Friant-Kern Canal operation transferred to new authority

Operation and maintenance of the Central Valley Project's Friant-Kern Canal has been handed over to the newly formed Friant Water Authority (FWA).

Transfer of the canal to the FWA from the Friant Water Users Authority (FWUA) took effect on July 1 and was announced on July 7.

Directors of the two entities approved the transfer during a special meeting held June 30 in Visalia. FWA directors voted 20-0 and FWUA directors voted 20-3. U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Regional Director Kirk C. Rodgers approved the transfer documents on behalf of the Interior Department.

Under the agreement, all FWUA staff members have become employees of the new Authority. They in turn will provide exactly the same staff services to the FWUA's remaining activities and interests as in the past but on a consulting basis. However, the FWUA's board members will continue to be that agency's policy makers and will meet regularly. The two boards have been noticing their meetings jointly at the canal's headquarters in Lindsay.

The FWA was created earlier this year as a result of disagreement among a majority of FWUA member districts and the Madera Irrigation District (MID), primarily involving the voting provisions under the FWUA joint powers agreement. The new agency has a joint powers agreement with voting provisions identical to those rejected by MID for what had been proposed for the FWUA last year. Because amending the FWUA agreement requires unanimous consent, the MID opposition vetoed an overhaul of the agreement's provisions that had been framed and discussed throughout several months.

All but two of the 22 FWUA member agencies are also members of the new FWA. The 20 members of the FWA are all served from the Friant-Kern Canal, the 152-mile facility that conveys Central Valley Project water from Friant Dam northeast of Fresno to the Kern River in Bakersfield. Orange Cove Irrigation District President Harvey Bailey chairs the FWA board.

The two FWUA members that are not part of the FWA - MID and Chowchilla Water District - operate and maintain the CVP's Madera Canal under a separate contract with the Bureau of Reclamation through their own joint powers agency, the Madera-Chowchilla Water and Power Authority. Both opposed the transition agreement but Chowchilla Water District board member Kole Upton remains the FWUA Chairman.

"This change only includes the operation and maintenance function," said Ronald Jacobsma, recently named the first general manager for the new FWA. All other general member issues and activities for now remain the responsibility of the FWUA. Transfer of some of those responsibilities to the FWA is expected to be considered in future months.

Jacobsma has been a FWUA senior management staff member for the past 5 years and FWUA interim general manager since April 2003. He and other staff members managed the recent transfer of personnel and operation and maintenance responsibilities between the two join authorities.

"I can't give my staff enough credit," he said. "It was really a concerted effort. I knew it was optimistic but we managed to pull the rabbit out of the hat and make the June 30 target. The change occurred with hardly anyone seeming to notice."

Jacobsma is a certified public accountant. He is a graduate of Mankato (Minnesota) State University where he earned a bachelor's degree in accounting and finance, and a minor in economics.

He is well versed in the Central Valley Water Project's complex fiscal process and has been active in the Central Valley Water Project Association, serving as a board director and on the Financial Affairs Committee. Jacobsma serves on the Association of California Water Agencies Federal Affairs Committee and has served on the ACWA State Legislation Committee. He also served on Central Valley Employers Association's board of directors.

Before joining the FWUA in 1989, Jacobsma was chief financial officer for a mortgage banking company. He was also a staff accountant for an international accounting firm, specializing in audits of financial services entities. The Iowa native and his wife, Vicki, and their two children live in Visalia.

The FWUA was organized in 1985 to operate and maintain the Friant-Kern Canal and represent FWUA member districts on a variety of issues and to provide information to members. The old FWUA had previously handled the informational role as well. The Friant-Kern and Madera canals, now more than a half century old, were formerly operated and maintained by the Bureau of Reclamation, which continues to manage and maintain Friant Dam.

Friant water is used to irrigate come 15,000 small, family farms that include 1 million acres along the southern San Joaquin Valley's east side in parts of Merced, Madera, Fresno, Tulare and Kern counties. FWA's operation and maintenance crews are based in Orange Cove, Delano and Lindsay.

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