The Friant Water Authority met at the World Ag Expo facility in Tulare on Thursday, March 1, 2018. Chairman Kent Stephens called the meeting to order at 9:00 am. It’s been raining and there has been a decent snow fall, as far as I could tell looking to the east, and as usual when it’s wet outside it’s more happy inside. Director Cliff Loeffler led us in a prayer of thanks for the rain and asked the Lord to bring wisdom to the decisions made today. It was a good start.
Attorney Don Davis asked the board to move an agenda item up. Fresno Irrigation District’s membership was moved up so they could vote. They were unanimously approved by the other members. The FID delegation was late so they had to be informed of the voting result. Their excuse was limited parking and that rang true with me. There is a lot of parking at the World Ag but it’s a long ways away from the building. Anyway, FID is now officially once again a member of Friant.
The minutes were approved and despite there being more than a dozen members of the public sitting in the back there was no public comment. Loeffler gave the treasurer’s report and that went well.
Doug DeFlitch, Chief Operating Officer gave his report and the big story of the day is Friant taking over title to the Friant Kern Canal from the US Bureau of Reclamation. And this is a big deal. Not everyone who takes water from the FKC is a member of FWA. So a letter will be sent to everyone who does draw water from the canal in order to be sure there isn’t a hidden time bomb out there. DeFlitch gave a quick update on the pump back project and that is moving forward. The other big story is the capacity lose on the FKC. Due to subsidence the canal has sunk and that greatly limits the volume of water that can flow down the canal. DeFlitch introduced Alan Stroppini as a consultant on this matter. Stroppini is a retired Bureau engineer with a great deal of experience on the FKC. Before DeFlitch sat down it was mentioned by General Manager Jason Phillips that DeFlitch and his wife had a baby girl about a month ago. Congratulations. Stephens remarked that real men go to work with or without sleep. Evidently Stephens has had his share of babies. It was a sweet moment.
Phillips is also a former USBR G-Man and worked with Stroppini and expressed confidence in him. Stroppini spoke to the board. He gave his history and if I understand correctly he’s ended up in Reno which no doubt improves his tax liability situation but creates a hell of a morning commute to Friant HQ in Lindsay.
Stroppini gave a history of what is happening on the canal. One of the first considerations is the bridges located in the worst portion of the subsidence. He said the bridges are still sound and can withstand a 2,200 cfs of downstream flow, although that amount of flow will inundate the road surface of the bridge. Also the canal lining will have to be raised. The engineering firm of Stantec recommended replacing the 70-year old bridges owned by Tulare County. This could cost $10 million and only improve the flow to 1,900 cfs or so.
Raising the lining was last completed several years ago. Raising it even more will raise some technical problems with the canal banks. This will cost up to $50 million and take up to seven years to complete. The flow will be increase to 2,500 to 3,500 cfs. But this could require an new Environmental Impact Report and future subsidence could still impact the canal. Another option came about from a recent discussion – a pumping plant on a parcel of land owned by the Bureau. This is a $100 million project that will take three to four years to build. It’s possible there could be an EIS required and adds long term O&M. This option will be adaptable to further subsidence.
These three options leave the board with some decisions about capacity and financing. What’s the economic value? Will this impact the title transfer? Will the ballot in November pass? (There is a water proposition that appears to be eligible for inclusion on November’s ballot. It’s commonly referred to as the Meral Initiative after Dr. Jerry Meral and includes $750 million for FKC repairs.) With SGMA sucking the air out of the Valley there is a great concern about capacity. It is possible to even dig a new canal to ensure deliveries. Stephens asked Senator Diane Feinstein’s Field Rep Shelly Abajian if there might be a way to get a legislative fix to the EIR requirements. Ms. Abajian wasn’t prepared to answer that question for her boss. Director Edwin Camp, Arvin Edison WSD asked Stroppini when the earliest chance to get boots on the ground will be. Stroppini said if the bond passes Friant will have much more room to make a decision. However, he believes there is time to prepare much of the preliminary work needed in environmental, Geotech and other areas such as scheduling to coincide with funding in December. Stephens said he and others will work very hard to be sure the bond money is there but to proceed with the idea the bond fails. Worry about the financing sure, but proceed with the best possible fix. Orange Cove ID GM Fergus Morrissey brought up a point about impacts upstream of the pumping plant, should that be a viable option. Loeffler expressed his appreciation to Stroppini.
