Documenter: Rachel Youdelman
Here’s what you need to know
The Root Creek District is on schedule to receive 1,250 acre-feet of water via the Madera Irrigation District as of June 21.
Well #276 has been purchased from the landowner, and the Root Creek District is now in the process of designing the conversion of the well from an agricultural well to one for drinking-water use. The Board approved a contract for the management of the construction.
The District engineer anticipates a continued struggle to meet water quality constituents under the discharge permit until the new treatment plant is completed.
The District’s legal counsel noted that several Covid-era state bills affecting water use and revenue were now being held in suspense file.
The District’s general manager noted that in the Governor’s recently released budget, there is funding for loss of revenue incurred under the governor’s Covid executive orders (eg, for residents’ non-payment of water bills).
Bond sales generated $8.4 million, funds to be used to purchase or construct facilities on behalf of the District.
The Root Creek GSA voted to authorize Julia Berry, as the District’s representative among a group of 6 other GSAs, to vote in favor of Root Creek not being financially responsible for mitigation of wells outside of the Root Creek district, at the sub-basin level.
A vote among the Madera County GSAs implemented a groundwater allocation program: lands irrigated in the last 5 years are eligible for water allocation. Range land and currently unirrigated land within the Madera County GSA will not be eligible for a groundwater allocation.
At the GSA portion of the meeting, the District general manager noted that the Governor’s budget provides substantial funding for groundwater sustainability projects, which will help fund mandates. (This information was not included in the agenda packet, per the general manager.)
A representative from the Department of Water Resources said that assessments for multi-GSP areas will be made at the sub-basin level rather than individually.
The meeting was conducted via Zoom. There were two back-to-back meetings of about half hour each; the first was the Root Creek Water District Board of Directors meeting, followed by the Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) meeting. General Manager Julia Berry noted that from July, in-person meetings would resume, though telephone access would be provided for public attendees. However, the resumption of two half hour meetings, separated by a lunch, may not be ideal for virtual attendees. It was a small group who appeared to know each other well and asked attendees with whom they were unfamiliar who they were and why they were there.
The following officials were present except as noted:
Nick Bruno, President
Jeffrey D. Coulthard, Vice President
Amber Mendoza, Treasurer
Toni Scarborough (absent)
Julia D. Berry, General Manager/Secretary
Mike Cuttone, Assistant Treasurer (absent)
Brian Ehlers, District Engineer
Lauren D. Layne, Legal Counsel
Also present were
Chris Montoya, Dept of Water Resources (DWR)
Agenda Item #1 Julia Berry called the meeting to order at 11:01AM.
Agenda Item #2 This agenda item specifically addresses the question of additional agenda items to be added on the spot. Julia asked Nick Bruno (presiding) if there were any additions to the agenda; Bruno replied that there were none. A memo on the agenda under this item notes: “(The Board may add an item to the agenda if, upon a two-thirds vote, the Board finds that there is a need for immediate action on the matter and the need came to the attention of the District after the posting of this Agenda.)” See question, below.
Agenda Item #3 Public comment—there was none.
Agenda Item #4 Potential conflicts of interest—there were none.
Agenda Item #5 Consent calendar. Approval of minutes from the May 10, 2021 meeting. NOTE: Minutes were not publicly posted. Julia Berry noted a few typographical errors requiring correction as well as an error regarding the number of gallons of water per day (though she did not mention source or context, noted in the minutes, but which were not made available to the public before the meeting); instead of “18,000 gallons per day” the correct number is “189,000 gallons per day.” With that, both items in the consent calendar were approved.
Agenda Item #6 Correspondence: none received.
Agenda Item #7 Committee Reports: Water Supply and Utilization Committee. Julia Berry reported that 1,250 acre-feet of water were exchanged with Friant (Central Valley Project) and the water will be delivered by the Madera Irrigation District (MID) starting June 21. The water will be diverted into the Root Creek District. To make this happen, building some infrastructure was necessary; an additional pipeline was connected so it can be used for recharge and so the water can be delivered in a time frame managed by MID. It should take about 4 to 6 weeks. The transfer has gone through from Shafter-Wasco Irrigation District (ID) to the MID. On schedule to receive the water.
