this will somehow lead to a financial security deposit. The board approved whatever it was.
The board then considered working with Buena Vista Water District about the Cox Pumping Plant. This can move water from BV to STWD. The motion was to have pending legal council review, the GM to commit the district to this agreement. It passed.
Here’s something interesting about district policy. District banking partners may have water eligible for sale to other district landowners. An ad hoc committee looked into this and wants a Semitropic website for sellers and buyers. The district won’t be involved in setting price per a/f but both partners will have to follow policy and notification regulations. The district then sets the time and imposes an $18 per a/f wheeling fee. Buyers can’t act until the recovery takes place. I believe that means the buyer can’t pump the water until it has been recovered by the seller. Gianquinto said this program is a one year program. It involves a banking account holder and a landowner; the district will pretty much stay out of it as long as everyone is playing by the rules. The rules include no harm to the environment and will be CEQA compliant. The board approved.
The next item was GEI explaining how to evaluate subsurface recharge areas in Semitropic. GEI developed a report but we couldn’t see the slides. A GEI engineer named Eric – evidently like Cher no last name needed – gave the presentation. Only he didn’t because his phone won’t get off mute. So Larry Rodriguez of GEI gave the presentation saying this started a couple of years ago in order to give the district some tools to determine where the best banking locations are. It started with close to surface projects. Shallow groundwater as high as 10 feet below the surface in some spots. Two pilot sites were used. One had identifiable benefits of faster recharge. One had a greater amount of shallow groundwater which caused the recharge to slowdown and mound. The benchmarks of how much water and how fast it is absorbed were used. In the meantime Eric’s phone unmuted and he explained the methodology used to determine the sites’ compatibility to the benchmarks. I couldn’t help but feel I was missing something because as shown on the slide, the next slide and the previous slide wasn’t a part of my communication model. Eric had a slew of recommendations based on the saturation rate, horizontal and vertical spread and water quality considerations. His assessment based on the recommended criteria developed shows about two/thirds of the district may be at a minimal, acceptable recharge areas. Someone pointed out subsurface recharge could be eligible for US Bureau of Reclamation Smart Water Grant. But that federal money will trigger NEPA, the federal permitting requirement.
The next directly linked item was about 100 acres of property in District’s northeast portion where Gianquinto wants to develop a subsurface recharge project based on the previous item’s criteria. The board directed Gianquinto to come up with a plan.
The Semitropic GSA situation was presented by Gianquinto. He said water budgeting is the topic. If I understood correctly there is a 900 acre piece of land paying a special use charge been using 4.2 a/f per acre pumping. A budget over the 20-year time frame to achieve SGMA compliance was calculated using evapotranspiration shows the increasing overdraft. The point is Semitropic wants to develop a program under Management Action One to conduct a district-wide budget for each landowner. Part of budget questioned was the use of precipitation for both native yield and in a bigger picture for surface supplies. Gianquinto said the amount of precipitation was taken from averages of a site in the District near Poso Creek. He said this was the best available estimate but it will be refined. There was a question about conducting a parcel by parcel water budget throughout the District. It’s possible, the method is in place but there’s a lot of parcels. He’ll look into it.
Other SGMA news was all the Kern Groundwater Authority GSAs were able to get their GSPs submitted on time.
There was a construction report given by someone from the W.M. Lyles company saying the Ponderosa Solar Plant has started to make a link with PG&E that’s working out. Whoever it was speaking gave a long list of construction related news bites.
Rodriguez spoke for GEI saying there was a Poso Creek meeting March 9th and is working on funding. Those meetings are now on hold due to coronavirus. Most of GEI’s SGMA work was on subsidence. The groundwater model development could expand to other districts with Southern San Joaquin MUD being mentioned. He said he’s also talking with North Kern WSD and Shafter Wasco ID so the cost could come down with more participants.
The great Will Boschman gave a short report on groundwater storage. He said he’s working with hydrogeologist Dr. Ken Schmidt to find a location for a pilot program that I’m not clear on enough to write about. The virus has shut down part of the study because participants from outside the country can’t get here. There is a Southern California Water Banking Authority and I guest they met but nothing happened that would impact Semitropic. Boschman expressed his respect and affection for the late Mr. Jones.
Political consultant Dean Florez said the legislature will reconvene in May and the committees are trying to conduct business on Zoom with audience participation by telephone. He said Newsom is wrapped up in medical supplies in response to the coronavirus. Florez said Newsom was able to spare enough time to anger everyone by turning over the State Water Project to the Department of Fish & Wildlife to set the export rules with a new Take Permit. While Florez said the Natural Resource Defense Council is unhappy so are the SWP contractors. He used the word pissed. He said a long list of bills that could impact Semitropic have been prioritized and ready to go when the committees take up again. There was a threatening bill pending that was put to rest and won’t get to see daylight in this session. I thought he said AB502 by Cort or Cork or something was the bill at issue. He added the Assembly and Senate are requesting of the 30 bills each member is allowed to introduce they come up with three each. He said the legislative leaders are OK with not passing any bills not related to COVID-19 or essential funding. He also said Governor Gavin Newsom is trying to work well with President Trump but his budget for the state is in tatters.
Gianquinto said staff at the office is very limited and observing social distance is strictly maintained. Most staff can work from home. Field staff is limited to one person per vehicle and using radio or cellphone for communication. He said he’s very proud of Semitropic’s employees for stepping up and getting the job done under trying circumstances.
There hasn’t been much happening with the KGA but the GSP met its deadline. There is work going forward with the data access for participants. There hasn’t been much going on at the Kern County Water Agency. The Kern Water Bank is updating modeling to give a better idea of what’s happening. He’s heard from a majority of banking partners and there will be a full recovery this year. District wells are ready and banked allocations will be determined this month. The meeting went into closed session.
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SEMITROPIC WATER STORAGE DISTRICT
1101 Central Avenue, Wasco, CA 93280-0877 • 661-758-5113 • firstname.lastname@example.org
Board: Rick Wegis – President, Philip W. Portwood – Vice President, Dan Waterhouse – Treasurer, Todd Tracy – Secretary, Jeff Fabbri, Tim Thomson, Tom Toretta
Staff: Jason Gianquinto-General Manager, Bobby Salinas–District Controller, Isela Medina–District Engineer, Executive Secretary-Marsha Payne, Consultant-Will Boschman, Superintendent-John Lynch & Attorney
About: Semitropic Water Storage District is one of eight water storage districts in California and is the largest in Kern County. The District delivers water to nearly 300 customers for the irrigation of approximately 140,000 acres for agricultural uses. Semitropic also supplies energy to a variety of users and provides groundwater banking and storage services. Established in 1958, Semitropic Water Storage District covers an area of more than 220,000 acres. It began as an irrigation district for the purpose of securing State Water Project supplies to reduce groundwater overdraft. From www.semitropic.com