Phillips said there is an elephant in the room. FID has concerns about funding the conveyance correction costs as a beneficiary pays only. Phillips spoke with FID GM Gary Serrato about the extraordinary repairs before FID joined. Phillips is gathering facts and said no one will come to the FWA meeting and be surprised to find a $50 million budget item. He recommended forming an ad hoc committee to sit down and discuss how this will be dealt with. Camp said while he understands the need for these discussions he doesn’t want to see it slow the repairs. Phillips agreed this is a sensitive matter. He also asked the managers to keep close to Stroppini and DeFlitch about plans. He also added Stroppini is under a temporary contract already authorized.
The next item was the water policy report and Friant’s man Jeff Payne teamed with Phillips to give the report. Phillips said everyone is working towards building Temperance Flat Dam. If you read these reports or check with www.waterwrights.net and you’ll know what is happening with the California Water Commission’s scoring. Phillips said the group supporting the Sites Dam project has formed an investment group that could provide some guidelines of how to form a Temp Flat group of federal water contractors. Friant has some views on how to operate Temp Flat that may not go hand in hand with the strings that would be attached with certain types of government funding. A new dam at Temp Flat is a very big deal impacting the entire San Joaquin Valley. There are interests on the west side and Phillips want direction from the board to continue discussions. Director Kole Upton, Chowchilla WD expressed his desire the concept that water from Temp Flat benefit the Friant contractors first and then work with the other interests. Sean Geivet, GM Terra Bella ID said the San Joaquin River is managed different than most rivers in the Valley. There is no water master, the Bureau manages the river. He said he wants to see how the SJR will be managed and how contracts will be protected before the governance is settled. Phillips said he and others have given thoughts to this and he agrees a water master at Temp Flat may be a good place to start. The Bureau will have to step up with agreements as well. Phillips said there is chance that in a few months there will be early funds available for Temp Flat. Phillips said he’s not looking to form a JPA but rather how to form a JPA that represents all of the Valley. Geivet said Friant has to develop a plan to negotiate from. Stephens said the theme is Temp Flat will operate as if it was below Friant Dam to ensure the current protections to Friant Division contractors. Director Tim Orman, City of Fresno said he wants to see the benefits identified first and he recommended including the San Joaquin Valley Water Infrastructure JPA in discussions as they have some of the needed entities in place. Upton said operating Temp Flat as a SGMA back up Valley wide first isn’t something he can support. He’s more than willing to share Friant water when there is excess but not set up the new dam to give away Friant water already contracted. He said Phillips should find out if these other entities are willing to join the MOU without changing the rules and bring things back to the board. There was a motion passed but I wasn’t clever enough to keep up but the SJVWI will be included in future negotiations.
Payne finally got to speak and reported the six districts below the choked point on the canal can expect a very low, Class II delivery and if things get worse the Class I supplies could be impacted. There is a storm and the NASA snow flight over the Sierra Nevada and the SJR watershed should help the Bureau bump up the allocation. The Bureau is looking for 50 and 100 percent Class I scheduling from Friant contractors. The Exchange Contractors is expected to receive a 100 percent allocation from north of the Delta sources. This is good news as it should prevent the Bureau from making a call on Friant water. Payne said there’s an email report available on the FWA water resources web page. He’d like to see people sign up.
Next Rufino Gonzales from the Bureau gave his report saying the prediction for this storm is five to six feet of snow and with another system coming in next week. He said it will take two weeks or so for the new data to be included in the allocations. He hopes for more rain in April and May.
