The Friant Water Authority, which operates the Friant-Kern Canal, has hired Jason Phillips as its first chief executive officer in hopes of avoiding a third year of zero water deliveries in the California drought.
Phillips is deputy regional director of the mid-Pacific region for the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation. His duties have included managing the San Joaquin River restoration program to bring a salmon run back to the river.
Phillips was chosen because he has the background to make the case to the Bureau of Reclamation that it’s time to restore water flows suspended in the drought to satisfy environmental goals, said Eric Borba, a Porterville-area farmer and chairman of the Friant Water Authority.
“This is a critical time for Jason Phillips to become Friant’s first chief executive officer,” Borba said. “Friant is facing a third year of a zero allocation. We need a leader who will thrive in the highly dynamic environment of California water. He can lead us in the right direction, I believe.”
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The authority’s board of directors upgraded the job title to chief executive officer from general manager to reflect both increased expectations and modern business norms, he said.
Borba said he wasn’t at liberty to disclose Phillips’ salary as chief executive officer.
We need a leader who will thrive in the highly dynamic environment of California water.
Eric Borba, Friant Water Authority chairman
The authority, representing 14 water districts on the San Joaquin Valley’s east side, works on legal and political issues as well as operating the massive Friant-Kern Canal.
Former general manager Ron Jacobsma stepped down in April last year after several irrigation districts split off from the Friant Water Authority to pursue differing visions of how to deal with the zero allocation problem in the drought.
Borba said the districts that left still are friendly with Friant, and “there’s all the opportunity” to rejoin.
“We all want the same thing – we need water,” Borba said.
The Friant division of the federal Central Valley Project delivers San Joaquin River water to about 1 million acres of farmland and 15,000 farms on the east side of the Valley.
Farmers who get water from both the 151-mile-long Friant-Kern Canal that extends from Millerton Lake to Kern County, and the Madera Canal that extends north of Milleton Lake into Madera and Merced counties, have received no water after farmers downstream exercised their exchange contractor rights when their San Joaquin River delta water supplies were curtailed.
The Friant division also supplies water to several cities and towns, including Fresno.
Phillips has a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from Portland State University. Before joining the Bureau of Reclamation in 2001, he worked as a civil engineer and project manager for the Army Corps of Engineers in both the Sacramento and Portland districts.