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Westlands Water District July 19, 2022

ConterraBy Don A. Wright

The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting Tuesday, July 19, 2022 at its Fresno headquarters. The district is planning a move to new digs in the coming year and it will be a welcomed event for anyone more than five feet tall weighing over 100 pounds. There isn’t much room for the audience. And very few electrical outlets for computers and such. However the air conditioning works well and for the most part you can hear what is being said. And today there must have not been anything on the agenda of any excitement because the galley wasn’t packed. Once I wrote about how a meeting was packed like a slave galley and it hurt someone’s feelings. So they wrote me a nastygram so to be sure my feelings were hurt too.

What would not hurt my feelings is for you to go to https://www.ppic.org/blog/our-experts-weigh-in-on-the-drought/ and read. This is the Public Policy Institute of California’s latest opine on the current water supply. I’m learning PPIC is not your average whiny NGO and whether or not you agree with them they are not flame throwers ranting against agriculture.

The Meeting

Things got off with a bang when Chairman Ryan Ferguson called things to order at 1:00pm, the scheduled time. There were no corrections or changes to the agenda and the consent calendar was approved.

Then things sort of slowed down a bit as someone phoned in a report about Westlands’ pension situation – which I heard was well funded unlike many if not most government pensions in California. There was talk that included terms like irrevocable trust liquidity, re-amortizing payment frequency and CERT programs. All this ties into CalPERS somehow and under normal circumstances that’d make me nervous. But if I understood, and that’s a bit of a stretch, it looks like Westlands is in pretty good shape. Now that doesn’t really surprise me because although the government plays with accounting principles unrivaled since Year One Vendémiaire – when farmers are involved the books tend to pencil out along the lines of reality. Pension plans are serious business and the board and management at WWD are paying close attention. Today’s meeting was recorded on Zoom so if you want the straight skinny you can tune it for accurate information. This was an information only item.

Action Items

Next the board heard Russ Freeman give his report on water supply saying this year’s use of surface water has been 170,000 a/f so far. This was less than anticipated. Staff is projecting about 37,000 a/f will be used this month. Groundwater use has been more than 100,000 a/f. The supplemental pool is up to $1,500 per a/f and there is only about 30,000 a/f available at this time. General Manager Tom Birmingham pointed out staff is pursuing an additional 10-15,000 a/f of supplemental water. Freeman said this could be realized by the end of this week and notice will be given to growers as soon as this happens. He believes this water can begin moving by the end of August.

Freeman also reported the Delta water quality has improved and pumping has picked up. Releases from Oroville have been helping the state payoff its COA balance and Folsom releases are helping the Central Valley Project on the federal side. There’s a 100,000 a/f at San Luis Reservoir extra. In case you haven’t heard the US Bureau of Reclamation has stopped releasing the amount of San Joaquin River water dedicated to paying its obligation to the Exchange Contractors. This is helping the Friant Division of the CVP.

Some questions to Freeman by Director Kevin Assemi showed how complicated some of the water contracts are. If you don’t use it you lose it. You got to store it for later but if you use it you lose future storage and on and on.

Legislative Consultant Shelly Cartwright reported the US Senate is most likely to pass a continuing resolution to fund things through September. The House Ag Committee is developing the 2023 Ag Bill and that committee has issued a survey for grower feedback. Cartwright said the state is on recess until August.

PIO Elizabeth Jonasson reported on outreach saying the WWD scholarship program has winners, good for them. The district will be hosting a tour of specialty crops. She reported she’d like to visit your farm to take photos.

Outside Activities

Next Director William Bourdeau said the Family Farm Alliance has reported it has made contact with the Biden administration about food security in light of the war in Ukraine.

Freeman gave an update on San Luis Delta Mendota saying SLDM supported a bill to continue the Water Infrastructure Investment Act and a PPIC presentation about increased ET upstream to the Delta.

There were no legal affairs, O&M, personnel or water policy committee information to report.

SGMA

District engineer Kiti Campbell reported the Groundwater Sustainability Plan updates have been submitted by the July 20th deadline. Good for them. Throughout the Valley this GSP revision has been a heavy lift. Campbell showed the board the groundwater conditions for the first quarter of 2022/2023.

Grower Will Coit suggested a lawsuit/adjudication over the diversions of Kings River water impact on subsidence. Birmingham said while he can’t comment on any legal action he pointed out the San Joaquin Valley Water Blueprint is looking at ways to mitigate some these types of problems.

