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Westlands Water District July 18, 2023



By Don A. Wright

The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting on Tuesday, July 18, 2023 at its old Fresno headquarters. Driving to the meeting takes less than a half hour for me depending on the traffic. One thing that really stood out today was the number of homeless folks, or at least folks who fit the stereotypical fashion choices one associates with the homeless. The accessorized shopping cart, the multi-layered insulation. I understand much of the problem is attributed to the way we deal with mental illness as a society. I know they like to camp out near canals. Who doesn’t like water front property? It also appears to me, just based on my limited observations to be largely an urban problem. The resources and logistics needed to survive have to be in walking distance is my guess.

I once played a Juneteenth celebration in west Fresno on a very hot day. On my way to the gig I drove past a concentrated mass of folks sitting in the shade in wheelchairs. Please, don’t get me wrong, I’m not trying to pat myself on the back but when I stopped at the Smart & Final by the railroad tracks in Fresno’s Chinatown I got two cases of bottled water. It was cheap and the poor people sitting in the wheelchairs – well they were on my way. To the point, I witnessed a miracle. As I pulled up and started to bring them the water they all rose from their chairs and walked toward me.

This kind of told me not to judge a book by its cover. But it also brings to mind a 1977 novel by Colleen McCullough – The Thorn Birds. There is a passage about how strangers in the countryside are generally treated to food and water and shelter, while in the city people are not treated so well. At the same time there are calls for more humane treatment of livestock in the Australian Outback from these same city folks. The discussion resolved that whatever you have more of you often value less.

The Meeting

The meeting was called to order by Chairman Jeff Fortune at 9:03am. There was a quorum and Lt. General Manager Jose Gutierrez introduced the consent calendar and no items were pulled. The board approved.Technoflo

General Manager Allison Feebo’s suggested Patrick Malloy give his presentation about Golden State Solar’s Valley Clean Infrastructure plan, so Item 11 was moved forward.

Malloy said he’d be brief, we’ll see about that. Many of us look forward to a new headquarters bring us a better boardroom. Currently, if you need a plug for your say, computer, you need to sit in the very back and near the side. The big screen TV is hanging on the back wall so the board can see. Reasonable. But the audience can’t see any slide presentation without neck injury.

Malloy said there was overwhelming interest from growers and they sent out many option agreements. There is a good deal of acreage close enough to the main power lines to move juice to the Bay Area and Southern California. He said Westlands is uniquely positioned for power conveyance. Evidently there has been a tremendous amount of engineering already completed. There is a maximum amount of power, in this state 20,000 megawatts, that can be produced before demand is exceeded. Then he started talking about wind and solar and the 53,000 megawatts needed to keep California’s insane electrical power goals on track. He said it is tracking at 60 percent below the target. He said to meet these goals power production from renewable sources will have to be on a pace never seen before.

Malloy said there is a CEQA deadline for the plans by September 1st and an agreement with the landowners by September 30th. Then comes the regulatory and legislative outreach. Director Frank Coelho asked if engineering work so far is ready for staff review of pumping and WWD needs. Malloy said not yet that is still to be completed. He said the options for the district are also presented to growers in addition to the other options landowners may choose. If I understood correctly.

Director William Bourdeau asked if the completion of the project can be sped up. Malloy said he could see it up and running by 2031. Bourdeau asked about outreach and Malloy said it is a bit of a cart before the horse but plans are in place. Fortune asked if the power at Mendota Pool pumps is part of the plan. Malloy said not specifically but it is possible and talks with staff need to continue.

Director Kevin Assemi asked about meetings with Cal ISO and Malloy said that would best be discussed in closed session. Bourdeau asked if the district needs to build a team specializing in this. Feebo said staff is discussing this and preparing. Assemi said he thinks it’s a good idea with multiple benefits for the district and growers.

Landowner Benefits

Feebo next told the board everyone would love to have enough water to irrigate all the land but between cutbacks to diversions, SGMA and even weather there isn’t enough water. She asked Gutierrez to elaborate as part of Item 9. The purpose of this was for the board to consider revising Article Two of the district’s policy that provided for continued benefits to non-irrigable lands.

Gutierrez said there was a good deal of study that has helped staff prepare for cropping patterns. He said there are growers in WWD that are wall to wall in almonds and the threshold was based on that. Coelho wondered why that was the choice of crops. Bourdeau asked about including recharge in the plan.

Director Jeremy Hughes said he comes from Tranquillity and he’s seen folks put out of business by poor drainage and now poor supplies. He said if the growers that went bankrupt from drainage 30-years ago had the option of solar that would have helped them. He said he would rather go fallow than solar but that’s because he’s a farmer. But he would like the option for landowners to go 100 percent solar.

Coelho said Westlands is a farming district and turning it into a solar district could lead to directors who would value solar over recharge. He said he first ran for the board due to drainage and understands how the change can bring about revisions but he wants more discussion and not revise policy today.

