The Westlands Water District’s board of directors met on Tuesday, September 19, 2017 at its Fresno headquarters. There was an unusually big number of folks from the press. Reporters from the Los Angeles Times, Associated Press, McClatchy News and I’m not sure who else were present at the smallish WWD board room. I’m not sure but I don’t think they attending to watch the board as it performed its duties as the equalization board for the new special benefit assessment. Or, item 7 a., a resolution authorizing the filing of a statutory and categorical exemption from CEQA dealing with a contract with the US Bureau of Reclamation for Central Valley Project water. I don’t think it even has anything to do with the accounts receivable report. I’m pretty sure the interest is focused on Item 9 – Consider Participating in the California Water Fix. I’ve not heard which way the wind is blowing on this one. Long time readers, at least those of you receiving these reports since last month, will recall a workshop held at Harris Ranch Inn on the topic of the twin tunnels. Chuck Gardner is the leader of the Hallmark Group. He is also the designated bull goose on the Twin Tunnels. He’s here today too. Even Lloyd Carter was present. Although the word selenium was nowhere on the agenda. There was also a good deal of folks in the overflow room.
Chairman Don Peracchi called the meeting to order at 1:00pm. The meeting started as the Board of Equalization and the proposed assessment rates were heard. There were no comments sent into the district and that makes things easier and no one present commented either. The board followed staff recommendations and the rates and times due were approved.
Peracchi asked to move item 9 to the front. General Manger Tom Birmingham explained this is the board’s opportunity to enter the Water Fix, or not. You may want to double check the figures and statements I present here. Birmingham listed the matters that have been consistently reducing Westlands ability to receive its contracted water supplies from the Central Valley Project. He said the cost in 2014 dollars to build the twin tunnels is more than $20 billion. This will be split between the State Water Project and certain CVP contractors. The estimated range of water through the tunnels runs from 3.5 million a/f to 5.8 million a/f. If I heard correctly. That can’t be narrowed down due to the variables of enviro regulations and just plain old weather. The existing biops and proposed biops for the future are at play as well. It has been determined the tunnels won’t harm the endangered species swimming around the Delta. WWD has held seminars about the costs and construction of the twin tunnels. Goldman Sachs says the $15.7 billion dollars will cost $999 million in interest and could cost between under $173 extra per a/f to $990 per a/f depending on who buys in. One benefit would be the almost total elimination of channel loss from the Sacramento Delta to the federal pumps.
There are several parts to an agreement. Birmingham recalled former Governor Grey Davis and then Secretary of Interior Bruce Babbitt saying the Frame Work for Action would increase the reliable south of the Delta ag contractors to 65-70 percent of reliability. That didn’t happen. However, the CWF is supposed to help correct the disproportional lack of supplies referred to by Davis and Babbitt. USBR Regional Director David Murillo recently wrote a letter saying reliable water deliveries through the San Joaquin Sacramento Delta is paramount to the CVP and the SWP. Murillo wrote the CWF will help with the fish in the Delta’s supply. Birmingham said the CWF’s mission might be better said to “restore” water supplies. The Bureau is proposing a plan for individual CVP contractors to participate in the CWF. Birmingham was critical of this, believing the Bureau should participate in CWF. An earlier version of this letter stated the participating contractors would be the only ones benefitting from the extra twin tunnel water. The way it looks now participating CVP contractors would not be the only ones to benefit from this water. Birmingham said he doesn’t see how a district like Westlands can pay for the CWF but others who opted out could benefit. Director Sarah Woolf asked if WWD participated would it be allowed to take more water if the capacity were available. Birmingham said that would require more information from Murillo whose letters have become more and more vague – except for the Bureau’s unwillingness to participate in the CWF.
Birmingham said the only way WWD could participate would be for Reclamation to set a rate policy consistent with past practices. He drew a chart on the wall showing the CVP facilities from Shasta to SLR. He said the Bureau figures in all the capital and O&M costs of the facilities and divides that between the 2.1 million a/f generated by the facilities. Now, the Bureau doesn’t want to include the incremental water supply created by CWF. If the extra water were spread out over the CVP it would cost $173 a/f. If it’s only spread out between those CVP contractors participating the cost jumps to $990 a/f. This doesn’t include other possible costs. Director William Bourdeau said it sounds like a deal breaker within uncertainties within deal breaking uncertainties. Well, he said something close to that. Woolf said it sounds like the Bureau has concluded it can meet its obligations to the Exchange Contractors and the wildlife refuges without the CWF. Birmingham said that is true because the Bureau relies on Cal Sims modeling which doesn’t always jive with the real world. As proven in 2014, 2015 and 2016. Birmingham also pointed out the Bureau’s obligations extend beyond just the Ex Con and the wetlands. He said the CWF water, if I understood correctly, would help reduce the amount of salts coming into the Valley.
