The South Valley Water Association held a remote meeting from the Lower Tule River Irrigation District headquarters on Monday, June 15, 2020. SVWA is usually one of the more informative meetings. It’s like a review of what’s been going on and I miss attending. It’s also one of the few places that serve donuts. I don’t have any donuts in my home and I don’t go out and buy them but when they’re just sitting there begging to be eaten what can we do? Don’t judge, I hear other men at this meeting, men who have carved out ag careers by the sweat of their brow, grit and determination say things like, “I don’t usually,” as they pick up an old fashion glazed. I believe I’ve once criticized in print South Valley for serving peanuts, it could have been Lower Tule ID, in any event – I was harsh believing they should have served California grown almonds or pistachios. But just this past week I heard of a peanut grower in the Sacramento Valley. Also, they’re free to meeting attendees and you don’t want to get to finicky with the hand that feeds.
The meeting was scheduled to begin at 8am, instead of the traditional 9am starting time. Most folks have learned to call in a little earlier so we got to see a photo Doug Phillips took of a barn owl. Phillips is a very skilled and artistic photographer.
Right at 8:00am Chairman Joe Ferrara kicked off the meeting and General Manager Dan Vink welcomed everyone. Vink said the last time there was an official board meeting was January and the minutes were approved. SVWA has changed its status as a JPA and is now I don’t know what, but the meeting today doesn’t have to adhere to the traditional Brown Act requirements. However, they are still operating with transparency: showing the financial and budget matters upfront. Vink has a unique way of dealing with budgets I find interesting. He uses them more as a guide than as bumpers to keep the books in a certain lane. There’s more to it than that and it works very well for achieving goals and keeping the expenditures responsible. There was some discussion about the work with Fishbio. If you’re not familiar with Fishbio look them up. This is a bioresearch firm that brews beer I think and stays on top of ichthyology in the Delta, California rivers and other locations. It looks like SVWA hired Lewis Griswold to handle its writing and public relations matters. Griswold has been a journalist from Visalia I believe and pretty well respected. Lois Henry used to perform this duty but started SJV Water and maybe she got too busy or too hot to handle. In any event the board approved all the bills and financials.
Vink gave a Friant Division of the federal Central Valley Project water supply update. It appears there is a 60 percent Class I with that going up another five percent soon. It could be a 70 percent Class I one before it’s all over. We’re in a dry year classification.
Eric Limas gave an update on the Temperance Flat project. I couldn’t hear him well but it sounded like there are a lot of things that need to happen and won’t be taking place for another few years.
Vink mentioned the Del Puerto Reservoir Project and he said SVWA supports the project but would like to know what will happen with Friant supplies since the Exchange Contractors are participating. Attorney Alex Peltzer said SVWA joined with 16 or 17 other districts signing a comment letter sent to the US Bureau of Reclamation expressing concerns the Exchange Contractors could receive supplies at the expense of Friant water users. There has been some friction between Friant and the Exchange Contractors since the 2014 and 2015 drought when the Bureau sent San Joaquin River water to Ex Con and left nothing for Friant.
Vink reported not much has happened with the Voluntary Agreements but there is talk that Metropolitan Water District is trying to initiate some shuttle diplomacy between the state and feds. Peltzer said the first injunction against the new federal biops has expired.
The Airborne Snow Observatory was the next item. Friant and South Valley has put hundreds of thousands of dollars into having NASA fly over the various watersheds in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. This has been taking place for four years. I don’t think NASA is involved any more, flights have been taken over by a private contractor and the USBR has found value in the project. The upcoming flight schedule is going to cost $1.2 million and so far there has been success in finding the funding. But things are changing and money is getting tighter. A dedicated funding mechanism is being pursued. Having most of the watersheds instead of just a few to pitch in could be a catalyst to dedicated funding.
Peltzer spoke about Westlands Water District. WWD has stated it will file for appropriation of San Joaquin River flood waters before the State Board. Diversion would take place at Mendota Pool but I don’t believe there is any physical turnout now. There hasn’t been a filing yet. There is no right to this water currently because it hasn’t been considered a feasible scenario for capturing it. Any flood event that yielded so much water as to make the left over water WWD is going after would overwhelm infrastructure.
The concerns Peltzer identified is this would jeopardize the backbone of Groundwater Sustainability Plans in Friant. Flood flows are going to be used for recharge and helping white land in the Friant area. There is also the question of who would own the right to these flood flows – Westlands or the Bureau? He said it is difficult to envision a condition that puts any superior rights over Friant on SJR water as the contracts are currently written. That takes into consideration Ex Con rights. It is proposed new SGMA related infrastructure and ASO modeling can “all but eliminate” most usable SJR flood flows. It seems SVWA would prefer any flood flows be moved through transfers. Vink said allowing any more rights on the SJR would be contrary to all of Friant’s interests. Peltzer said based on the information available to SVWA he recommends an unified opposition to WWD’s application by all Friant contractors.
Next was what is happening with the Friant Kern Canal repairs. I’m not sure who was speaking, I think Eric Quinley, but he laid out the Zone financing proposed by FWA. Zone One is do nothing, Zone Two is what state and federal money can provide for increased capacity and Zone Three is invested funds to increase the capacity. There will be more in closed session.
Public comments were next and Geoff Vanden Heuvel asked about the Kings River siphon on the FKC. Quinley said that is recognized as a pinch point as well. He said if you thought the subsidence repair costs are big, that will be a much more expensive project.
Vink asked what the dairy folks think about the WWD application and Vanden Heuvel said it is tough to know what Westlands is thinking. He said if it gets political the dairy industry is dominate on the eastside and therefore it wants Friant to retain as much SJR as possible.
Ferrara asked Vanden Heuvel about the FWA retreat last year. Ferrara said there is a pinch on the FKC on Belmont Avenue in Fresno County and another one in Yokel Valley. He recalled FWA doesn’t want to deal with those issues at this time. Vanden Heuvel said FWA is feeling a great deal of pressure to get the subsidence issue resolved first. He said he thinks the districts need to chip in. He said he’s heard Fresno ID complain about spending money on the canal repairs. He also said the Eastern Tule GSA is probably leaning into spending more on the subsidence problem. Ferrara said getting the Bureau and the whole Friant system needs to pull together to make the entire canal efficient. Since Temperance Flat isn’t a viable option in this lifetime supersizing existing infrastructure is a priority for Friant. If the FKC isn’t improved there will be more threats like WWD. That canal is a very valuable asset and needs to get fixed.
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South Valley Water Association – Dan Vink, General Manager. Alex Peltzer, Attorney. Eric Limas & Jarno Mayes Financial Guru. Chairman Joe Ferrara. Member agencies: Pixley ID, Delano Earlimart ID, Exeter ID, Ivanhoe ID, Shafter Wasco ID and South San Joaquin Municipal Utility District