Editor's Note: This is the first in a series of articles on the Arizona Water Settlements Act quarterly meeting hosted by the Interstate Stream Commission on Monday evening, April 15.
Reese Fullerton served as facilitator for the meeting. "I'm thrilled to have so many here," he said to the about 100 people gathered in a seminar room in Western New Mexico University's Thomas B. McDonald Student Union.
"Members of the Interstate Stream Commission staff are here to listen," Fullerton said. "We will have presentations and then will allow questions. I want to keep track of who asks questions, so that nobody asks a second question before others get a first question. Share our time, be respectful, and turn off cell phones."
Beatriz Vigil, webmaster for the planning process website at nmawsa.org, said the site is designed to provide transparency and communication. "It is a work in progress. The site is folder-based with tabs and icons." She pointed out "On the portal" which provides a search capability. "What is put into the website last, comes up first," she explained.
Vigil explained to post in the comment area, one does not have to be a member of the site, but "if you want to search for something particular, you need to sign up. On recent additions, you can see the date posted."
Gerald Schultz, area resident and retired hydrologist, said he has had problems with the site. "I find that when I put in comments, they don't stay with the project being commented on."
Vigil said she and another staff member post the comments, and sometimes they go with the ongoing projects portion. She pointed out a Comment Box, where if one is a logged-in member of the site, they need only to put in the subject line and the message. She requested anyone with questions to contact her. Her contact information is on the website.
Craig Roepke, who identified himself as the Gila Project Manager for the ISC, gave an overview of recently amended proposals that are being evaluated by the ISC commissioners.
"In January, those whose proposals were already accepted had the opportunity to make changes," Roepke said. "The Gila Conservation Coalition amended its water conservation project. Catron County, because its first proposal for watershed restoration went up in smoke last year, changed the project to seeding, monitoring and more permanent diversions. Deming amended its reuse of effluent proposal, as well as its second proposal, which includes a regional water supply. Hidalgo County modified its storage and diversion project to include a smaller storage near the state line with Arizona. The ISC approved all the amendments, except for additional funding for the GCC."
An audience member asked why the funding had not been accepted.
"We are still studying the proposals," Roepke said. "The GCC proposal is a pilot project, and the commissioners are reluctant to spend money.
Mary Burton Riseley pointed out that $66 million of the funding allocated through the AWSA is "for any project to benefit water supply. Then the additional $62 million is available if a diversion unit is approved. It seems to me contrary to the intent to hoard money for a project that cannot benefit all four counties. I wonder about the legality of hoarding."
"It is critical for everyone here to understand," Roepke said. "The AWSA provides 140,000 acre-feet of additional water in a 10-year period and non-reimbursable funding up to $128 million. The first $66 million can be spent on something that is not water development, but there is no hard line between the $66 million and the $62 million. The ISC is averse to spending up front money. Before they spend any significant amount, they want to know the final project."
Walter "Ski" Szymanski asked if the resverse were true that the area does not have to spend all the money. "Why not spend more money for the GCC, if the ISC is spending on studies?"
Roepke said he had recommended the GCC be given more funding to $500,000, but the commissioners did not approve it and said: "No more than $100,000."
Bob Cross said he was recently in a conversation with several people, including Jim Redford, area architect. "He said we already have an unused pipeline on U.S. 180 to Tyrone to serve the mine. If the county wants to save money, use that one to the airport and on to Deming. I think Sen. John Arthur Smith has created a straw dog to make this a state issue. Why doesn't someone investigate the existence of the pipeline that has never been used?"
Roepke said the ISC is looking at the issue.
A questioner expanded on an earlier question and asked why if Roepke had asked for $500,000 for the GCC, it was not approved by the ISC.
"They are averse to spending money until we have a final project," Roepke reiterated.
An audience member commented that it seemed to be an inconsistency.
A person asked if the attitude of the commissioners is toward one project or more.
"I do not know, but my guess is the commissioners will approve a set of projects," Roepke said.
"Was there anything else significant about the amendments that we should know?" an audience member asked.
"Hidalgo County's amendment adds a small reservoir," Roepke said. "The Deming effluent project adds details where the water could be used and firms up the cost estimate."
He said the GCC project amendment was to ask for more funding.
"The second Deming proposal's cost estimate went down and added a small reservoir at the head of the Gila Valley to provide water for endangered species when the river is low," Roepke said.
