The South Valley Water Association met at the Lower Tule River Irrigation District headquarters in Tipton on Monday, September 17, 2018. Chairman the Real Jim Costa called the meeting at 9:00am. Executive Director Dan Vink introduced David Murillo, Regional Director of the US Bureau of Reclamation and Jeff Payne of the Friant Water Authority. They both will be speaking today and that should be very interesting. Under public comment I invited everyone over for a BBQ. I told them I had John Lee Hooker’s guitarist playing and a biker gang cooking. It’s actually the Christian Motorcycle Association and I was trying to be funny. My friend and Lower Tule River ID Director Tom Barcellos pointed out all most folks heard was Hookers and a biker gang. Brief Red-Face-O-Rama. SVWA controller Eric Limas gave the financial reports and the board paid its bills.
About two and a half years ago the NASA Airborne Snow Observatory started gaining traction. Vink explained SVWA has been partnering informally with FWA on this project. Payne gave an update on what’s happening with ASO. But before he began he said the Bureau gave all the entities involved in the San Joaquin River restoration program the John Keys Award. Keys was a Bureau Commissioner who died in a plane crash about a decade ago. That was nice. Back to the snow. Payne said from the Tuolumne to the Kaweah River the NASA aircraft loaded with lidar can now cut costs by covering more area per flight. There have been some great benefits to the ASO. Both DWR and the Bureau are incorporating ASO into their projected allocations. Payne said the satraps in Sacramento are warm to the ASO form. There is lobbying to get more state support for the program from Prop One funds. Payne said negotiating with NASA, the Bureau and DWR has been – fun wasn’t the word he used – ultimately rewarding. There are six flights contracted so far in 2019; end of month January, February, March and April with two as needed for the melt season. Another feature I hadn’t heard of before is the ASO’s ability to determine how close the melt is by the reflection from the snow. I’ve been hearing this doesn’t do much for water content but Payne said the NASA folks have it down to within one percent accurate water content. This will improve as time goes on and more data is collected.
The topic then turned to the Temperance Flat project. Payne was here to help clarify the situation. There are three groups: SJ Valley Water Infrastructure Authority, the Temp Flat MOU and the now forming Temp Flat JPA. The SJVWIA is phasing out. The MOU is evolving into the new JPA. Clear with that? Payne said the project must be regional to succeed and that takes west side inclusion. He said the SJVWIA was set up for Prop One money and that wasn’t successful in getting money but has stuck together for other projects in the future. The MOU is a place for the water users to figure out if they want to participate and invest in Temp Flat and the new JPA is the place to do so. Vink pointed out the success is also that Temp Flat is now a part of the vernacular in the Valley, in Sacramento and in Washington DC. Director Craig Fulwyler asked about the membership of the new JPA. There is FWA, Westlands WD, City of Fresno, Ex Con and San Luis Delta Mendota. There may very well be a Russian veto involved here. Eric Quinley, GM Delano Earlimart ID asked where a Friant Contractor can go to negotiate Temp Flat operations. Vink pointed out it looks like FWA and three other west side interests are working up an agreement without SVWA input. Payne said he sees no outcome where the SVWA interests won’t coincide with the JPA interests. Murillo pointed out the SJVWIA questioned the Bureau’s feasibility study but who does the Bureau respond to if it is moving on to other things? Quinley asked why SVWA isn’t on the short JPA list and Payne said because it wasn’t a member of the SJVWIA. He said there are provisions for future memberships in the new JPA. Payne also said from the beginning Friant CVP contractors have retained their contractual rights and not just their historical rights. This is also a discussion of who gets the surplus water a new dam will yield. This is the water that would have gone over Friant Dam without Temp Flat. That was all the time Payne had.
The attention turned to Murillo. Vink said once Murillo came on board things got dry until he went to DC for a while. Vink said folks were thinking about the story of Jonah and throw him overboard but there wasn’t any water for a whale to swim in. Murillo had also worked in another location where something very similar happened. He said his replacement hasn’t been named yet so he extended his time to just before Thanksgiving but that’s it. The CVP contractors have told the Bureau heads it doesn’t want an interim Regional Director. He said the CVP is big, more than 200 contractors with varying positions. He said he’s moving to Washington State to build furniture and has no plans to continue in water, at least for a while. Vink said he has admired Murillo for his directness. He was not a kiss butt. He asked Murillo what was the one thing he found the toughest; Murillo said the call on Friant water for the Exchange Contractors. He said South of Delta operations have been a big problem and he told the SoD CVP to work things out and that was going well until there was plenty of water. Vink said the contract with Ex Con was in question. That’s what threw a wrench in the works. Vink asked him what was the best thing he’s done. Murillo said when he first come to the CVP it was difficult to deal with the SJR restoration program and convince his team to work in collaboration with the stakeholders. He worries this could revert after he leaves. He said with the current Trump administration staying the course there will be greater flexibility because the biops will be science based. He sounded very positive. He said the Trump administration has been unique and focused on getting things accomplished. In the past the routine was to talk about it, set a goal and by the time things got going a new administration comes to power and things change. He said the Bureau is now expect to get things done. The Bureau wants to dig up some dirt and build stuff. Murillo said this may well be the last time he sees these folks and they gave him a standing ovation. Let’s be clear, they were praising Murillo for his work and not because he’s leaving.
Next Vink spoke about the water supply and things are going pretty well for this time of year. One example is the storage at San Luis Reservoir has ticked up on the federal side. Fall pumping is the better way to secure 2019 supplies and SLR will fill by January at the current rate. There is speculation the State side of the Cooperative Operations Agreement may hold out. Why? There doesn’t appear any way the state will not lose some of its current advantage so it might push for more federal involvement in the Water Fix. Quinley said FWA is pushing hard to get the Friant Kern Canal subsidence fixed. Vink said the Prop Three support has dipped. It was reported former democratic State Senator from Bakersfield Dean Florez was less than supportive of Prop Three saying the benefits are not going to the South Valley. Florez is a lobbyist for Semitropic WSD and this is were he reportedly threw a damper on Prop Three and the person reporting on this said it was wrong. Florez needs to change his tune. Vink said there are signs of enviros pushing against Prop Three and talking points are starting to show up in Southern California newspapers. The meeting then went into closed session.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2018 by Don A. Wright
South Valley Water Association – Dan Vink, General Manager. Alex Peltzer, Attorney. Eric Limas, 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.