Agenda Item #8 The only Board action item concerns a contract for well construction. The well in question is #276 at Riverstone Farms, noted Julia Berry. It produces 1,400 gallons per minute and has good water quality. The well has been purchased from the landowner and the Root Creek District is now in the process of designing the conversion of the well from an agricultural well to one for drinking-water use. Berry said that per the previous Board meeting (minutes not publicly available), Lyles Diversified of Fresno has been contracted to manage the construction, but a representative for the District will also be needed to assist in the management. Bids were taken, and Provost and Pritchard was chosen to perform this aspect of the work. The contract will specify that work is not to exceed $120K without further authorization. Brian Ehlers, district engineer, said that a pre-construction meeting with Lyles has taken place. Nick Bruno called for a motion to approve the contract terms. Lynn Hoffman moved to approve; Jeff Coulthard seconded. The motion carried with 6 votes.
Agenda Item #9 Engineer’s report: Noting that the report was not included in the agenda packet, Ehlers said that there were now 840 connections to the system. Over 18 million gallons of water were delivered in May 2021. A spike in wastewater over the Memorial Day holiday was reported. A struggle to meet water quality constituents under the discharge permit was noted, and Ehlers said he anticipated continuation of this struggle until the new treatment plant is completed.
Agenda Item #10 Legal Counsel report: Lauren Layne provided some updates on legislation. Layne explained that last year the District adopted a water shut-off policy pursuant to SB998 https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billTextClient.xhtml?bill_id=201720180SB998, then SB223 https://leginfo.legislature.ca.gov/faces/billNavClient.xhtml?bill_id=202120220SB223 was passed which further restricts what the District can or can’t do regarding shutting off residential water. Covid “hit” when the law was about to go into effect, and there were further restrictions per Governor Newsom’s orders. She said that as a member of the Association of California Water Agencies (ACWA), they opposed SB223 because they had not had a chance to implement SB998. She was “happy to report” that SB223 has now been held on a suspense file and will not be moving forward this year. She also mentioned that AB377, the aim of which is to make all water “swimmable, drinkable, and fishable” is now also held on a suspense file. The District joined ACWA in writing a letter of opposition to the bill. She called this event “another good one.” The Governor’s budget has been released, and it contains funding per the Sustainable Groundwater Management Act as well as for drinking-water projects. Additionally, there is funding for loss of revenue incurred under the governor’s Covid executive orders (eg, for residents’ non-payment of water bills).
Agenda Item #11 General Manager’s Report: Julia Berry reports every month about how many building permits are pulled for the Riverstone development, and last month there were a total of 39. Home sales are happening, so she expects about 40 permits per month, hence supplying water to these homes is a priority for development. Next she reported that the Board will be able to meet in person again at the Lodge at Riverstone starting in July but that she expects to maintain the means for members of the public to phone or Zoom in. Next, she reiterated that the water mentioned earlier would be delivered but she will work with an employee of Wonderful to coordinate the initial delivery on 21 June. She did not elaborate on the significance of Wonderful’s involvement in the matter. She also noted that there was a successful sale of bond funds. There were 80 bidders, and $8.4 million was generated for the district, money which can be used only to purchase or construct facilities on behalf of the District. The bonding, she emphasized, is done through the Community Facilities District (CFD) and it benefits only the acreages in the CFD, which is the municipal and commercial development; they are the only ones who pay toward those bonds. She noted that the legal agreement for the purchase of well #276 was being drafted by the District’s counsel who is also working on agreements for purchasing facilities currently being leased, made possible by funds from bond sales and permit fees.
A contract was executed with a vendor last month to review rates for homeowners & development connection fees; a report is expected.
Adjournment at 11:22AM; Groundwater Sustainability Agency (GSA) meeting opened (same attendees)
Agenda Item #1 Nick Bruno called the meeting to order.
Agenda Item #2 Bruno asked if there were any additions to the agenda.
Agenda Item #3 Public comment: none.
Agenda Item #4 Potential conflicts of interest: none.
Agenda Item #5 Approval of minutes from 15 Jan and 8 Mar 2021; these were not available publicly. Passed unanimously.
Agenda Item #6 Correspondence: none, per Julia Berry.
