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South Valley Water Association August 19, 2019

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The South Valley Water Association met at the Lower Tule River Irrigation District headquarters on Monday, August 19, 2019. Before the meeting there was talk about depressed citrus prices. I’ve had farmers tell me they’ve made more on citrus than anything they’ve ever grown and lost more on citrus than anything they’ve ever grown. Vertical integration by the bigger growers/packers have put a great deal of pressure on the smaller, traditional family farmer.

Right at 9:00am Chairman the real Jim Costa called the meeting to order. It was a packed house as the Lower Tule River ID voted to take a look at dropping out of SVWA and rejoining the Friant Water Authority. Executive Director Dan Vink gave a rundown of the agenda and introduced Washington DC lobbyist Garret Durst of the Natural Resources Results firm who spoke by phone. He said there is a robust water infrastructure package going through the sausage grinder with a $200 million section for Friant Kern Canal repairs – although this isn’t an earmark the description of eligible uses is very narrowly defined. This bill should be up before the House by the end of the month. Evidently the presidential primary called the silly season and House democrats are willing to oppose anything Republican. But the money for FKC was introduced by Congressman TJ Cox, a democrat.

Eric Quinley, Delano Earlimart ID GM said there are districts concluding runs. Why there isn’t a 100 percent allocation after such a long uncontrolled season is unprecedented. From the crosstalk it appears the decision is up to the US Bureau of Reclamation’s Fresno office chief Michael Jackson.

Next LTRID GM Eric Limas showed a slide show of the new spillway at Lake Success/Dick Schafer Reservoir. The spillway will be raised with an ogee weir and this will add 20,000 a/f of storage. Best double check that amount. There could be even more storage but a bridge on Highway 190 would have to be raised and that would cost $180 million in Caltrans dollars.

Now, the 800 pound gorilla walked in. Vink said when South Valley was formed there was has been pressure and some hard feelings. He said South Valley and the Friant Water Authority will still work together. He’s hearing a lot of talk about how much good work South Valley is doing but also a lot of talk about the need for more unity especially in the realm of repairing the canal. Costa was asked about the cost of Lower Tule leaving. The costs of South Valley would be spread amongst the remaining members if they chose to stay at the same speed. Joe Ferrara, Exeter ID asked if anyone can explain the comment of South Valley throwing Friant under the bus. A man at the meeting, Mike Faria, said the negative comments from South Valley have been putting gas on the fire. He feels there is good deal of undermining taking place. Ferrara said he could make a case that FWA has been throwing folks under the bus. There is a 50,000 a/f San Joaquin Restoration deal that was cut by Friant that wasn’t ran by South Valley. He was critical of Friant’s management having the power to make such a deal that impacts the contracts of all Friant contractors. Faria asked how many South Valley directors have taken Friant’s offer to attend FWA meetings in the past couple of years. He said it was relevant in keeping up with matters.

Chris Tantau is Chairman of Friant and he was present. He said he’s never heard a FWA member use the term “thrown under the bus.” He nor FWA would use that term. He said the 50,000 a/f deal was a closed session item the attorneys wouldn’t allow any outside discussion. He said he believes Friant is more transparent now especially with the option of FKC title transfer. Tantau said he’s not here to try to persuade anyone to change organizations and he sees a real need to change the Operations & Management structure. Vink double asked him about a change to O&M and Tantau repeated there is a need for better cooperation.

Exeter GM Tom Weddle said he and many of the other South Valley folks in the room do attend FWA meetings. There are special chairs provided and folks can speak up. San Joaquin MUD’s John Fisher said he thinks Tantau’s statements are monumental but he doesn’t want to join Friant and go to another meeting when South Valley is providing the services he wants. He said South Valley is an attempt to secure more water and a better place at the political table. He expressed his admiration of Vink and attorney Alex Peltzer’s leadership. Weddle said his district is small and gets lost in Friant. He said South Valley is has been a positive move. Fisher said the direction is to have South Valley to run side by side with Friant.

A grower asked Tantau if he thinks the two entities are working well together. Tantau said there has not been as much communication as there should be. I see two strong personalities working as managers – that’s no revelation – both entities have hard charging leadership. Friant hasn’t stopped to check in with South Valley for approval nor South Valley with Friant. Tantau said in the past smaller districts may have taken a back seat at Friant but that isn’t the way it goes now. I will agree strongly. I’ve been attended Friant meetings for almost 20-years and the discussions now are including much more input from smaller districts.