Director Ross Franson said he thinks the district is ready to move forward. He didn’t see as big a threat from solar takeover as Coelho. Director Jim Anderson said he fallows more than half his land to use the water on the other half. He’d like to make money from solar and use the water. Fortune said staff’s numbers are sound. Assemi asked if water rights could be removed from the land and the answer is no. But could you lease or buy the water rights while the landowner gets solar? There is a lot to look at.

Grower Will Coit said he’s been leasing land from a person wanting to go solar that they’ve been relying on for the water. He asked what happens to that water supply and was told it can remain the same under the proposed policy revisions. If I understood. This is in the board packet. You may want to read the details yourself.

Grower Rebecca Kaser said she’d like to see the flexibility of solar and water so she can pass down the farm to the next generation. Grower Susan Byers said she believes this is a unique solution being proposed and while solar isn’t the first choice it can help growers continue.

The directors discussed the concept of stacking water supplies at length. Fortune proposed to send this back to staff with additional options after consulting with Golden State Clean Energy. He wants examples from other areas to provide comparisons. Fortune said, and I agree with him for what that’s worth, bad unintended consequences must be avoided.Lidco Inc.

Grower Dan Errotabere said when he was on the board he was part of developing Article Two and it is important to not let a bad horse out of the barn. He said water conveyance infrastructure could be impacted. Laterals could be harmed. Staff was given direction to come back next month.

Water Supply

            Russ Freeman reported WWD has used 1.5 million a/f and brought in 1.4 million a/f. There is still 14,000 a/f of pumping expected by the end of the year still to go. The supplemental program is delivering water this year that is going to recharge. There is 120,000 a/f at subject to US Bureau of Reclamation rescheduling at play. To meet the district’s goal there needs to be 250,000 a/f recharge take place between now and the end of the year. Diener asked him where that figure came from.

Freeman gave him the formula he used. Sorry I couldn’t follow that. Coelho said he wasn’t as optimistic about getting that much because most of the land being recharged is going to be farmed next year and there won’t be as much post-harvest recharge. Assemi said he thinks there is a good chance the goal will be met. Fortune said as soon as his tomatoes and almonds are harvested he’s going to prep the land and then start recharging until next year when it’s time to farm. Coelho said he hopes he has enough Roundup and Fortune said it’s easier to get than water. Diener pointed out when he filled out his crop report in January it was much different than what happened. That was a good point. How would one know the water amount available later in the year? Also, how would one know how much change climate change will bring and when?

Water broker Eric Johnson said by phone he thought 125,000 a/f would be too much carryover to gamble on. Freeman responded WWD has historically been able to successfully manage the risk of losing that supply. He said with recharge underway it should be a safe bet.

Grower Jon Reiter said he also grows on the Stater Water Project and was told carryover is going to spill on January 1st. He’d like staff to do a further analysis and Feebo agreed.

The Boardman Report   

            Tom Boardman reported releases at Shasta are higher than past wet years but that was due to higher inflow than expected. He said the Bureau will be decreasing releases even during the heat of coming weeks as demands show that will be OK for instream and export projections. The Cooperative Operation Agreement is in play and the state Banks plant is pumping at regulatory capacity (not operational capacity) but that could increase by 500 cfs. The federal Jones plant is expected to pump at capacity until October.

Boardman said the record for the highest amount of federal water in San Luis Reservoir has been set this year. It’s more than 290,000 a/f more than 2019. There’s 80,000 a/f more in storage than at this time in 2017. The Kings River flows to Mendota Pool will stop this week and Friant inflow will decrease, if I understood him. That will require more Delta Mendota Canal supplies to Mendota Pool to meet demands. He said South of Delta demands are 200,000 a/f less than the maximum.

The Ruben Report

Attorney Jon Ruben said the USBR is still working on the re-consultation of the Delta and that should yield more info by next year. Under federal matters Ruben said the House is this very day holding a hearing about the Endangered Species Act at 50 years and the unintended harm it has caused. The Senate will have a hearing tomorrow about bills involving water. There are three proposed updates under public review about the ESA. The deadline is August 21st. Anderson asked Feebo if WWD should let the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority comment. She said she’s still learning about the SLDMWA and would like to consult with Ruben.

On the state side there were several water rights bills from the Assembly and State Senate that have been moved from scary to not nearly so bad. Not a quote from Ruben, but the sentiments are similar. The bills were either pulled, amended or turned into two-year study bills.

PIO Report

Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jonasson gave her report and it centered on social media outreach. She said WWD has recently joined Threads which is Facebook’s answer to Twitter. Jonasson said WWD outreach efforts on social media appear to be reaching the target demographic. Water Districts are not in the top 10 interest areas nationally. She went through the hits and clicks and such. They are even doing TikTok at WWD. She said video is the most preferred content and there were two young interns who helped bump that up. WWD lost about the same ratio amount of Fake Book followers as Fake Book itself. Anderson asked about hiring Joey Chestnut, the world hotdog eating champion to talk about how ketchup comes from tomatoes grown in Westlands on social media. Assemi said it could be a 30 second goofy presentation instead of a long video. Feebo said she’d work with staff to investigate promoting pro water and farming content.

Jonasson said Instagram views are increasing. She said there is a segment of the population who will unfollow if there aren’t enough posts or the posts don’t conform to what they want to see. Twitter has grown a little. Hughes suggested educational videos on You Tube.

