The Westlands Water District held its board of directors meeting at its Fresno headquarters and on Zoom Tuesday, September 20, 2022. COO Jose Gutiérrez had some floor plans to the new headquarters (the old Provost & Pritchard headquarters up in Pinedale) and it looks like the new boardroom will be far more spacious and hopefully have a plethora of power plugs. Currently one has to sit in the back corner by the coffee maker to get a plug. Unfortunately by the time the board meeting begins the coffee has acquired an aged quality. But that’s OK the aroma keeps you awake.
Chairman Ryan Ferguson called the order at 1:00pm. General Manager Tom Birmingham wasn’t present. Evidently he wasn’t feeling well and stepped out of the meeting. However he was on the phone. We hope he’s feeling better. Attorney Jon Ruben stepped up and took Birmingham’s place. Also Director Kevin Assemi was absent and we all hope he’s OK as well.
Russ Freeman, Deputy GM started the water supply report saying year to date there was more than 122,000 a/f used. August estimates were only 500 a/f higher than expected. There may be more transfers from north of Delta but they are most likely going to be small. There is one coming in this week from El Dorado. The North Yuba Water transfer will be shelved until next year and the price is $1,500 a/f for 5,100 a/f. There has been more than 18,000 a/f of supplemental supply staff has been able squeeze from a stone.
Tom Boardman, District Water Consultant said with only 10 days left in the water year he’s expecting 1.5 million a/f carryover at Shasta. It’s low but compared to last year’s 1.1 million, that’s a better deal. There could be up to four million a/f in Shasta if there’s a normal or better year. He said that’s an unimpaired inflow of four million a/f. Since 1922, 70 of the past 100-years there have been four million inflow. Using a 30-year probability there is better than a 50/50 chance to avoid a critical year at Shasta. Of course there is that pesky La Nina for the third year in a row, if predictions are accurate.
Boardman said Folsom Reservoir should have a 25 percent carryover. I think Folsom has around one million a/f of maximum storage. The US Bureau of Reclamation is owed about 10,000 a/f from DWR under the COA. This doesn’t include the 60,000 a/f of releases from New Melones but Boardman sounded like that could be repaid by the end of the year.
Ruben reported to expect a biological opinion re-consultation this year and next. Depending on who you ask this is Orwellian political theater. Obviously President Donald Trump wasn’t popular with California’s majority political party and it looks like redoing the re-consultation is based on emotion as opposed to science. Am I wrong? Maybe, but I won’t know unless you show me.
Public Outreach & Stuff
Public Information Officer Elizabeth Jonasson reported on the Westlands’ 70th Anniversary celebration.
Gutierez reported on the new HQ and said the move could be taken as soon as first quarter of the new year. There will also be a new Ad Hoc committee to oversee the new building and remodeling taking place. And the plans indicate the new boardroom will be about twice the size of this one, hallelujah.
Birmingham asked Ruben to report on the recent ruling against the State Water Resources Control Board. Ruben said the State Board tried to exercise authority to curtail pre-1914 water rights. The court said no, the State Board’s authority doesn’t extend that far. Birmingham said the State Board has conducted itself in the past as if it had authority over pre-1914 water rights and that limited the deliveries of unimpaired flows to Sacramento Valley pre-1914 rights holders. He said as Ruben pointed out that could booger up Westlands and other South of Delta transfers amongst other problems like bureaucratic overreach.
Operations & Maintenance Superintendent Bill Pierce reported on O&M saying the groundwater metering is running slower than hoped with 245 locations left to be metered. Director Frank Coelho asked what can be done about this. Pierce said improved communication between field staff and clients. He said they’ve set a deadline to install a minimum of 16-meters per week between now and the end of the year. Director Jim Anderson asked if the Westlands GSA can include notice you can’t run your wells after March 2023 without a meter. Engineer Kiti Campbell said there is a provision in the GSP that states something to that effect. That information will be relayed to growers.
The board was asked to consider an agreement for professional services with Bicker, Castillo & Fairbanks of Sacramento for public affairs and communications support. Anderson is the committee chair and he voted no, reasoning that he wanted to hear from Shelly Cartwright first. Cartwright wasn’t available today as she was speaking at Columbia University about California Agriculture including Westlands and its impact on the United States. Birmingham said Westlands used to use Mercury Communications but many people who used to work there quit and it’s time to move on. He said a trusted former Mercury employee highly recommended BC&F. They are not lobbyist but they have good communication channels with political folks in Sacramento and Washington DC. Brandon Castillo spoke by Zoom saying it has experience with water and ag and controversy. Birmingham added there was a lengthy discussion about the line between advocacy and education. He said this firm has a very clear view of the restrictions of advocacy for public agencies and the appropriate education.
Director William Bourdeau said this is a significant investment and he wants to see a plan before he agrees. It is $20,000 a month until at least the end of February. The vote was close, four to three and the new firm will start working for Westlands.
Campbell gave the board an update on the Westside Subbasin GSA saying there was a comment on the GSP from the Leadership Council asking for better well monitoring. Another group of NGOs sent a letter to all the GSPs asking for better outreach.
Director Larry Fortune asked about Cantua Creek and Campbell said that community is receiving surface water from Fresno County. Water quality treatment is included in the O&M rate. Cantua Creek is drilling wells as that should be cheaper than treating the water.
Birmingham said he hopes to see some regulatory relief from Governor Gavin Newsom for SGMA implementation considering this is the fourth year of drought. He said Westlands, DWR, USBR, the State Board and fishy folks are working together. Coelho asked if there are any other GSAs participating and Birmingham said no but he has not been representing the GSA, rather WWD.
Grower Will Coit thanked Birmingham for those efforts. He also thanked the board and staff for their help in finding answers to questions. Grower Sarah Woolf asked if Westlands sells the water Fresno County sells to Cantua Creek. Bobbi Ormonde said Westlands does sell water to Fresno County but is not involved in treatment or anything else. Birmingham said Westlands is looking for water treatment that can be online to provide supplies to some of the westside communities. The board also authorized modifying the subsidence boundaries within the GSA. I believe about 2,000 or so acres will be removed. There is nothing shady about this. Previously the subsidence boundaries ran almost willy-nilly with some parcels having small – like three acres in the corner of a field – included. The board approved cleaning up the lines so parcels are kept whole.
Ormonde reported the refunds for excess revenues for the groundwater program. Growers getting money back. That’s about all I got from the Finance & Administration Committee.
Public Comment & Closed Session
There were more than 20 closed session items and the meeting went into closed session at 2:18pm. There was some talk during the closed session about the district purchasing land and many of the items dealt with lawsuits, the usual. Go be good to each other.
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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 and Bill Pierce Director of O&M
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