Craig Fulwyler, Shafter Wasco ID said he has found Friant to be chaotic and South Valley gives a better platform to be heard and there is a vision. He sees South Valley as taking the lead on some issues and that could free Friant up for other issues. He said South Valley is here and it’s not going away. He said the two entities could work well together and should do so. Faria said if there was direction and unity we wouldn’t be having this discussion in the first place.

A grower asked about the 50,000 a/f deal and Vink said the San Joaquin River restoration settlement set how much water Friant would have to give up. The State Board wanted more water from the SJR but considered the settlement as satisfying the Friant portion. The State Board went after the tributaries for 40 percent unimpaired flows. The tributaries got together to come up with voluntary agreements. Vink said Friant contractors felt like they were exempt from this due to the settlement but there is the reconsultation of the biological opinions that could have ended up with more water from Friant. Vink said South Valley felt like that was already dealt with. However, FWA ended up giving away 50,000 a/f and as far as Vink could see the 50,000 a/f didn’t do any good. He said he doesn’t see the water going away as it probably won’t be an acceptable solution so it won’t necessarily be a water loss – the act of putting that water on the table without consulting with South Valley was wrong.

Fisher said he’s tried to get GM Tom Birmingham and members of the Westland WD board to sit and talk has proven futile. He said they’ll cut your throat. Having Vink and Peltzer are vested, they’re growers and this is different than FWA’s Executive Director Jason Phillips who is vested in a job. Faria asked Fisher if he’s saying the Friant board doesn’t have control over its management and if the same couldn’t be said about South Valley. Ferrara said if Vink tried to do a 50,000 a/f deal the way Friant did he’d be fired. Fisher said South Valley is a lean, well run organization. Ferrara said the LTRID board members have a decision to make and there are two very different management styles and need to be sure which way they are headed. He said he’ll respect their decision. Fisher said Costa is one of the finest men he knows and one of the best leaders there is in Valley water. Matt Leider, of Tea Pot Dome ID said it is every board member on South Valley needs to attend FWA meetings to stay informed. He said South Valley comes up with good ideas but Friant isn’t obliged to listen to South Valley. It’s up to the directors to interact.

Art Ramirez of Stone Corral ID said he’s seen Vink include Friant and Phillips on every effort. South Valley has done excellent work and provided leadership but has never gone behind Friant’s back. Vink said he’s known Friant at least 20-years and he can’t understand why there is this disconnect between leaders at this point. He’s heard the urgency of the need to work together on the canal fix and is encouraged to hear Tantau speak about more opportunities to work together on O&M. Vink said he spoke with Phillips before Phillips began at Friant and told him to focus on O&M. Vink said he knows Friant staff has been working LTRID growers and if that entity peels off don’t think this is a step in the right direction, it will cause more bitterness. He said directors should work together and expect management to work together. That was about it for that discussion.

Quinley next spoke about the FKC fix saying the pre-construction paperwork should be ready by September 2020, if I understood correctly. Limas said the Temperance Flat effort is focused on new JPA and that should be ready by October.

Vink said there is a way to wheel non-project water in the FKC without a Warren Act contract. This is difficult because the Bureau doesn’t like change. A Warren Act can take many months (longest one I recall took more than five-years) and during runoff you have a couple of weeks at best. There are other rivers that meet the FKC; the Kings, Kaweah and Kern Rivers and moving water from those sources needs a Warren Act contract. Vink said some of the Tulare Lake contractors could take California Aqueduct Cross Valley water and Kings River water could be pumped into the FKC was an example. The Cross Valley water is lower quality but it’s CVP water so the contract isn’t necessary.

Vink spoke about SB 559. He said it didn’t make the governor’s budget and will be tried again next year. Tantau said there is a push to make it a trailer bill and we’ll see by the end of September. Vink said SB 1 will be interesting because Governor Gavin Newsom is very supportive of the Voluntary Agreements and the relationships that have been formed. SB 1 will smash that.

Vink reported journalist Lois Henry will no longer be producing the South Valley newsletter and he’s looking for a replacement. Good for her whatever she does. The meeting went into closed session.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2019 by Don A. Wright

South Valley Water Association – Dan Vink, General Manager. Alex Peltzer, Attorney. Eric Limas & Jarno Mayes Financial Guru. Member agencies: Lower Tule River ID, Pixley ID, Delano Earlimart ID, Exeter ID, Ivanhoe ID, Tea Pot Dome ID, Shafter Wasco ID, South San Joaquin Municipal UD and Stone Corral ID.