Other Stuff

Gutierrez reported refurbishing for the new headquarters located on the north end of town is coming along well. That made Director Ernie Costamagna to get so happy he left the room. Bourdeau reported on the excellent Family Farm Alliance and its efforts to bring aDelta View Water Association Logo dose of sanity to Washington DC. Franson said Regional Six and Seven of ACWA will meet mid-October at Harris Ranch. There was nothing to report under finance and administration.


Engineer Kitti Campbell presented a map showing recharge in Westlands. There are more than 280 projects in the district. There is about 740 a/f recharged per day. So far this year more than 70,000 a/f has been recharged. The Land Plus Program has been successful.Land IQ Groundwater levels have been measured but she wasn’t ready to report on the latest data. Diener strongly suggested recharge credits be reported monthly. Campbell said emails can be sent out showing usage and recharge but so far the only complete data is from March. Other calculations will soon be ready.

Grower Kristi Robinson called in wanting to know why there are two recharge calculations for upper and lower aquifer. She suggested it would be helpful to have an explanation of how those numbers come about and are figured in for credits. Coit asked about how recharge benefits are applied to growers. Campbell said the groundwater credits being generated have not been assigned by the board as yet. Fortune said those credits won’t be given away but they will end up going to the growers for an at cost price, I believe.

Campbell gave a recharge update. Once again the visual was posted on the wall behind me but auditorily it sounded thorough. The board has wanted more recharge information and this presentation seemed to scratch at least part of that itch. Anderson asked if in some cases recharge will help groundwater quality and over time it should. Amount of water applied minus evapotranspiration is one way to figure recharge credits. Feebo suggested a workshop and bringing in an irrigation consultant to help answer some of the questions.

Grower Daniel Hartwig suggested pond verses furrows evaporation be taken into consideration. Reiter spoke saying this year’s quick action by the board saved water. Sarah Woolf spoke saying she recommends a leave behind from recharge. She also believes using a yearly ET average is better than monthly as an incentive.

Transfers & Laterals

Freeman reported the City of Coalinga and San Luis Water District are requesting transfers that won’t impact groundwater and should be approved by the USBR. This should be CEQA exempt. Bourdeau asked since he owns a home in Coalinga should he recuse himself. I believe the answer was only if he used water at his house. The board approved the transfer.

Campbell reported on the lateral interconnection project. This is a plumbing project within Westlands and as such the cost is estimated at $13.3 million with additional supply conveyances of up to 22,000 a/f. Diener thanked Campbell for this work. He said he has some concerns about the design that could be adjusted to give more access to the San Luis Canal, I believe he said, from the laterals and pumping plants.

The discussion really got out in the weeds about design and financing. Westlands used to have a committee system where expertise and detail of a subject could be teased out. This always struck me as a logical use of time and talent. Anyone with an interest in a facet of the operations and service can tune in and participate. Once the committee reached a recommendation the entire matter was brought to the board for approval or not. This method is widely used at other districts but this is Westlands and it came under great criticism as things Westlands related are wont to do.

What was an update of a project that has been on the books for the past few years turned into a discussion on engineering, fish and wildlife policy, grant availability, conveyance logistics, hydrology, soil hydrology, energy usage. This item dragged on. Coit asked if this would help the water supply in a wet year and it would by using Mendota Pool water instead of San Luis Reservoir supplies.

The next item was about the district’s 900 megahertz band two way radio communications. In 2020 the FCC ordered changing to 5G or relocating 900 megahertz licenses. Anterix Inc., the company Westlands works with is on the hook for the cost of moving to somewhere other than 900. The board approved authorizing Feebo to work and bring this about.

Under public comment I asked what happened to the committee process and Fortune said it is by requested need, otherwise redundant for staff to repeat the information. Coit then observed there is a difference between charge and recharge. He pointed out there used to be a lake in the Valley so big the Navy built a base by it. Would have blown milk out my nose if I was drinking any. That was one of the funniest things I’ve heard at a meeting in a long time. Coit’s point was interesting – is a lake refilling contributing to recharge or is it some other something? Not that the old Tulare Lake bed is a good place for recharge – that’s part of why a lake formed there.

Closed Session

The meeting then went into closed session at 12:15pm for five items for real property negotiations, two cases of anticipated litigation and 16 cases of existing litigation. Sounds fun. That was that – go be good to each other and yourself

DISCLAIMER OF RESPONSIBILITY; Waterwrights strives to provide clients with the most complete, up-to-date, and accurate information available. Nevertheless, Waterwrights does not serve as a guarantor of the accuracy or completeness of the information provided, and specifically disclaims any and all responsibility for information that is not accurate, up-to-date, or complete.  Waterwrights’ clients therefore rely on the accuracy, completeness and timeliness of information from Waterwrights entirely at their own risk. The opinions expressed in this report are those of the author and do not represent any advertisers or third parties.

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2023 by

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: Allison Feebo-General Manager, Jose Gutierrez-Lt. 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, Jim Carter-IT Guru 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



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