Grower Jon Reiter asked Campbell about recharge applications for specific areas. She said yes, one has been received. Reiter asked the district to consider some incentives.

Director Assemi asked about just across the southeast portion of the Westlands GSA where the most pumping seems to be taking place in the South Fork Kings GSA. He wanted to know if there are agreements with the  neighboring GSAs and Campbell said there are. However, there is very little metering in the area. Attorney Jon Ruben said Westlands has been trying to work cooperatively with all its neighbors. He said staff could evaluate some options.

The board was asked to seek subscriptions for a tiered pumping allocation. Campbell said this could be one of the ways the GSA can meet its goals. She put forth a few questions that could start a discussion. She listed some of the goals being sought to reduce pumping in subsidence prone areas. A number of 29,000 a/f in pumping but without additional substitute surface supplies, that might be a difficult amount to reach. She recommended requesting subscriptions to this program start this year. Director Frank Coelho said he believes this enhances the GSP and was in favor. He did say there will have to be more consideration of where the additional water can be acquired. Director Dan Errotabere asked if the program will be concentrated in any one area of the district and Campbells said there will be dependent to a great degree on where the subscription requests come from.

The board’s discussion centered on the uncertainty of future supplies but they liked it. Grower Justin Diener said he thinks the proposal is overall sound. He pointed out if a grower signs up and plans for this water but the year turns out like this there should be a different payment plan. Grower Dan Hartwig said he’s also concerned about months like this where the heat requires more water than anticipated. He wants to be able to adjust the payments. Grower Kristi Robinson said this plan is growing on her but she’s concerned about the supplemental supplies being put in jeopardy. Coit asked how the tiers are structed with incremental cost increases. I didn’t catch all the details but Tier Three is the most expensive with costs at $1,000 per a/f. The board approved.

Finance

Director Stan Nunn reported there needs to be a budget augmentation for the new headquarters at the old Provost & Pritchard offices at 286 West Cromwell, Fresno California 93711. This money is going to new carpet and other needed improvements for $495,000. The board approved.

CFO Bobbie Ormonde reported to fund the position for a new Westlands Director of Science will require a budget transfer. She said this is a transfer of funds not a new expense. The salary ranges from about $8,000 to $14,000 per month. This position hasn’t been filled yet. Coelho asked if it would be possible to partner with another entity to save costs. Ruben said in his opinion Westlands and its staff believe the value for an in-house science consultant is great. Birmingham said WWD staff has spoken with San Luis Delta Mendota about a cost allocation to take into account WWD will rely less on the SLDM science advisor. That’s a negotiation so not so much was said beyond that. The board approved setting up the budget transfer and pursuing a candidate.

Reverse Auction

Birmingham said a reverse auction could be a way for the district to acquire land. He said the acquired land wouldn’t get any allocation and increase the water allocation for the rest of the land in the district. I haven’t heard of a reversed auction but it sounded like instead of putting land up for auction the district will entertain offers of land sales based on low offers, like a low bid. There are pages of material fleshing out the details. All land in the district is eligible but there will be a priority for land in subsidence prone areas. Coit asked this program not impact any nearby land values. Diener said he is in favor of this.

My man Bourdeau asked for more detail about reverse auctions. Good for him. Birmingham explained it and it was what I thought. Very rarely have I been the only one in a room who doesn’t fully understand what’s going on. But it takes confidence to open one’s mouth and I’m glad Bourdeau did so.

Public Comment and Closed Session

Coit said under public comment he’s been told here and there he was a bad man for farming the westside and advocated fighting back. The meeting then went into closed session at 3:09pm.

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Westlands Water District

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

Board: Ryan Ferguson -President, Frank Coelho Jr. – Vice President, Jim Anderson, William Bourdeau, Kevin Assemi, Ceil Howe III, Daniel Errotabere, Stan Nunn & Jeff Fortune.

Staff: Tom Birmingham-General Manager, Jon Rubin-Attorney, Jose Gutierrez-COO, Russ Freeman-Deputy GM Resources, Elizabeth Jonasson-Public Information Officer, Shelly Cartwright-Associate GM Water Policy/ Public Affairs Representative, Kitty Campbell-Supervisor of Resources, Bobbie Ormonde-VP of Finance & Administrative Affairs

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

 

 

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