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South Valley Water Association September 19, 2017

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The South Valley Water Association met at the Lower Tule River Irrigation District headquarters on Monday, September 18, 2017. Executive Director Dan Vink hit the ground running at 9:00am. The minutes were approved and there was no public comment that I heard. Speaking of hearing; Vink presented a recording of a garbled voice using it as an illustration of how noise interferes with communications. He then played the same recording without the distortion so we could hear it clearly. He then replayed the garbled version and you could understand it. Vink said he got the idea from his pastor and said this is how budgeting and work plan development can be. Either clear or poor. He asked those present to go to his home board and bring back a clear idea of what is expected from SVWA.

Vink reported San Luis Reservoir’s federal side is full and it looks as though Friant will live and die by the San Joaquin River this coming year. Michael LeBarre from the US Bureau of Reclamation was present and didn’t have much to add. Eric Quinley, General Manager Delano Earlimart Irrigation District reported a group of managers will be meeting the Bureau’s Michael Jackson later this week to discuss carryover at Millerton Lake. With SGMA’s pressure to increase groundwater supplies spills are just too expensive.

The financial report was accepted. Chairman Jim Costa, LTRID asked a couple of the directors who were present at a recent meeting with the Friant Water Authority to report. The consensus was SVWA asked Friant to respect it and tried in a “soft” way to let FWA know its members were not interested in a trial membership. There’s a desire on both sides to cooperate. SVWA feels it relies more on input from its home board. Of course the communication lines need to be open and treated with respect so frank and formal conversations can take place. Vink said the current status quo isn’t working and an MOU may be the best way to go. Evidently an MOU has been drawn up because he asked the directors to take it to their home boards. He was optimistic this would be a successful way to improve the current log jam. Attorney Alex Peltzer said attending FWA meetings could be part of the MOU and help preserve confidential but open communication. Vink gave an example that all Friant contractors work together on the SJR restoration settlement. Peltzer said South Valley has made dozens of attempts to cover some of this ground and has met road blocks. What is being proposed is a legal agreement known as the Joint Defense Agreement. A JDA, because there’s always from for more acronyms. Anyway, a ray of hope shining through the clouds.

Time to Bond         

Next Sacramento consultant George Soros said you can breathe a little easier as the legislature is not in session; however, we’re now a sanctuary state. Maybe now that this underwhelmingly important of political posturing has been settled in the minds of the elected public servants some work that actually benefits the people who live here legally could be accomplished. There are a couple of bonds to be aware of. One of them has more to do with parks but the focus groups show when water is included in the title the voters are more receptive. There is a bond becoming known as the Meral initiative written by former DWR man Gerry Meral. This bond has $750 million in it to help fix the Friant Kern Canal. Soros said Governor Jerry Brown doesn’t like this but thank God the signature gathering for the Meral bond has begun. “Whether you like it or not,” to quote Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsome. Soros said Brown is trying to pose as a fiscal conservative despite High Speed Rail. Brown is committed to a maximum of $8 billion in bonds and the legislature has already put up a $4 billion bond for housing and another $4 billion in other wish lists. Soros believes it may be possible to neutralize Brown. He reminded the board last year’s overtime pay battle was lost because farmers were painted as racists for opposing. He things using the state’s minorities to help sell the need for water infrastructure could be very helpful.

Grower Tom Barcellos asked if it’s true the state’s Attorneys General gets to name the bonds and manipulate the outcome. Soros said this is true but some outreach has taken place to help smooth this over. He said the pace of things in Sacramento has picked up as everyone jockeys to get their wish list in order. There is still the hope to get some federal funds.

Vink said the Bureau has some money for the FKC but not nearly enough. There will be a trip to Washington DC soon and the idea is to get what you can get. For example pumps could be used to help alleviate some of the capacity problems on the canal. The Washington trip will depend on when the Bureau is best suited to meet.

Four Delta Problems

Peltzer gave a presentation about what some of the challenges. He focused on four items: the Fall X2 line and how it reduces deliveries, Smelt problems, new biops also known as the Consultations and the California Water Fix’s twin tunnels.

Releasing more water through the Delta pushes the salinity lines further downstream towards the San Francisco Bay. This line is an arbitrary distance from the Golden Gate, between 74 to 82 kilometers. (I thought we won the metric battle years ago.) This could take up to and maybe more than 400,000 a/f of extra water. I learned something the actual X2 line hovers around and area south of Sacramento. The releases from the Sacramento River are often not the preferred method to push the X2 further out. That water could be used for the salmon so the other way to deal with it is to reduce pumping at Tracy. The extra flows not pumped help push the X2 towards the ocean. The problem here is the X2 line often has nothing to do with fish health. Peltzer said habitat would have much more benefit than increased flows. There are science groups now ready to challenge some of the assumptions held by the fishery folks.

A smelt comprehensive plan is in the works. Peltzer said a couple of years ago a good slug of water was sent down the Yolo Bypass and flushed nutrients to the lower Sacramento River and the smelt loved it. This is also good for the salmon. This does take water but nearly as much as the, as Quinley called it, “the one knob” approach. Quinley said a flood plain on the lower SJR before it reaches the Delta would be good habitat as well. Something to look at. But I suspect if I had land there it might not sound so good.

For these ideas to take root there needs to be a Consultation. Peltzer said the current biological opinions developed by the government scientists have not been popular with ag or enviros. A review of these biops is known as the Consultation. Peltzer doesn’t want to drag the Friant/Central Valley Project into a place where anticipated lawsuits involving operations could get snagged. He said this is a three-year process.

These three challenges have led to the Twin Tunnels. One of the problems is it’s not known how much water will be moved as there is not specific operational plan released to determine the amount. Without knowing the amount you can’t say for sure how much it will cost. Ultimately Friant doesn’t get its water from the Delta, it gets it from the SJR. But Friant contractors have found that source can be called on by the Bureau and all the supplies go to the Exchange Contractors. The Bureau is also in hot water for paying for some studies some say should have been paid for by contractors. But back to the cost and reliability of water due to the tunnels. Quinley said it is extremely difficult for management to make any recommendations without knowing what the benefits and costs will be to participate in the Fix. He’s been talking with FWA’s Jeff Payne and Jason Phillips who have indicated its members are individually interested to opt into the CWF and Peltzer thinks it would be better for the entire Friant System to work together.

Peltzer pointed out even with the tunnels there are still problems with salinity but fish taking at the pumps could be reduced. He said while the modeling isn’t in any way complete it shows the federal pumps will be worse off during dry years which is counter to what is needed. He said the state’s position is, “We have to build it.” The state doesn’t know how to run it but wants the feds to buy in too. That’s not as likely. I attended a Westlands Water District workshop on the CWF. It was held a few weeks ago at Harris Ranch Hotel in Coalinga and the sense I got was the same as what would happen if I told you you’ll get more business if you advertise me but I can’t tell you how much an ad will cost. It’s a blank check. Peltzer and Vink if SVWA gets involved it will be for a seat at the table but to do so with eyes open. Vink said Cannon Michaels sent out a good email about who is expected to be in and who is expected to be out of the CWF.

Vink reported there has been support for Temperance Flat to be built but there isn’t one consensus on how to operate. FWA is looking at the storage benefit, Ex Con is looking at a back stop and doesn’t want to pay for it. Even within the Friant Division the idea of any new water developed should go to Friant. Some of the counties want extra water to go to white areas to protect against SGMA violations. Vink advised there may be other opportunities to be aware of.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2017 by Don A. Wright   No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of DAW.

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.