The Tulare Irrigation District held its board of directors meeting on Tuesday, September 12, 2023 at its HQ outside of Tulare and on Zoom. Before the meeting I read an article that some of the GSAs in Northern California are contemplating charging rangeland more than a $1 per acre in fees although these lands are net contributors to the area’s groundwater. Growing pains when the government lays unfunded mandates down.
One other thing I want to share with you just for fun. Two nights ago, I was standing in my front yard talking with a neighbor when five or six stars all in a line zipped across the night sky. They moved from the northwest horizon to the southeast horizon in less than a minute, I’d say. I’ve seen a few things – twice huge, green fire balls have shot across the sky, rockets from Vandenburg lighting up the western sky and of course eclipses of the moon. I even had moony hubcaps on my old Ford Ranchero. But I’d never seen anything like this. What was it?*
At 9:03am Chairman David Bixler called the meeting to order and in public comment I was able to invite everyone to my place for a California Women for Ag fundraiser. Then Water Master Marco Crenshaw gave his report but something happened to the almost always good audio and the volume dropped a bit. But not as much of a drop as the drops of rain and snow that hit us this past year. It appears storage at Millerton Lake on the San Joaquin River peaked last month and drawdown is beginning. TID even received half an inch in August from Hurricane Hillary Clinton (come on we’ve all been thinking that). Records are being set in TID, highest deliveries on record. They still have almost another 10,000 a/f behind Friant Dam and about 26,000 a/f of storage at Lake Kaweah. We’re in mid-September and TID has almost 35,000 a/f in storage. How about that?
General Manager Aaron Fukuda said the last wet year, 2017 had a lot of water but the flood management lessons learned and applied have made this year standout. He said most of the state’s reservoirs are still well above average. With this abundance of supplies comes a shutdown of the Friant Kern Canal including a de-watering from November through February for maintenance and repairs. It’d be nice not to have to do this but it’d be nice to never have to change the oil in your truck or mow the lawn.
Likewise, Fukuda said TID needs to shut down for fall maintenance. The system was pushed hard this year as it should have been. There are in-district projects that need to be completed that will require some dry time to wrap up. He recommended the district stop deliveries at the end of this month. That would fit fine with employee schedules and other concerns such as supplies and tie ends to other construction projects that intersect with TID facilities. There’s a gamble of losing some water supply but the system will be ready to work, thus saving water in the long run. The board agreed.
Fukuda next showed the board some groundwater readings from across the district and they were good in the upper aquifer above the clay layer. The lower aquifer is confined so it doesn’t react as quickly but there was measurable improvement in water levels. Some places have decreased depth to groundwater levels by more than 100 feet. Overall throughout the district groundwater levels have risen on average 30 feet or more. TID has been aggressively recharging and Fukuda said he wishes they didn’t have to shut off in September as the desire to continue whenever there are supplies is strong.
Superintendent Wayne Fox was next and he said operating the TID system under flood control conditions brings great water supplies and real wear and tear on the system. He explained the goal is to be ready to go again in November. That’s one month or so to get a lot of work completed. And there are the routine maintenance chores that were multiplied from the extra water – like weed control. Fox shared the strategy to get all this wrapped up.
Controller Kathi Artis gave her financial report. Unless something way out of the ordinary is revealed I don’t get into much detail. It’s really easy to write the wrong number and candidly the occurrence of malfeasance at a public water entity is very low. What’s the term? Statistically irrelevant. Have you ever met a farmer who wasn’t going broke? They are very conscious of district expenditures and investments. As surely as the sun rising in the east when it is time to review the warrants the room goes quiet.
Over the years the best technical financial advice I’ve received has come from district controllers. Evidently the TID board agrees because they approved Artis’ report. These reports by the way are public. If for some reason I can’t anticipate and you need more detail, it is available.
