The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting on Tuesday, January 17, 2023 in person at its Fresno headquarters and online with Zoom. This is the first time the WWD board meeting has been scheduled for 9am. It’s also the same time as the Tulare Irrigation District, the Kings River Water Association Executive Committee and a plethora of Sacramento Valley districts. This is also the first full meeting in decades without Tom Birmingham as General Manager. This, along with a new board chair has to be a major change to the district’s corporate culture. It’ll be interesting to see what changes besides start time take place.
The Meeting Starts with Board Training
Chairman Jeff Fortune called the meeting to order at 9am. The first part of the meeting was moving item 11 to the opening act of the show. Doug Brown from Stradling gave a presentation to bring the new board members up to date on discloser responsibility. WWD issues bonds and there are federal regulations that have to be followed. Brown said it is very similar to a corporation like Caterpillar issuing bonds. There are antifraud obligations under general securities law the district must follow and that involves the elected directors as well. Westland got its white meat in a wringer in 2016 with the Securities and Exchange Commission. While there was no fault acknowledged WWD does have to toe the line a little closer. There wasn’t a crime to defraud but the rapidly changing SEC regulations were violated when someone said something in public that wasn’t previously prohibited. In any event Westlands wasn’t charged and no one suffered any loss and there was no proof of fraud or the intent of fraud.
Brown advised from now on when anyone approaches Westlands about bonds they need to be referred to Bobbies Ormonde. The board also has to watch what is said in public board meetings about bonds as this could open up a mess with interpretations of liabilities ranging from negligence to criminal actions from what was said. These rules apply to general council, senior staff as well as board members. He said there was a town in Louisiana that was alleged to misrepresent how many customers it had on its utility district when dealing with another state entity selling bonds. The smaller town went to trial. Brown said Elon Musk got in trouble with the SEC for Twittering about taking some of Tesla stock private.
Director William Bourdeau asked if the errors & omissions insurance covers the board as long as there is no criminal intent. Staff will look into this. Brown pointed out a privately held company like Caterpillar can have private board meetings while Westlands cannot. Brown told the board Westlands’ policy on the matter of bonds is up to date.
The board approved the consent calendar and nothing was pulled. Gutierrez had Russ Freeman give the water report. Freemen said the district’s total supply was 220,000 a/f. In 572,000 a/f of groundwater was used in the past year. This is less than expected and that will help with SGMA compliance. There is a later item on the agenda, attorney Jon Ruben pointed out about WWD getting some 215 Water from the San Luis Unit. This is unlikely but possible. Freeman said if Pine Flat Reservoir on the Kings River has flood releases there is the possibility of getting some of that water.
Director Kevin Assemi asked about the flood schedule at Pine Flat. Freeman said there is more of a real time flood management after the end of January.
Tom Boardman reported Shasta is getting 50,000 cfs inflows last week. Right now the inflow is at 20,000 cfs. This will taper off until the next storm. These storms have yielded 33-inches of rain if I understood. There should be 2.8 million in Shasta by the end of the month and that will give a 90 percent accidence. He expects 3.2 million in storage by February and then flood control levels will start changing. He said Shasta has been doing well. Snowpack in the Shasta area is at 200 percent of average and that’s a very good thing. Folsom is well within flood control at 520,000 a/f of storage. Snow melt is 250 percent above Folsom Reservoir with 4.5 million a/f of inflow expected this year. Boardman said a first flush action was triggered two weeks ago and this limited pumping but there is a turbidity issue taking place at the state Banks Pumping Plant. Not so much a problem on the federal Jones Plants. This year’s high San Joaquin River flows has allowed higher pumping. There has been some flows from creeks along the Delta Mendota Canal’s west side getting into the DMC or worse impacting the canal’s structural integrity. There could be a need to cut back Junes to facilitate repairs, but this should not be much more than a minor hiccup. He said the SJR flows is 22,000 cfs and peak at 25,000 cfs tomorrow. So, plenty of water to keeps Jones pumping full on for another week to 10-days.
