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Westlands Water District November 21, 2023

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By Don A. Wright

The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting on Tuesday, November 21, 2023 at its new offices!!! So bummed I can’t be there for such a historical event, but I’m watching on Zoom back in Louisiana. The new offices are located at 286 W. Cromwell Avenue, Fresno, California 93711 and are actually the old, but remodeled offices of Provost & Pritchard Engineering before they moved to Clovis. The boardroom is set up with the directors facing the audience along a long, curved table. Attorney Tomi Saghatelian, Lt. General Manager Jose Gutierrez and General Manager Allison Febbo share a desk to the board’s left. There is another desk to the board’s right and I can’t see it clearly but it looks like Administrative Assistant Karen Clark, Deputy GM Water Resources Russ Freeman and Controller Bobbie Ormonde are all sharing that desk.

The Meeting

The open session of the meeting was called to order at 9:07am by Chairman Jeff Fortune. He said the situation is much better than it was and he wanted to thank the growers for paying for it. He said staff has done a great job getting this place up and running with special mention to Gutierrez and IT Guru Jim Carter. A gentleman named Alan received praise for going above and beyond in getting the facilities ready. Fortune said he couldn’t hear well but I could and the Zoom looked good.Brandt Water Treatment

There was a change to the agenda with one item being removed under consent calendar and tabled until next month. The consent calendar was passed.

GM Report That Turned into an Audit Report

Febbo said the assistant general manager recruiting is finished and the search for general council is still rolling along. No names mentioned. The auditor’s report was moved up in the agenda and CPA Brian Nash gave the report online. He commented that the new boardroom looks nice and not over-extravagant which is the look he figured they were going for.

Just looking on Zoom I think some artwork would be in order. There are some blank walls whispering for decoration. Possibly sell some of the space on the front of the long, curved directors’ desk to advertisers. I got a banner I could hang there and of course my clients are all worthy of the recognition. The desk would make a great billboard. Maybe install some flashing lights along its edges and rent the room out for weddings and such.

I think Nash said Westlands passed the audit like green on grass. I forgot to set my stopwatch for this item. Once a CPA with a very think foreign accent gave a 45-minute audit report at a certain meeting. After the gentleman left the room the attorney reminded the board there is no legal requirement for an verbal audit presentation. Don’t get me wrong, Nash’s English is good, native speaker quality and he has a soothing voice. The board approved the audit.Technoflo

Back to the GM & Other Reports

After the audit presentation Fortune asked about grants showing up in the work stream and he wants to see a list of grants received and those in the que. Staff will do that by next meeting.

Freeman said he’ll defer to Tom Boardman for the water report. Boardman said Shasta was 3.1 million a/f last night and that is very close to flood control levels. Forecasts are looking for El Nino to wet it up this season. Folsom Reservoir is releasing minimum flows. There is a lot of storage for this time of the year this year. He said the Fall X2 went longer than hoped and the outflow for Rio Vista on the Sacramento River are reducing exports.Lidco Inc. The federal Jones Plant is down to two units. Boardman said there is a shortfall currently but there is reason for optimism due to El Nino influenced forecasts. He thinks San Luis Reservoir can be filled by January, maybe February. There aren’t any storms sighted and none expected for the rest of the month.

Director William Bourdeau asked about carryover when the Sisk Dam raise kicks in. Boardman said he hasn’t done a long term projection but with the extra storage spill threats will go down. Febbo conferred saying the extra storage won’t be under CVP and not subject to carryover loss.

Febbo asked if WWD could buy water from a State Contractor and store it. Director Kevin Assemi said federal contractors can store for two month longer if I understood him. CVP could purchase SWP water and hang on to it for recharge without losing to carryover.

Febbo said the State Board hasn’t chosen a preferred Delta flow option yet but Voluntary Agreements are included. Assemi said there is an option of sending 75 percent of the flows out to sea. He expects some serious discussion at ACWA about this matter.

Gov’t Report

Febbo said Louisiana Representative Mike Johnson is the new speaker and now is a good time to discuss matters with folks in Washington DC. The USBR Smart Water Grant has deadlines coming up soon. District growers are invited to speak with Freeman about this.

