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Westlands Water District April 18, 2023

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By Don A. Wright

The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting Tuesday, April 18, 2023 at its Fresno headquarters and on Zoom. The meetings used to start at 1:00pm but now are scheduled for 9:00am, same time as the Kings River Water Association. I like attending in person but my sinus have been enjoying the annual mix of wind and pollen that occurs this time of year. Someone planted olives down the road a couple of miles and . . . well, it’s best I stay home and I do appreciate a Zoom meeting.

There have been big changes at Westlands, we all know this. Many new board members, the retirement of Tom Birmingham after decades of service, a new GM. But let us not forget Shelly Cartwright is no longer with Westlands and I’m going to miss her. She was always and I mean always, polite and patient with me as she explained difficult and complicated matters. God bless her wherever she went.

The Meeting

Things started at 9:00am exactly with Chairman Jeff Fortune calling things to order and read the rules. There was a quorum of the board and it was standing room only. Fortune introduced Alison Feebo, Westlands’ new General Manager who starts next week. He said Feebo is not an attorney or engineer, she’s a scientist. He said getting 80 percent allocations this year has set a high bar for her but she is the first woman GM of the nation’s largest water district. Good for her.

Interim GM Jose Gutierrez presented the board with the consent calendar and it was accepted without public comment but for the finance report which was pulled.  Bobbie Ormonde, VP of Finance gave her reports. They were approved.


Next Items 13-18 were moved up. Each of these items were resolutions in honor of service. Those recognized were former board members: Dan Errotabere, Ryan Ferguson, Stan Nun and Ceil W. Howell III. Also recognized were long term employees Jon Smith 39-years and Olga Probst the person who greeted you as you walked into the office. I don’t know how long she worked for WWD, but she was really good at her job.


            Chuck Gardener of the Hallmark Group was not speaking, but someone from Hallmark, I think it was Curtis Creel and Pablo Arroyave of San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority were there to give a presentation on raising the BF Sisk Dam on the San Luis Reservoir. There was a power point given and I do so wish folks would learn to limit the amount of information given per slide. I understand for a while there Microsoft forbid its employees to use Power Point for internal meetings. It was also a bit difficult to hear him. I did catch that WWD’s share of the upcoming cash call is more than $1 million.

The higher dam would add 130,000 a/f of storage and half of that would go to the Central Valley Project and half or more to investors. Half of the total costs would be non-federal and 30 percent would be paid for by the USBR, with 20 percent coming from contractors. The estimated costs is $1.4 billion if I read the spreadsheet correctly.

There are upstream storage projects planned such as: Sites and Los Vaqueros Reservoirs listed and they don’t present any impact on the amount of new storage available. He also said Climate Change impacts are estimated to be minimal. Downstream water management activities’ impacts would depend on the diversion capacity. Other impacts would include the State Board Delta decrees, new Bi Ops, state incidental take permits and they could all reduce supplies available.Technoflo

The benefits include reduced risk of losing rescheduled and carryover water, better supplies and stability for recharge of the Valley aquifer and help with rescheduling and Warren Act charges. The speaker said inflation and debt service were included in the estimates. If I understood correctly WWD’s share of the debt as an investor would be $32 million or between $700-$800 per a/f each year.

Director Justin Diener asked if WWD wants a smaller share is that possible. Arroyave said that there could be other contractors outside of the CVP who would take that share. He also said half of the project’s cost is rerouting Highway 152 around the construction site. Director William Bourdeau asked about regulatory restraints. He asked if there was an outbreak of common sense in Sacramento, could these figures improve? Arroyave said yes. Director Kevin Assemi asked about losing the possibility of 215 Water; 215 Water is offered by the US Bureau of Reclamation when supplies are way larger than demands. The costs go way down. I believe Arroyave said demand for 215 Water upstream has never been big enough to prevent WWD from getting any.

The board wanted to know how WWD will pay off a rather substantial annual payment. Gutierrez said it will figure out to about $75 per acre per year. Director Jeremy Hughes said WWD has already poured $30 million down the Delta Tunnel drain. He does not like the investor component. Director Jim Anderson asked if the Friant Water Authority has been offered a bite of this project. It has not yet and that is because the Bureau hasn’t included them, but that can change if other investors don’t show up. Diener asked since the Cal Sim model hasn’t been updated in a long time and it is the basis for much of the estimates how good are the estimates. Creel gave him an explanation of how Cal Sim’s limits were amended to bring forth more sure estimates. Bourdeau said he thinks San Luis is the best bet on the horizon and WWD should be a participant but he questioned how to make it affordable.