Agenda Item #7 General Manager’s Report: Re the Madera sub-basin, a coordination agreement was negotiated with 6 other GSAs with help from counselor Layne. A Coordination Committee was created as a result, as was a provision for creating ad hoc committees which can make recommendations to the Coordination group. Julia Berry is the District’s representative on the Coordination Committee, and she sits on the Technical Advisory ad hoc committee. The Committee has discussed cost-sharing for their data management system, which is grant-funded. They have also talked about how they will monitor groundwater levels throughout the sub-basin; coordination in this area is important to ensure that everything is done at the same time, Berry said. She is confident that these efforts will be consistent, as they have already been monitoring and reporting on key issues for some time.
A new topic: several areas in the sub-basin boundary have disadvantaged communities, though Root Creek does not; domestic well mitigation is an area of concern. These wells are private, rural, residential wells, not municipal wells within the Root Creek Riverstone system. There are six residential wells in Root Creek, a few on homesteads, others serve commercial property. Root Creek has mostly farming wells rather than rural residential wells. The sub-basin entails 330K acres; the Root Creek GSA is relatively small at is 9,550 acres, Berry noted. Root Creek’s historical data goes back to the 1970s, so they are well prepared for SGMA. Berry asked the Board for guidance re the suggestion from the ad hoc committee that there be cost-sharing at the sub-basin level for mitigating rural residential wells. Berry said that other GSAs had not determined their positions on this subject though it has been discussed for several months and asked the Board to consider what their official position is on the subject. Some of the larger GSAs would like the other GSAs to help fund well mitigation within their boundaries. Berry spoke with Amanda Peisch-Derby, a staff person at DWR about the six residential wells, mentioning that Root Creek is willing to mitigate wells within their boundary, but that it is difficult to manage those in other GSAs since they are not partnering with other Groundwater Sustainability Plans (GSPs). A proposal from the ad hoc committee is for assigning responsibility for mitigation (replacement, etc) based on the sub-basin water budget. Root Creek wrote its own GSP because they were not in agreement with the sub-basin’s calculation of the water budget as a whole. Root Creek had no input into how the other GSAs determined their undesirable outcomes, etc; therefore, as Berry learned via Peisch-Derby, there is no requirement for Root Creek to participate at the sub-basin level to mitigate the drying of wells outside of their boundary. Hence the recommendation is to not participate in a program at this level, but that Root Creek is responsible for any undesirable results within its own boundary. Chris Montoya from DWR was in general agreement though he could not commit to anything which was not yet in writing. He explained that the Root Creek GSA has its own GSP so he did not see a reason why Root Creek should participate in another GSA’s program. Berry said that as the District was already spending millions annually to import surface water, the cost of such participation could be especially burdensome. Other GSAs don’t have a good well inventory (they don’t know how many wells there are), so the cost could be unknown and that by importing so much water, the District is doing their part proactively to keep wells healthy. Lauren Layne emphasized that the District is participating in the data-management sharing with other GSAs and that if other GSAs applied for grant funding, Root Creek would gladly send letters of support. Berry noted that the District has partnered with other GSAs in grant-funded projects of the recent past.
Berry asked for a general-consensus recommendation or a motion from the Board: should Root Creek help pay for drying wells outside of the Root Creek boundary or concentrate on wells within the District only? A motion was introduced to authorize Berry to vote (with other GSAs) in favor of Root Creek not being financially responsible for mitigation of wells outside of the Root Creek district, at the sub-basin level. The motion carried.
Berry brought to the attention of the Board a pivotal vote among the Madera County GSAs which implemented a groundwater allocation program; lands irrigated in the last 5 years are eligible for water allocation. Range land and not currently irrigated land within the Madera County GSA will not be eligible for a groundwater allocation. Layne confirmed that owners of never-irrigated land in Madera County can continue to use groundwater for ranching and domestic purposes and use surface water for farming. They will not be able to transfer credits.
Berry mentioned that the Governor’s budget was released and that it provides substantial funding for groundwater sustainability projects, which will help fund mandates. (This information was not included in the Board agenda packet, per Berry.)
Montoya said that the DWR had released and approved 2 assessments of GSPs, both from the central coast. It also released consultation letters regarding 2 other jurisdictions, asking for corrective actions. These represented the first assessments and consultations over a 2-year period. He noted that the Madera sub-basin has 4 GSPs and will represent the last of the assessment and/or consultation letters of the period. Assessments for multi-GSP areas will be at the sub-basin level rather than individually, he said. On 24 June, DWR will hold a Q & A session per an email sent to all relevant GSAs.
Nick Bruno adjourned the meeting at 11:43AM.