Director Justin Diener asked about the turbidity and if it would cause Banks to slow down. Boardman said the turbidity is coming from the Sacramento River there shouldn’t be much of a problem on the Jones Plant due to good SJR Flows. Diener also asked about the Trinity and New Mellones Reservoirs filling. Boardman said Trinity may fill and he wasn’t as sure about New Mellones. But he I think he said he wouldn’t be surprised with the snowpack.
Boardman said he doesn’t expect San Luis Reservoir to fill more than 800,000 a/f but he does see the federal share of SLR to fill by April and although there is no telling what the weather will be there should be enough time to get carry over out of SLR. I believe that’s what he said. He also said keeping an eye on Shasta is key. He thinks there will be enough cold water in Shasta to keep the State Board out of everyone’s hair during summer releases. Between Folsom and Shasta things could go well. The February through March portion of the operations depends on SJR flows. If they are lower then some Sacramento River water would have to be brought across the Delta. From April to May the Old and Middle River (SJR) constraints will be the driving force. Due to snowmelt there should be good SJR flows but only 25 percent of those flows will be available for pumping. He said the snowpack on the SJR and Kings River is at 250 percent. That means a big spring runoff unless a pineapple express comes in and melts it. But if that doesn’t happen the Exchange Contractor’s demands can be met. Ex Con is at the top of heap on deliveries so what happens to Ex Con impacts everyone.
I asked Boardman if the 2019 biological opinions from the Obama Administration was based on the calendar or real time. The operations on the SJR is based on the calendar and not what’s actually happening in the Delta. If I understand. Jon Reiter asked if there is a change SLR could spill causing a loss of scheduled water. Boardman said that is unlikely if there isn’t a drawn down before the end of April. Assemi suggested a plan be put in place on what to deal with should more water come in. The board thanked Boardman for not putting on his grim reaper suit this time.
Shelly Cartwright gave her report saying Congressman David Valadao has introduced the WATER bill and I don’t recall of the top of my head what that stands for. WaterWrights.net is working on a breakdown of the bill.
Cartwright said the new Valley Congressman John Duarte was signed to an important transportation committee. Good for him, good for the Valley. The State of California has set aside $20 million to itself to monkey butt around with water rights but that isn’t available to anyone else. There is federal money in the form of grants still available. Gutierrez said the new district headquarters refurbishing is on track for WWD to move sometime this summer. How about that?
Freeman said the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority had a meeting last week and set its budget. Bourdeau said the Family Farm Alliance and the Mid Pacific Conference will both meet in Reno in February.
Committee, O&M Reports
Ruben said the legal affairs committee met and set a budget to be included in the upcoming district budget. Bill Pierce reported so far WWD has been in good shape with all the water flowing off the Mountains west of I-5. A few of pipelines have been exposed by the creeks but are still operational. There are less than 100 meters to be installed and that is going slow as the road conditions are poor with the flooding and rains. Bourdeau said the finance & administration committee met and it will consolidate all the other budgets. Director Jim Anderson reported the water policy committee met.
Kitty Campbell reported 32 recharge projects for 2,800 a/f per day has been received and many more applications have been received. Bourdeau asked if there was a deadline for this and how to make estimates. Campbell said there is no deadline for recharge applications from landowners but the projects will start next month. She also said staff recognizes the amounts and types of water may be really difficult to estimate and takes that into account. Director Frank Coelho Jr. asked to continue to remind growers the benefits of carrying over surface water. Staff said the plan in place is to allow that. Assemi said he believes WWD can craft a program similar to the one Bourdeau mentioned being used at Semitropic Water Storage District in Kern County. Diener said transitional water needs to be finetuned and then an in-lieu program put in place. Everyone agreed we’ll all be a lot smarter next month.
Gutierrez said there are many benefits to taking surface water, more benefits than drawbacks. Over pumping can get expensive. Kristi Robinson asked if any 215 Water or state flood flows become available and it isn’t fully subscribed by growers will the district take it. Bourdeau wanted to know the same thing – bank it outside of the district and move it back later if need be. Reiter said he’d like to see the proper paperwork in place for this to happen. Ruben said due to the laws covering agenda items this can’t happen today. Campbell said without any water available at this time it would be premature. Reiter and Assemi both recall there is a policy provision that water taken out of the district it must bring it back. Ruben said Gutierrez can direct staff to begin preparing for this so it can be approved next month. It was agreed by all water won’t go out of the district until every possible drop is used or stored in the district. Any water available to the district that can’t be dealt with in the district can be banked outside if it will return and not be used elsewhere.