Creel said the SLR project will happen and Bourdeau said the benefits need to be fully considered such as environmental and other good things for society. Creel said there may be some wiggle room on the highway portion of the project.

Farmer Jon Reiter said it sounds like WWD would be paying whether or not water is received. He said he’d like to see estimates based on planted acres and not over all acres. He also asked about modifying the scheduled water policy. He said this is an unusual year but in 2019 they could have moved rescheduled water into recharge and had the storage capacity. Director Ross Franson said he hopes to see the project go forward and they can find a way to make it work.

Lidco Inc.Anderson said he doesn’t see this as an investment option for WWD. He’s OK with the CVP portion. Gutierrez asked if individual growers can be approached as investors. Fortune said it is safe to say WWD will participate on the CVP side but needs a smaller portion than 66 percent of the investor’s side. Bourdeau said they should look at Met WD as a participant. Creel said WWD could go as low as zero but he’d like to be able to make a decision based on WWD having a nominal amount of investment.

GM Report

Gutierrez gave his report asking Russ Freeman, Deputy GM to speak to water supplies. Freeman said WWD had 60,000 a/f of carryover this year and that should be all used by the end of this month. The fed share of SLR filled at the start of this month and there is Delta 215 Water available and the district is taking as much as it can. There are also applications for supplemental water. This could be as much as 30,000 a/f that could be used for recharge. Freeman was asked if the Bureau will allocate 100 percent CVP South of Delta and he thinks that will be the case considering the amount of snow. Stranger things have happened – 300 to 400 percent snowpack but less than 100 percent allocations – but hopefully not this year. There was a long debate and Reiter summed it up – WWD has to outperform 2018. He said there is a good chance the district is going to get way more supplemental water than it can use. He recommended allowing growers to move that water out of the district. This has happened before but was approved too late in the year to move much water. This opened up a discussion on carrying over recharge credits. Hughes said the surface water he’s received from the CVP and the Kings River has been very silty, high turbidity and muddy.

Sarah Woolf spoke saying she recommends revisiting the O&M charges since it is pretty certain there will be a 100 percent allocation. Fortune said for once they were a step ahead of her and this is underway.

Tom Boardman gave his report saying Shasta has 4.2 million in storage and is 100,000 a/f short of a flood spill. He sees Shasta filling next month. Folsom Reservoir has 240 percent average snowpack. Jones is pumping at two units with a good slug of water coming into the Mendota Pool from both the Kings and San Joaquin Rivers and with low demand much of it is flowing on downstream. There should be plenty of water coming down the SJR and Jones should be able to keep pumping San Luis Reservoir to capacity. He said the ability to use the intertie may be hindered and that will limit Jones to four units. That was some good news.

Gov’t Affairs

Attorney Jon Rubin said Bourdeau gave testimony to the Congressional Hearing recently held in Tulare. The hearing was on two pieces of legislation, one to stabilize Delta biological opinions and the other to move federal oversight on salmon completely to the Department of Interior.

Elizabeth Jonasson said the WWD scholarship deadline is this week. The press release announcing Feebo as the new GM got good disbursement.

Gutierrez said work on the new headquarters is making good progress. He hopes to be able to move there by the end of summer. That would be good. Hughes asked if he uses water in April and May, he’ll automatically get 215 Water in June? Gutierrez said the 215 Water is first priority and must be used up before the other colors of water. He said if there are growers out there who would like some 215 Water to reach out to staff and if they need more information.

Outside Agencies 

Bourdeau said the Family Farm Alliance had a big call in meeting to go over the federal legislation. Freeman reported the Bureau wants updated delivery projections. There is an ACWA Spring Conference in May. Feebo will be there.

Under committees Assemi said there was nothing for open session from the legal affairs committee. O&M Manager Bill Pierce gave his report saying they are working on pipes and meters. WWD is working with FEMA on flood loss. He expects all meters to be installed this week. He said he saw siphon pipes in the fields recently and didn’t think he’d see that again.