Director Todd Neves said staff has been busting it to get an understanding of the CWF and the target keeps moving. He didn’t think even if all the CVP participated this would work. He said Governor Jerry Brown and his gang needs to figure out something that works. Neves said he appreciated all the hard work WWD staff has done but it needs to stop. Birmingham said the state has been working to find a solution but without the Bureau’s and the Department of Interior’s participation it may be more than the state can do. I wonder if there’s anyone from the Bureau here. I don’t see anyone. I hate to think they’d send Michael LeBarre here in a bomb suit.
Birmingham said there is a chance the costs of the CWF could be less than some of the not so outside estimates of $40 billion or so and maybe even less than the $20 billion. Director Dan Errotabere asked Gardner if that’s possible. Gardner said everyone has bent over backwards to provide very conservative estimates, it could be $15 billion or even less. Neves said why would Westlands encourage the other contractors to go along with spending billions of dollars for something that isn’t sure. Boudreaux put it something like this – we’re talking about spending billions of dollars for an uncertain amount of water, maybe at best another million a/f while 43 million a/f flowed out to sea under the Golden Gate. Woolf said she doesn’t think there is enough information to make a decision at this time. Birmingham said she may never have enough information. She said a month ago she was told DWR and the Bureau were going to reach some agreement and that didn’t happen. Director Larry Enos said he does believe the construction costs could be kept closer to $15 billion. He’s fairly comfortable with this but the question is how much water would be certain. He said when the bonds come due it’s certain they’ll have to be paid. Birmingham said the Bureau won’t be harmed if the water doesn’t get delivered or the fish don’t come back. He said the Bureau isn’t in a place to have to make a decision. Woolf said she doesn’t want to make that decision for them or obligate Westlands growers to take on this additional debt without certainty of supplies. Birmingham said if one waits for the Bureau one will never see a completed project. Neves said he came to today’s meeting ready to vote on what Gov. Brown has proposed and with the facts on hand the vote is no. Errotabere said the last letter from Murillo casts even more uncertainty.
Birmingham and staff have invested in this project – trying to find a way to make things work. So he said he believes if WWD votes no today the CWF will die. Enos said he agreed with Neves. If the CWF dies it dies because it didn’t have what was needed. They need to come back with something better. Errotabere said the CWF is too expensive for ag, it is urban costs and even then. The system as it is, is broken and this isn’t the fix. Boudreaux said the best investment will help the SJV grow safe food.
The lady from Save the Delta said the twin tunnels won’t help the water supply and it isn’t going to help the environment. She said there are better ways to make this work. Neves asked her to please keep an open mind. Westlands growers are not greedy corporate farmers trying to take others’ water. A WWD grower reminded folks the Bureau is already in trouble with the courts over drainage. He said for half the price put in Temperance Flat. Charles Meyer, a grower from Stratford said he has an idea that’s a fraction of the costs of the twin tunnels. He said salt intrusion in the Delta made worse by the tunnels. He has an idea for the Carquinez Straights that won’t harm fish, shipping or Delta heath.
In summary Birmingham said he doesn’t see any further info coming forth. He reiterated his belief that if WWD turns down the CWF it will die. Director Frank Coelho said he wants WWD to call out the Bureau on this. He said the load from this and SGMA and other stressors is too heavy. He wants to defer the vote and Peracchi agreed to that. Woolf said it would be good to know what SGMA and drainage will cost before jumping in. Neves said since the Governor wants a vote today, give him one and let him the feds on board. Birmingham asked Gardner about this. Gardner said the Governor made some concessions in order to get a vote today. Metropolitan WD has put off a vote to next month as has Santa Clara Valley WD. Kern County WA will vote later this month. Neves said it won’t be WWD that kills this. Woolf and Peracchi said they are uncomfortable with saying no should that exclude them from any future involvement that could benefit the district. The motion was made to vote no on the current version of CWF as presented. There was an effort to wordsmith this motion to show the board is opposed to additional conveyance, just this deal doesn’t work. Birmingham said he thinks everyone should be aware conveyance will continue to be a problem and as time goes on any solution in the future will become more expensive. Just the passage of time has added billions to the CWF as it. Staff asked if the board was to vote no because of the costs or the certainty of supplies or amount of water to be generated and she was told yes. Staff attorney Phil Williams said he once was given an order while serving in the military overseas and he had to tell that person he did not recognize that man’s authority to order him and his men. He cautioned the board to be very careful about those without the authority making the calls.
The vote was called. Director Gary Esajian was absent and everyone but Peracchi the only no vote. Now, a no vote meant Westlands would stay in the CWF. Let me be clear – Westlands voted to not participate in the California Water Fix. The meeting took a break.
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ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. Copyright 2017 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, Phil Williams-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 www.wwd.ca.gov