Alex Biering, Friant’s Government Affairs & Communication specialist gave her report saying she’ll be brief. We’ll see. She reported Phillips gave testimony to the Congress about the “State of Water Infrastructure” in the US. There have been a number of meetings with state and fed legislators about the FKC subsidence issues and the water bond. On a bright note many of the bills have died and are no longer a threat. There is a flurry of “place holder” bills in Sacramento being introduced because tomorrow is the last day to introduce bills. These bills have no content. They are literally place holders with a legislator planning on putting language in the bill sometime in the future. She also reported the signature drive for the Meral Bond (known formally as the Water Supply and Water Quality Act of 2018) has gone very well as have endorsements for the bond.
FWA General Counsel Don Davis reported that statements of economic interest from the directors are due by April 1st. He requested reviews of by-laws by the home boards need to be completed soon. Davis talked about the ever fascinating topic of committee policy. He said staff was instructed at the Executive Committee to develop draft committee policy to come before the board for approval. Phillips said when the O&M Committee charter is updated remember a proposal was sent to non-FWA members who pay into the budget about being involved in the O&M discussion and decisions made. The proposal as it is now is to add two seats to the O&M Committee for the non-FWA members making it a committee of seven. Phillips said he received a letter from Lower Tule ID GM Eric Limas asking for more equitable representation by increasing the number of non-FWA seats to seven if my math is correct. There was not an argument made to allow the voting structure to change. I don’t directly write about this much but there is friction between FWA and the South Valley Water Association. But I have hopes this will become less and less until it’s resolved. It appears to me there is some common ground being realized.
Phillips gave his report saying the CFO position has been advertised and there are some good candidates. He expects a hire by this time next month. He attended the Family Farm Alliance Conference in Reno. It was well attended and the presenters were interesting. While there he spoke with the new Commissioner of Reclamation and felt they share the mission priority of delivering water to contractors. There are so many other responsibilities pulling at the Bureau it is important to remind the team of the priority. The new Commissioner wants more storage and asked him what could be done to help the FKC. Funding to continue FKC repair has been requested by the Bureau. Phillips said Fresno native Austin Ewell, now working at the Department of Interior is sharp and extremely helpful. He said Ewell may look young but do not underestimate him. Phillips said staff gets to meet with directors at meetings and committees but there are opportunities when many things can get accomplished at other places. Like the March 27th annual meeting in Fresno. He urged everyone to RSVP. He will be addressing the water supply deficit in the San Joaquin Valley. He’s not trying to downplay the success of the WINN Act and other efforts are great but there is still a million a/f per year of overdraft. He said he’s trying to find a positive end to the presentation. That’s not easy find to when the SJV is sustained by the Delta. On May 9th at the ACWA conference FWA will have an open house at its Sacramento offices and a dinner. One November 26th-28th there will be a Washington DC trip and managers are encouraged to come along. Friant is working on legislation to help with the situation in the Delta and the last trip to DC was to test the waters. He said the water in one of the Senator’s office (ok it was Feinstein) more than warm and was downright hot. He said the lines of communication were opened although the goal of bipartisan support wasn’t reached. However, the repairs on the FKC were agreed upon. Director Eric Borba was also in Washington and he said he’s hopeful. The meeting then went to lunch and closed session.
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FRIANT WATER AUTHORITY
The Friant Water Authority is a Joint Powers Agreement with 11 districts to operate and maintain the Friant Division of the Central Valley Project. Water from the San Joaquin River is diverted at Friant Dam at Millerton Lake to the Madera/Chowchilla Canal to the north and the Friant/Kern Canal to the south. More than one million acres of mostly family farms and numerous communities get their surface supplies from the Friant Division. Staff: CEO Jason Phillips, COO Doug DeFlitch, Superintendent Chris Hickernell and Attorney Don Davis.