TID is on a quest to find the best investment portfolio option and invest. They both involved moving $250,000 into other vehicles with rates ranging from 5.25 percent to 5.75 percent. The Local Agency Investment Fund is always an option and if I recall provides great liquidity but it doesn’t usually pay much. There were two recommendations made by King Capital Advisors’ Mark Edelman. I don’t believe Edelman was there but the board approved.
The engineering report was next and given by Fukuda. TID could use an inhouse engineer but the right candidate has yet to appear. The first project is the Paige Avenue Interchange at Highway 99. If you’ve gone to the World Ag Expo from the north on 99 you may have exited at Paige Avenue and had to get on a side street to get to the intersection where you can wait to cross back over the freeway.
It’s a poorly designed situation with a couple of truck stops and it looks like Cal Trans wants to toss four roundabouts into the mix. Perhaps that will improve things. A major warehousing complex is also planned for that part of the world. Part of TID’s canal will have to be piped underground or realign the canal or both. If not there will be a TID canal in the middle of the area between the freeway, the off ramp and the road. That’s an area traditionally reserved for the homeless. Cal Trans is leading the CEQA process and this is part of eventually widening Highway 99 through Tulare County. That will surely help. There was also an urban development housing project that will infringe on TID conveyance located in what is known as Area 51. What’s that? Oh, I’m sorry Area 21 and that will be dealt with.
Management & Staff Reports
Next Fukuda gave his GM report saying the Kaweah Subbasin Technical Team is working groundwater levels and subsidence. Well mitigation has become a big part of the equation. Growers were pleased to discover the mitigation eligibility won’t be income dependent. You wouldn’t know it from mainstream media and NGOs but there are a lot of farmers with domestic wells at their homes. There are ongoing studies to help determine the likely number of wells that could go dry.
I believe the trend for GSPs that didn’t pass the first round are considering how to adjust the minimum thresholds to achieve compliance. The Kaweah Subbasin is looking at the impact on infrastructure from subsidence. At this point the meeting swerved off the road for a half hour cross country discussion about meters, satellites and I don’t know what all.
TID is in the Mid-Kaweah GSA and in fact Director Dave Martin is the chair and Bixler serves on the board. I believe Fukuda is the interim General Manager. I also believe he’s been interim GM since it was formed. Sadly, there was more meeting than I had time for and had to leave at about two hours. Go be good to each other and yourselves.
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TULARE IRRIGATION DISTRICT
6826 Ave 240, Tulare, CA 93274 Office: 559/686-3425
Board: David G. Bixler- President, Richard S. Borges, Jr.-Vice President, Scott Rogers, Dave Martin & Michael Thomas
Staff: Aaron Fukuda-General Manager, Jeremy Barroll-Engineer, Kathi Artis–District Controller, Wayne Fox–Superintendent, Marco Crenshaw–District Watermaster & Alex Peltzer-Attorney.
About: The Tulare Irrigation District was organized September 21, 1889. The original proposal for the formation of an irrigation district covering 219,000 acres, extending from the Sierra Nevada foothills to Tulare Lake, was eventually reduced to 32,500 acres. The District continued in this status until January of 1948 when the so-called Kaweah Lands” (approximately 11,000 acres) were annexed. In October of 1948, approximately 31,000 acres, compromising the area served by the Packwood Canal Company were annexed to the District. A U.S. Bureau of Reclamation contract was signed in 1950 providing an annual supply of 30,000 acre-feet of Class 1 water, and up to 141,000 acre-feet of Class 2 water from the Friant-Kern Canal. The District and the Kaweah Delta Water Conservation District have coordinated efforts to enhance the recharge of groundwater within the Kaweah Basin. During high flow times KDWCD may use the recharge basins with the District for recharge purposes. Further, KDWCD has historically provided for a financial incentive program through which the District sustains the level of groundwater recharge from supply sources into the District. This historical program was recently reinstated by both districts in lieu of the District’s plans to concrete-line this canal to conserve the surface water. TID is a member of the Mid Kaweah GSA DWR#-5-022.11