Public Relations Officer Elizabeth Jonasson reported she spoke at the American Society of Agriculture Consultants conference in Fresno. She said other things but it was a quick report.

Gutierrez said the permits have been received for the new headquarters. A new address and PO Box has been established. Staff will be moved over by mid-December and there are still some grower related functions being conducted at the old address. Late payment due to postal confusion will be dealt with by staff instead of referred to the board. They will be grace.


Superintendent Bill Pierce said Dos Amigos pumping plant will be shut down for two days in early December so DWR can get some work done. There will be dive inspections on the bridges over the California Aqueduct since there will be reduced flow speed and pressure.

Pierce said the Pleasant Valley Pumping Plant is running and the Coalinga Canal is moving water. Pipe repairs are coming along well (WWD is completely piped for improved water conservation) and tank painting is finished for the year.

Outside Agency

Bourdeau reported on the Family Farm Alliance saying they do a lot of good work and a report is included in the package. Freeman reported on the San Luis Delta Mendota WA saying several millions in funding for subsidence has been applied for and won’t have to be paid back until the construction is completed. A transfer agreement and an activity agreement were approved. Director Russ Franson reported ACWA will meet soon in Indian Wells.

Financial Reports

Bourdeau is chair of the financial committee and he invited Ormonde to give the report. It sounded like everything was in order. The board accepted the financial and investment report.

The way water rates are determined to pay off the USBR was next. The methodologies and the benefits-cons of 50 percent water/50 percent land assessments and 100 percent land based were considered. This topic is of great interest to growers and spilled over from last month’s meeting. The fee collected goes to paying for the dams, canals and other facilities of the Central Valley Project.

At this point in the meeting there was a pretty good gob of audio interference for me. I’m going to chalk that up more to the tornado warning taking place back here than the new room or the Zoom. I gathered the solely land based fee is less volatile than half water based fees. Originally the debt service was paid by water sales only but since the government has started monkeying with surface delivery surety has dropped. But, if someone brings in extra water and there is no charge for capital fees that slug of water is getting delivered via CVP but not paying for the infrastructure. So that’s something to consider.

Grower John Reiter said tying fixed expense to fixed assets is a good idea, meaning using land based fees to the fixed costs of debt service to the Bureau. Director Jim Anderson said putting an O&M cost to Mendota Pool water would be more fair. Reiter said something about Area Three land. It sounds like Westlands has at least three areas with three different methodologies to determine the fees. Grower Will Coit said the new room puts the public podium in a better position relative to the camera which places less emphasis on his bald spot. He also said there are landowners who are converting to solar and won’t be paying water based fees, a good point.

Grower Lindsay Cederquist said she is in favor of the land based charge. She said Kern County Water Agency has a transfer fee that could be used as a model and would cover water import costs. Director Justin Diener moved to set the 100 percent land. Febbo suggested adding to the motion a staff study with recommendations on how to deal with the outside water movement be presented next month. Staff agreed this is a doable approach and falls within the Bureau’s time deadline. Grower Sarah Woolf asked why Area Three would skinny out from a land based fee. She said she has land in Area Three that can get supplemental water but not a contract supply unless there is a 100 percent year.

Fortune said he thinks if there’s water for Area Three it should be charged but not the land if there is no water being moved there. Director Frank Coelho said it shouldn’t be made more complicated and a waste of staff time to come up with an even more involved partial fee structure. Businessman Erick Johnson called in saying having a consistent fee structure for landowners is the best way to budget for landowners. The board approved Diener’s motion with Coelho and Fortune voting no.

Next the board had to look at a revised salary schedule to meet California law. Ormonde said it would be revising a Band B to a Band C, if I heard correctly. There were no questions and the board approved.


Engineer Kiti Campbell gave a presentation on SGMA matters. She started by showing a map of the approximately 155 active recharge projects and how much surface water was applied for recharge. There was 130,000 a/f of recharge credits given. The goal of 200,000 acre feet of recharge in Westlands was met sometime last week. Bourdeau said he is very proud of the recharge accomplishments. I think Campbell said there will be more than 40,000 a/f additional recharge this month. There are both district and privately owned recharge projects in Westlands.