"Does the Deming project include a governing body," someone asked.
"It does include a water authority," Roepke confirmed.
"All of this is on the website," Starr Belsky, Silver City business owner, said. "We have not determined how much goes to the Grant County Water Commission project for greater efficiency and monitoring the regional water supply. Where does this proposal fit in as far as being evaluated?"
"The ISC approved 16 Tier-2 proposals for evaluation," Roepke said. "The Grant County Water Commission project is still being studied. The $100,000 for the GCC municipal water conservation is an ongoing project. Silver City decided to wait until they entered into a contract. Deming has a contract for studies, and the wells for Hurley are part of the Grant County Water Commission project."
A meeting participant said she has been hearing that diversions would take only excess flows. "Your consultant S.S. Papadopolus said it would cause hydrologic changes to the river."
Roepke said the consultant from SS Papadopulus would explain it in her presentation.
Roger Skaggs of the Pleasanton East Side Ditch said the group's proposal got through the two-tier process. "We put a lot of volunteer hours into it. Others in Catron County had the opportunity for changes. I guess we had the opportunity but were caught off guard. The other project might impact our project. I don't understand why modifications were allowed. Now it doesn't seem like it's a level playing field."
"Catron County came to the ISC and told the commissioners that after the fires, there was no way the county could do its project. They were asking to rewrite their project. To be fair, we allowed every project the opportunity to be modified."
Skaggs said he had never seen a process where a project could take from other proposals.
"Our attorneys said we had to write it that way," Roepke said.
Beth Bardwell from the Audubon Society New Mexico as director of freshwater conservation in Las Cruces asked why the Deming project went from about $300 million to about $200 million.
"Deming hired a consultant, Daniel B. Stephens & Associates, and the consultant came up with that number," Roepke said. "The ISC and the Bureau of Reclamation will also be looking at the estimates. Those are not our numbers, and they will have input from other entities."
James Massengill of Luna County clarified that the Deming proposal cost estimate had included $99 million for an offsite storage, which was removed from its amended proposal.
Another audience member asked if evaporation had been factored into diversions and storage. Roepke said that would be explained in a presentation.
A participant asked, with the money intended for the four counties, how the ISC could justify the need for the water.
"Studies have shown that there is a 30,000 annual acre-foot water deficit in the area," Roepke said. "Some say you can take water from here or there, but once you start pumping groundwater, the quality lessens. I don't know if the ISC will approve a diversion, but I know throughout southwest New Mexico, we have water problems. You can know that the water will stay somewhere in New Mexico. The ISC has always wanted the water and money to stay in southwest New Mexico."
Gordon West, area business owner, asked if Roepke could facilitate a meeting with some representatives from the area to speak to the ISC. Roepke said he would mention it to the commissioners.
To a question, Roepke said the Office of the State Engineer had had no involvement in the development of the amended Deming proposal.
An audience member asked if there were a pipeline built to Deming if Freeport McMoRan or any other entity would be allowed to tap into the pipeline.
"Only the water users who contract with the Secretary of the Interior will have rights to use the water," Roepke said.
Burton Riseley asked if Freeport could use the pipeline to sell its water to Texas.
"It's the same answer," Roepke said. "If you have a contract to the water, you have control over the facilities. This project will be under the control of the water users."
Terry Timme, with the Audubon Society, asked if Sen. John Arthur Smith gets his pipeline to Las Cruces, could he use Deming water contracts to sell water to Las Cruces.
"I helped negotiate the AWSA," Roepke said. "The intent was to use the water in southwest New Mexico. The terms of the contract would have to define all the probabilities."
Roepke went on to explain the difference between water and water rights.
"The key issue is that if every water right already allocated were used, only one-third of the rights could be used, because the area is over-allocated," he said." In the Arizona Water Settlements Act, the 14,000 acre-feet of water remain an Arizona water right. The Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement gives New Mexico the ability to take, develop and consume the water. New Mexico has the contractual ability to use the water for a price and with constraints."
He clarified it by saying that it would be paid for only if it were consumed. "A diversion is not necessarily consumption. Say a farmer puts 100 acre-feet into his ditch and field, but 50 acre-feet return to the river, then he is only charged for the 50 acre-feet because of return flow credit."
The next presentation, given by representatives from the Phoenix office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, will be covered in a future article.