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Westlands Water District June 19, 2018

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The Westlands Water District board of directors held its Tuesday, June 19, 2018 at its Fresno headquarters. Chairman Don Peracchi called the meeting to order at 1:00 pm exactly. What a pro. The minutes were approved and the board moved an item up. I’m not sure what was on the agenda that got the room so full but General Manager Tom Birmingham had to ask all WWD staff not presenting to please make room for the public.


The Aquifer Storage Recovery was the topic. This was a study of injection wells taking CVP and Kings River water on a site located on American Avenue in Fresno County. WWD’s Kitty Campbell and Rob Brown (?) explained the process to the board. They were able to inject more than one cfs and monitor salinity and other metrics by cell phone. The depth of the well was 880 feet with Corcoran clay at 550 feet. Brown said it is a nonlinear equation of how much you can get down the well. Even at low pressure the water filled up quickly. The presentation was a power point projected on a big screen television in the board room. Unfortunately WWD’s boardroom is relatively small for a nine member board and staff. The screen faces the board of course, but from where I sit (so I can get an electrical outlet) my back is against the same wall the TV hangs from. I couldn’t see much. Brown said the Kings River water was very low salinity but at the beginning of the flood time it was silty. The San Luis Canal water was also pretty good quality and low salinity. The Regional Board was keeping a close eye on this project particularly in regards to domestic wells. The bacteria levels were very low and they didn’t spread out. There wasn’t any problem with the recovery. Brown said he believes for this area the Regional Board will be comfortable drinking water won’t be negatively impacted. Injection wells are subject to air lock so two pipes at staggered length of 200 and 220 feet were used and some how the air lock was prevented. Abandoned wells can’t be used either since you need to pump water back out. Brown suggested gathering as much data as possible and design your own regulations before the state gets ahold of it.

Staff & Management Reports

Birmingham gave his report with the first thing being the introduction of our old friend Jon Rubin as the new in-house counsel for WWD. Rubin is the former interim Executive Officer at the San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority where before that he was the in-house counsel for SLDMWA.

Russ Freeman reported total delivery for May was 102,000 a/f and June’s forecast is for 125,000 a/f or 82 percent of historical average. There was as always much discussion regarding San Luis Reservoir and the Jones Pump Plant operations. These are all tied to the Delta. The US Bureau of Reclamation wants to put a cap on carryover in SLR. Director William Bourdeau said if the Bureau would give an allocation earlier, growers would know what the real carryover is. It’s a catch 22 situation. Freeman said Jones has been averaging 6,000 cfs if I hear correctly. The California Aqueduct still has a repair problem just north of the O’Neils Forebay. Repairs should wrap up this month and the Banks plant will increase its pumping. Freeman said prices have dropped some to $450 per a/f for a certain water type. So, that’s good for growers and as a bonus the O&M rate should increase either. WWD is importing 150,000 a/f from Oakdale ID, South San Joaquin ID and the Yuba County Water Agency.

Birmingham told the board a Mrs. Stroskey (sp?) from the Department of Interior in Washington to negotiate the Cooperative Operating Agreement between the CVP and the State Water Project. Shelly Ostrowski will be helping get her up to speed. Johnny Amaral reported on Westlands’ public outreach efforts saying the Farm to Fork campaign is going well. Food for Thought is an email blast that comes out each week to keep ideas circulating. A newsletter will go out next week and he said after 10-hours of raw footage an hour of video featuring WWD will be completed. There was a bilingual workshop on SGMA and he is meeting with some new editors at the Fresno Bee. The state budget has been worked out. Birmingham said Amaral’s reports are very well vetted.

Other Reports

Director Dan Errotabere gave a quick report on outside agency matters. Dan Pope reported the SLDMWA has appointed Francis Mizuno as interim GM with Becky Akroyd appointed at special counsel. The SLDM Strategic Plan was the topic of the all-day meeting held earlier this month. Birmingham said he anticipates reporting to the board what special activities WWD should participate in. Jose Gutierrez reported the State & Federal Water Contractors Authority has wound down to the point this is the last month for full time employees. From here on out its contract workers. He couldn’t say for certain if there will be any refund coming from SFWCA. Bill Pierce spoke about the condition of the Aqueduct. He said there are some problems just north of I-5 but whether the cause is subsidence or seismic activity is uncertain. Nearby landowners are advised and are keeping an eye out.

Water Policy Committee Report

Freeman reported Westlands wants to sell about 70 acres to Gateway Homes near Mendota. Adjacent landowners were concerned about the Ag Commissioner prohibiting certain farming practices like spraying. That is a possibility and LAFCo will have to approve the annexation to the City of Mendota. WWD will preserve its rights to groundwater under the land. Birmingham said there will be a covenant in the sales agreement addressing that matter. The board approved this sale.

There were comments received on the proposed sale of another parcel of district land to Avangrid Renewables. Two local growers were concerned the sale could create an island of their parcels. The developer has decreased its project plans and that won’t happen but one grower is still concerned about traffic and communications. Freeman said the County will review this during its CEQA review. But the board was uncertain. They asked Rubin his opinion and that kind of put him on the spot since this is his first meeting. They tabled the issue for a month.


Campbell gave the SGMA report and said a workshop was hosted last month. She’s been attending neighboring GSA meetings. She said there are 120 district wells for CASGEM. Director Frank Coelho said one of his family wells was measured and he wanted to know if this is going to be reported to the state. That depends if it is a CASGEM well or not. Gutierrez said the CASGEM wells are anonymous and that data isn’t available to the public. Coelho asked if a grower asked WWD if his well was a CASGEM well could he fine out. And the answer is yes. Campbell said the GSP development is underway and there will be an update next month on the progress. There will also be some grant money coming in.

Finance & Admin

            Bobbie Ormonde spoke to the board about budget transfers and augmentations. There were a number of these requiring board approval and the board approved. The board also approved paying its bills. In addition to all of these wonderous events the board approved the investment and financial reports as well.

Capital Improvement

The board next consider the draft capital improvement program. Gutierrez led this discussion. There were four parts to this: improved water supply, improved distribution system, a Pleasant Valley Pumping Plant and improvements in the Fresno and Five Points offices at a cost of $239 million. He laid out the priorities staff has developed and asked the board to consider the hierarchy. After this was public comment followed by a closed session that included more than a doze items ranging from property negotiations, lawsuits and a public employee performance review of the general manager.

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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.  Copyright 2018 by Don A. Wright   No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of DAW.

Westlands Water District

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

Board: Don Peracchi-President, Dan Errotabere – Vice President, Jim Anderson, William Bourdeau, Frank Coelho Jr., Larry Enos, Gary Esajian, Todd Neves & Sarah Woolf with two o’s.

Staff: Tom Birmingham-General Manager, Jon Rubin-Attorney, Dan Pope-COO

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