The Pasajero Groundwater Recharge project should be taking 30 cfs by the first quarter of 2024. The 13R-0.5 Recharge project is 40 acres with three cells, it’s recharging 10 a/f per day. The 11R-1,1.On1.0 Project is 40 acres and taking on water. There is another 10 acre recharge area in Kings County that has taken 27 a/f of recharge. There are some problems with water pooling on the south side of the project. Gutierrez said they are able to refurbish some ASR wells and measure the investment. WWD has some grant funding on subsurface soil composition and will soon have a study report from the data collected. One of the directors urged staff to get increased security on the wells and district facilities to prevent the copper thieves from taking Christmas present funds.

Metal theft, equipment theft, chemical and fuel theft are all on the rise. Law enforcement points to the passage of recent ballot measures reducing penalties and a lack of willingness by district attorneys in some parts of the state for the increase in crime.

Water Supply Development      

Freeman said WWD got 1.47 million a/f into the district this year and that could go up before the end of the year as recharge demands are increasing. The turnback pool is working and that is a good thing saving the growers and the district expenses.

Freeman said this year’s allocation increased from 30 percent to 100 percent in a very short time. This didn’t allow growers enough time to respond and there was more fallowing than there could have been had growers had more advanced notice. The 215 Water that came into the district allowed Westlands to get everyone as much water as they wanted. Diener said he fully supports staff action on recharge this year.

Freeman said San Luis Reservoir and carryover should do well if the Bureau can keep the Jones plant running. Assemi said working with the neighbors will help create certainty. Febbo said if it looks like a wet year get the water out of SLR and reduce the foregone pumping.

Diener said after the last meeting staff sent out a memo telling growers how much will be charged for rescheduling and when the rescheduled water has to be taken. He said he got calls about that. Gutierrez said the WWD and the USBR policies are different and not all water users have carryover. He said that notice is planned to be adjusted by grower per month. This notice was meant to get folks thinking about the subject so they don’t get caught short. Fortune said these notices are a good thing to keep growers informed. Assemi said the notice has to be carefully written or it looks like policy is being established by staff notices and that is the purview of the board. He wants the next notice to include more information.

Lateral Six Capital Improvement

Gutierrez said increased conveyance from the Mendota Pool to the Fresno Slough on Lateral Six (so it can wind up in the San Luis Canal) is a topic the board wanted more information about. It will cost more than $30 million to move 2,400 a/f if I understood. Gutierrez presented the board with many additional options. I must confess, I will have to go out there, see the lay of the land and have someone explain it to me in a simple way to fully grasp what was presented. One scenario of $64 million will bring another 18,000 a/f from the Mendota Pool if there is Kings River water coming into the pool. There are some grant opportunities to reduce flooding in disadvantaged communities along the routes that could be applied.

Diener said since staff is looking for direction he’d like to suggest putting some money in a feasibility study by a consultant to prepare the funding requests for shovel ready. Gutierrez was asked how much a consultant would cost – $700,000 for a design ready product. You could get a 30-percent design for less and that would most likely be eligible for grant funds.

One of the considerations is the land there is flat and slit build up will have to be dealt with. It’s also next to a wildlife refuge which can present other challenges. The board was enthusiastic about the project and directed staff to pursue things. Coit said he thinks this is the biggest bang for the buck he’s seen in a while.

Valley Clean Infrastructure Plan Report

Gutierrez updated the board on solar energy in the district saying all actions with Golden State Clean Energy is moving forward as agreed. The finalized landowner update is pending review and comments. He said GSCE has done everything they are supposed to do.

Assemi said he realizes staff is overworked and to please let the board know what is blocking things so the board can approve more help. He asked if the public scoping meeting will take place in January? Patrick Malloy, with Golden State said there will be a CEQA notice of preparation by an independent engineer. Assemi asked if anyone is looking at how the project will impact Westlands operation. Gutierrez said he doesn’t see any negative impacts. Malloy added Golden State will be providing what acreage is committed in the VCIP program. Assemi was pleased to hear this. Bourdeau asked what a post-approval agreement might be needed. Malloy said once CEQA is approved there may be an implementation agreement needed. It is more of a “just in case” space holder by attorneys included when they negotiated contracts.

