The San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure Authority met on Friday, March 9, 2018 at Fresno Irrigation District headquarters. There was also a meeting at the same time in Visalia dealing with how various entities can invest in the program. Chairman Steve Worthley, Tulare County Supervisor called the meeting at 9:00 am and we started with a flag salute. There were no public comments, there were less than a dozen folks in the audience and all the board members were present but for the Merced County Supervisor.
The first report was from Megan Marks who works for the Fresno County Auditor-Controller. She gave the treasurer’s report and then turned things over to two CPAs from Price Paige & Company. I didn’t catch their names and not to be mean, but they didn’t bring the sizzle to the steak like the folks at Greater Kaweah GSA earlier this week. That’s not to say the presentation was a snooze fest. They did a fine job but the bar has been set high. Which is also not to say the skill and professionalism of an auditor must be judged by public presentations. The quality of the audit itself and attention to fiduciary duty are the criteria that count. I’m just writing from the perspective of a former entertainment editor for a small, weekly tabloid. In any event the audit went well and the SJVWIA is in the clear. Worthley spoke about how there isn’t a lot of work on the audit as the Authority has such few transactions. He asked Marks if there is a way to qualify for the two-year audit term. She wasn’t sure but considering the possibility of receiving federal grant money she didn’t think so.
Next Executive Director Mario Santoyo directed Marks to review the draft 2018-2019 budget; it was in two parts: administration and engineering. Steve Chedester, XO Exchange Contractors asked what will the purpose of this authority be once the Prop One application is completed. Santoyo said once the Prop One process is completed and Worthley reiterated that is when the next step can be taken. Jason Phillips, CEO Friant Water Authority told the other board members his home board has directed him to continue working with west side interests and continue to focus on investing in Temp Flat. Worthley and Robert Silva, Director at Large both said the SJVWIA may transition from Temp Flat to other projects. It’s a unique entity for sure and Alvaro Preciado, Mayor of Avenal said the group is a powerful voice to present to Sacramento and Washington DC. Santoyo said the Authority has been the major force behind the engineering work on the Prop One application. He said he recommends retaining Stantec Engineering to help with the interface with the California Water Commission. This will cost about $5,000 per month. Stantec engineer Bill Swanson was on the phone and Swanson has been working on Temperance Flat for at least 20-years and probably knows more about the project than anyone. Santoyo said he sees the Authority as continuing with the CWC coordination and communication on the Prop One process. The other nuts and bolts of the project would be done by the investors group. Santoyo said Temp Flat applied for early funding and that would be a good opportunity to further employ Swanson but it would cost more.
Worthley said there really isn’t that much extra money. Phillips, Chedester and Cannon Michael presenting San Luis & Delta-Mendota Water Authority are the members on the board with the most financial investments. Santoyo suggested a meeting between the SJVWIA and the MOU Investor Group. The budget needs to be decided but this meeting between the two groups would be a good way to get things rolling. Phillips said there are those who concerned the new dam could open up a threat to their water rights. Doug Verboon, Kings County Supervisor said those folks need to come and step up to the microphone and make their views heard. Worthley said all this group is doing is keeping things rolling. He said building the dam will most likely take, state, federal and local efforts. Phillips said he wouldn’t advise lining up a bunch of dissenters to address this board and everyone agreed with that. Preciado said anyone concerned with California’s future must know there has to be more storage. Victor Lopez, Mayor of Orange Cove said hold some meeting at his town. Worthley said it could be more productive to hold some private meetings to get things moving towards consensus but he also said everyone needs to know what’s going on so the concerns can be addressed. I’m not trying to pick on him because I understand the advantage of being able to speak freely, but in my experience going behind closed doors can knock over the hornet’s nest of transparency. It’s a tough call but Worthley strikes me as a man of goodwill. Chedester expressed his belief things will eventually work out. Forming the Central Valley Project wasn’t an easy task either – but it was completed and benefits have been accrued.