Kitti Campbell reported on recharge projects in the district. It sounded like things are falling into place. Half the projects are online already and more will soon to be up and running. There has been close to 10,000 a/f recharged so far this year if I understand. Now there is more than 500 a/f per day being recharged and that should grow. Franson asked Campbell to give a report at the next meeting on the recharge projects. Bourdeau asked what the district’s recharge capacity is. He said the district should be recharging. I believe Campbell said district owned land outside of the drainage impaired area should yield 1,000 a/f per day and they’ll know by next month. Reiter has been critical in the past of WWD’s lack of focus on recharge so he was pretty happy to hear the figures. Lindsay Cederquist asked if evaporative losses have been tracked and if that information is available. The answer was kind of – it’s low. Kristi Robinson asked if all the basins are being utilized for recharge. Campbell said those figures will be available

Freeman reported on the district’s land management project. WWD owns I believe 75,000 acres in the district. It recently sold 21,000 acres to solar companies while retaining the water rights. The district is leasing more than 57,000 acres at about $15 per acre, less than 400 acres are irrigated. Diener said he’s had problems with livestock getting on his land and that’s been largely addressed. But he doesn’t think this land retirement program is working any longer. He feels some of the dry land farming, not grazing, is causing problems with invasive weeds and such. Anderson said it still saves money for the growers. Hughes said to be sure there is no well water allowed in light of SGMA. He wants to revisit the program. Bourdeau said he supports farming, including dryland farming. Diener said he wants to point out growers on dryland are being subsidized by WWD growers. Rubin suggested the board have staff look at this.

Freeman had a brief update on WWD’s land acquisition. He said it will cost $33 million by the time it’s done. Campbell told the board there are maps available showing the best recharge locations in the district. Farmer Will Coit asked how the district is targeting the land it buys in the subsidence zone. His concern is WWD’s ownership limits his ability to buy more land. Gutierrez said they are looking to sell district recharge sites at some point.

Ormonde said the board is required to set a date to hold a meeting for land assessment rates. Landowners have to notify the district they want to speak. The board voted to hold this meeting at next month’s board meeting.


Campbell gave the board an update saying they have collected spring water well monitoring and have had great improvement in conditions thanks to the wet weather. Coit asked if growers with district land in and outside of the Subsidence Prone Areas could move credits into the SPA? Franson suggested this is something that needs to be submitted to staff.

Next the board considered an appointment to the Broadview WD board since Birmingham left that board when he retired. Ormonde suggested Feebo take that place but there still isn’t a quorum and the Fresno County Board of Supervisors will have to appoint at least one member to that board so a quorum can be held. The board was fine with this.

Public Comment

Coit said look at what’s happening at Tulare Lake. He said they could have bought several square miles of lake bottom and move that water to WWD by way of the Mendota Pool. He also said he doesn’t understand English since he didn’t know you could flood a lake.

The meeting then went into closed session at 12:14pm for what I counted as 26-closed session items. This was a long meeting and I hope as the new board members and new management starts finding their legs they may walk through future meetings quicker. Go be good to yourself and each other.

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Westlands Water District

3130 N. Fresno Street, Fresno CA 93703 Phone:559/224-1523

Board: Jeff Fortune -President, Jim Anderson – Vice President, Frank Coelho Jr., William Bourdeau, Kevin Assemi, Ross Franson, Jeremy Hughes, Ernie Hughes & Justin Diener.

Staff: Jose Gutierrez-Interim General Manager, Jon Rubin-Attorney, Russ Freeman-Deputy GM Resources, Kitty Campbell-Supervisor of Resources, Bobbie Ormonde-VP of Finance & Administrative Affairs, Bill Pierce Director O&M and Elizabeth Jonasson- Public Affairs Representative.

About:  Without irrigation, farming in the Westlands area of California would be limited and ineffectual. The history of Westlands is one of continual adaptation, careful water stewardship and advanced technology. By maintaining a fierce commitment to sustainability, the Westlands’ comprehensive water supply system continues to adapt, educate, and surpass conservation goals. Throughout its history, Westlands Water District has demonstrated a lasting dedication to water conservation and recognized that the long-term survival of its farms depends on the effective management of California’s precious water resources. From

SGMA: Westland WD is in the Westside Subbasin and the Westlands WD GSA. DWR #5-022.09