Assemi added he’s excited about the possibility of lower power bills for Westlands growers. Malloy responded the Public Utilities Commission just granted PG&E a big rate increase and GSCE is very aware of the need to lower these power costs. California bureaucracy imposes more regulations on PG&E and then politicians make out like PG&E is greedy for asking for more money to meet its increased regulatory burden. Assemi said while Wheeler Ridge and Semitropic have saved energy costs by producing power in the district, that doesn’t guarantee Westlands will. He said put some turbines in the canals or something.

The Dam-est Thing

Freeman said the 130,000 acre foot expansion of the BF Sisk Dam breaks down to 70 percent of the storage going to San Luis Delta Mendota Water Authority with the USBR getting the rest. Westlands is currently signed up for 7,000 a/f of storage and there is another 6,000 a/f still available. There have been and will be cash calls and it’s going to be about $10 million per year. WWD will have to upchuck $700,000 next year. Bourdeau asked if this included the costs to move Highway 152 and it does.

The total estimate is $1 billion to complete this project. Half of that is moving the highway as it is in the way of the expanded portion of the dam. Freeman said the Bureau is looking at reducing the transportation portion costs. Fortune said he remembers when WWD put up the $100,000 to get involved there was an opt out with someone buying in to make up for what WWD paid. He said if there isn’t more money coming in, grants or what not he doesn’t want to wind up half pregnant like with the twin Delta tunnels.

Bourdeau said he’d like to see WWD lease out its portion to Met WD until their costs are paid off. Fortune agreed and Assemi asked if there has been word of the state getting involved in this project. I think no was the short answer. Febbo asked Freeman if there is any reimbursement to investors for planning dollars. Freeman asked Chuck Gardner who was online. Gardner said no, reimbursement for planning won’t be a part of this deal. He also doesn’t expect a cash call before March.

Director Jeremey Hughes said he doesn’t think this is affordable for ag land and he doesn’t want to move forward without a plan. He wants to kill it. Assemi said he would like to give Febbo some time to work out a negotiation. Fortune asked Freeman what the deadline is to bail out without incurring additional expenses. Freeman and Gardner felt things could go through January. Gardner said part of the results of the wet year was the Safety of Dams analysis was put off an extra six months. That has allowed for a delay of cash calls.

Fortune asked Gardner if Westlands bails will it stop the second 10-feet raise and Gardner said he expects Santa Clara Valley Water District will take the storage option. So the 20 foot-raise will go on. The board decided to have Febbo continue looking for opportunities including talking with Met WD.

Committee News  

The Finance & Administration Committee and the Solar Ad Hoc Committee are going to be the only two committees left. All else committee-wise has been dissolved. Workshops and tasks are going to be continued. Now, Febbo said this should be a short item but it wasn’t. Are there chairs or point persons on the board to deal with these workshops? Hughes said one of the things about getting shed of committees was illustrated by Pierce’s O&M meeting. He learned more about the district than he ever had. He said he wanted to be a director who knows all about the district and he likes the dissolution of committees.

The board seemed to want a new motion to clarify what the heck is going on. Diener made a motion to do away with all committees but F&A and an ad hoc solar committee. The board agreed with Assemi voting no. He wanted, I believe, more clarity on who could call a workshop. Let me know if I’m wrong. Also, please let me know why that wasn’t included in the motion.

There was no public comment but for me stating I hope the length of this meeting isn’t setting precedent. Chairman Fortune responded they dragged out the proceedings until the catered lunch showed up and since I’m on Zoom and basically there’s no gun to my head I didn’t have to tough it out. True but the dedication to the readers is paramount.

Closed Session

At 1:15pm Chairman Fortune called the meeting into closed session for 20 some odd items ranging from personnel to real estate to lawsuits. The meeting was already more than three hours long, can you imagine dealing with another 20 items – although I think many of them, at least the lawsuits – are place holders. Any who, that’s how it was at the first Westlands meeting in the new offices. Go be good to each other and yourselves. Happy Thanksgiving and God bless.

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Westlands Water DistrictWestlands 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 Febbo-General Manager, Jose Gutierrez-Lt. General Manager, Tomi Saghatelian- In House Council, 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