Moving on Santoyo told the board the invitation letters to join the JPA have been sent out to Fresno ID, Kern County and the City of Fresno. Tribal membership is another issue that needs to be dealt with and that for the most part involves casinos.
Next the Water Storage Investment Program schedule was discussed. The next steps is for the reviewers to respond to the appeals by Prop One applicants on the Public Benefit Ratio scores on April 20th. There will be a session of the CWC for three days starting May 1st through 3rd. Getting the PBR score together will help with the ultimate amount of grant money to be awarded. Worthley asked a very good question about the other portions of the score having an appeal. The PBR score is worth 30 percent of the total score. The other parts are Relative Environmental Value also at 30 percent of the overall score, Resiliency at 25 percent and the Implementation Risk at 15 percent. Swanson said these parts are not subject to review or appeal but there are meetings before the CWC on June 27th and on July 24th to present the case for Temp Flat grant funding.
Santoyo said he wasn’t sure how much leeway the CWC has to set aside the staff scores but it has some. There are efforts to empower the commissioners themselves and there could be more power granted them before this is over. My sense is the WSIP procedure hasn’t made anyone happy and will either be trash canned or embedded forever. Worthley said it’s bizarre to him the Commission can’t evaluate the applications themselves. Swanson said the way things were written the Commission can only add or subtract 25 percent in each category. However, the Commission can direct staff to adjust the scores through reevaluation.
I asked Swanson if he non-WSIP portion of Prop One was more familiar territory. He said yes, the other portion is more of a traditional grant. Worthley said this was an unusual hybrid and Swanson said it perhaps because the Commissioners are appointed by the Governor and not given complete authority. But neither was staff. Manuel Cuhna, CEO Nisei Farmers League said he is uncomfortable with this process. He asked Swanson if he was working on any other projects before the CWC. Swanson said he is not but the firm he works for, Stantec, is working on other projects. I’ve know Swanson a long time and believe him when he says all of his work goes to Temp Flat.
Next Santoyo gave his report and said he noticed the recent February 21st meeting of the CWC had a lot of elected officials show up to get an eye on what’s going on. Santoyo said he spoke with Assemblyman Frank Bigelow from Madera County about some follow up letters. Also, Dave Orth choose not to re-up as a commissioner on the CWC according to Santoyo – although he acknowledged he didn’t get that from the horse’s mouth.
Next the board was asked about its position on the proposed Friant Water Authority cost share MOU with the US Bureau of Reclamation regarding the Upper San Joaquin River Basin Storage Investigation study and feasibility report. Santoyo said he received a call from FWA’s Jeff Payne about this. Under the existing MOU FWA is already a member able to recover funds – so why does the Bureau want this Authority’s input? There is indication the Bureau will respond someday. This item was tabled until more information can be brought forward.
Under public relations Buddy Mendes, Fresno County Supervisor said he participated in a February 27th press conference regarding the appeal letter the CWC over the PBR scoring that went well. He and Santoyo also appeared on the Sunday Morning Matters show with Evan Onstot on the local NBC affiliate channel 24. There is a debate coming up on April 25th. The San Joaquin Valley Commission on Gubernatorial Debates will allow some input from this group about water.
Under directors reports Michael informed the board Chris White, GM Central California ID has been appointed as his alternate. Verboon reported he recently visited Washington DC and had some good meetings with elected officials. He also said someone from Lemoore is involved in world champion surfing. I didn’t follow except the surfers are willing to help outreach and Michael said surfing is a beneficial use of water. Lopez said his son opened a boxing gym in Orange Cove and hopes to someday produce a contestant for the Fight for Water. Chedester said there is a 20 percent allocation on the westside and Friant is only 40 percent. He said not to lose sight of the Delta. Cold water from Shasta and through Delta flows are drying up the Valley. He said it’s already ugly. Mendes as a Westlands WD taxpayer said all the cogs must be working. The meeting adjourned on a note of unity. The next meeting will be April 13th.
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