Robinson asked if there is a big influx of water before the next meeting will the district spread it on the ground. The answer is WWD doesn’t currently have a recharge area suitable for this, at this time and will have to work with growers. If I understood Ruben said in 2017 the US Bureau of Reclamation applied for points of diversion under the SJR Restoration Program that included the Mendota Pool. The Friant contractors opposed releasing 215 Water on the westside and the Bureau agreed to this. From then on special permits are required. Ruben suggested this discussion is starting to veer off the agenda and Fortune agreed. Campbell gave the groundwater condition update for the 2022 third quarter which she had started earlier but was set aside for questions. The well monitoring is separated by above and below the Corcoran Clay Layer and those wells over that layer. A map indicates the vast majority of active wells are in the southern portion of the district. Groundwater levels have fallen on average by 22 feet. Most of this appears to be along the northeast part of the district.
Next Freeman reported to the board it needs to consider an appraisal of the Bollibokka vacation time share. Not a time share, it’s actually nearly 3,000 acres the district owns in Shasta County. But it might make a great vacation destination. Since it is dealing with real estate there wasn’t much about it in open session but the board agreed to the appraisal.
Next staff asked the Board to direct staff to get a permit for a temporary 180-day water right from the State Board for San Joaquin River flood flows to be diverted at the Mendota Pool. This could be up to 6,000 a/f per month between now and April. This will also require a Warren Act approval from the Bureau. The application for the State Board Permit $8 per a/f and (I think the overall goal 18,000 a/f to be moved over three months) or more if the filing is deemed complicated and the Warren Act (a permit to allow federal water to be moved from a federal facility) fee is $59 per a/f. In addition San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority charges $18 a/f for operations and maintenance and there is a $76 a/f power charge. Westlands also has a $163 a/f O&M charge. All in all this water will cost $325 a/f.
Coelho said there needs to be some push back on this because while the buyers need to cover costs it’s not right for the government to price flood water out of availability. Rubin said the timing of the application process could be expedited.
There was a long discussion about how to maximize the amount of water that could be brought into the district which included pump and canal capacity and how to avoid triggering CEQA. Gutierrez suggested changing the permit application to read as much water as possible for the district to convey. It was also suggested if this water become available it be prorated to growers who apply for it. Assemi asked Ruben if there is such a thing as permanent flood flows permit and the answer is not on a fully appropriated stream like the SJR but it could become policy for WWD to file for such permits every year as a cost of doing business. Gary Lasky from the Sierra Club spoke in public comment stating his objects to this on grounds of CEQA exemption was just for drought relief. Rubin explained this would not violate the CEQA exemption. Nothing against Mr. Lasky but I find an NGO’s desire to wrap up drought relief flows that come in the form of flood water in as much red tape as possible to be. . . well drought or flood or in between it looks like the Sierra Club is more interested on governmental control than helping the environment. I’ve often wondered just how many meals the woke crowd is willing to skip in exchange for getting its way to force others to do what it wants. Or maybe a more important question – whose meals if not theirs should be skipped? The board agreed to file the permits.
At 11:43am the meeting went into closed session. It was in most ways a typical WWD meeting even with several new players around the table. It went longer than usual but there was the tutorial on bond issuance and free speech that won’t be a standard item for every agenda. In the past the committees met in the morning and the board met that same afternoon. That made for a long day for some folks. Now Westlands will hold committees on a separate day and I was told 9am is the new start time from now on. I used to enjoy going to Sam’s Deli before the meeting and getting to talk with folks. Maybe the new normal will include going to lunch afterwards.
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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 Costamagna & Justin Diener.
Staff: Jose Gutierrez-Interim General Manager, Jon Rubin-Attorney, Russ Freeman-Deputy GM Resources, Shelly Cartwright-Associate GM Water Policy/ Public Affairs Representative, 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 www.wwd.ca.gov
SGMA: Westland WD is in the Westside Subbasin and the Westlands WD GSA. DWR #5-022.09