In this third and final article on the Monday, July 15, New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission's quarterly public input meeting on the Arizona Water Settlements Act process, Craig Roepke, ISC deputy director, began the explanation of Element 3 of the fiscal year 2014 ISC work plan.

Element 3, for an expenditure of $25,000, will assess agricultural conservation on the Pleasanton, Luna, and Sunset/New Model ditches, as well as two representative ditches in Catron County and a drip irrigation project.

"There are 10 ditches in Catron County, but we are assessing only two," Roepke said. "Interra did a report, which is posted on the website, nmawsa.org, which shows that drip irrigation increases net water usage by 16 percent."

"That is hard to believe," Jeff Boyd, in the audience, said. "There are statistics on 122 individual projects with double the savings in water usage and double the savings in efficiency. I saw nothing negative in the report. Net savings are undeniable."

"In this latest study," Roepke said, "we used more than drip irrigation. People confuse irrigation efficiency with water use. They are diametrically opposed. We would be happy to do a program on the issue. If not before, we will do it at the next quarterly meeting."

An audience member said: "That is irrelevant. That is historic and done. Look at the present. The anecdotes don't add up."

"We have 15 years of well measurements," Roepke said.

The questioner said the USGS had conflicting data. "You can create the outcome you want."

Roepke referenced an article in the New York Times about a suit against the Department of Agriculture on the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for irrigation efficiency. "Irrigation efficiency increases water usage and water depletion," Roepke emphasized.

"You constantly ignore what are clear policy fixes that can be required," Todd Schulke of the Center for Biological Diversity said. "You refuse to look at it because you don't want to accept it. You ignore it."

An audience member refuted what Roepke said and said the NY Times article wasn't about irrigation efficiency, rather  it said the program was subsidizing agriculture to buy equipment for irrigation."

"The lady is correct; Todd is correct," Roepke said. "Policy would do that in the Mimbres Basin. All you can do in Deming is not let them increase their irrigation. If it's flood irrigation, you get a certain amount of crop. If drip irrigation, you get more crop."

Nancy Kaminski, Grant County resident, said she has read reports that "take your study and shoot holes in it. The USGS study will back us up on our point of view. You need to do more studies in Luna County."

Allyson Siwik of the Gila Conservation Coalition thanked the ISC and the Natural Resources Conservation Services for funding drip irrigation. "The withdrawals are less by 55,000 acre-feet a year. It's a huge success story."

Roepke said the concepts would be wrung out in a special meeting.

Element 4 has already been funded with a $100,000 pilot project to assess municipal conservation. "Silver City received $50,000 for smart irrigation on ball fields and Deming received $50,000 for low-flow toilets, xeriscaping and retiring swamp coolers," Roepke said.

Element 5 proposes $25,000 for a pilot project to assess watershed restoration projects. "A consultant will be hired to assess the five Tier-2 proposals," Roepke said. "And we may fund a watershed restoration workshop with outside scientists."

Element 6 has the most funding allocated to it —$1,365,000— for ecologic assessments of proposals and baseline ecologic studies.

"We have a broad-based independent panel of experts from the start, including representatives from U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, academics, and representatives from Reclamation and The Nature Conservancy, as well as consultants."

Roepke introduced Steve Carruthers, who once spent a couple of summers looking at the proposed Hooker Dam site.

"I spent 33 years doing research on the Glen Canyon Dam," Carruthers said. "It was not good for the river system. I have done work on the Pecos, Gila and Canadian rivers in New Mexico. The panel will talk about endangered species and riparian areas."

He noted that in 2006 and 2009, science forums were held locally with international experts talking about how best to address the issues.

"The Gila River Valley has the highest density of breeding birds in the cottonwoods," Carruthers said. "It is distressing to see what is happening to the cottonwoods. You can't put in major structures without damaging the ecosystems. The Gila River is the last free-flowing river in New Mexico and in much of the Southwest, if not the world.

"Ali talked about infiltration galleries," Carruthers continued. "We are directed to look at them. The Endangered Species Act is a hugely powerful piece. If there are flood flows, the question is can you take some and not impact endangered species. That's what my job is—to exhaust the data supply to determine if it is possible to gather water and keep the ecosystem intact."

Starr Belsky, Silver City business owner, asked if the panel had been chosen. Carruthers said it represents New Mexico Game & Fish, the US FWS, Reclamation and The Nature Conservancy. "We are looking for more members."

Carruthers said Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. had volunteered its southwest willow flycatcher and fisheries data.

"Convening two science panels costs a magnitude less than the $1.4 million allocated," Siwik said. "What else are you doing beyond the panels?"

"The first science panel identified 12 items that need to be studied," Carruthers said. "I'm going through to determine how much data has been gathered. There is a lot, and I am delighted there is no Hooker Dam."

An audience member said: "We are one year from the decision point. We don't know the fiscal impacts. Can you deliver the information so the ISC can make a reasonable decision? My confidence is low."

"When I was first asked to look at the Rio Grande silvery minnow," Carruthers said, "I gathered data and gave a presentation to the ISC saying we spent 150 years trying to get rid of the minnow, why don't we try to recover it. That was 13 years ago. The ISC has spent millions to staving off extinction of the silvery minnow. When the ISC gets data, they use it."

"To answer Allyson's question," Roepke said, "in addition to the panels, we are doing sophisticated groundwater and surface water interaction modeling. We are using LIDAR flights. We have a huge GIS modeling project. We are putting money to wetlands study and to follow up David Gutzler's study. It's not all going to the panels. The ISC will make a better decision with better information."

An audience member said for the first time Mule Creek has gone underground because of no snowpack. "Where does snowpack come into this? Rain just runs off. Who's going to create snowpack? It's all an illusion of water being available."

Roepke said Gutzler's study on the flows on the upper Gila River looked at them with statistical information. It showed a reduction in flows of 8 percent. "I think those models could be significantly off. The study was projected out to 2050."

Element 7 allocates $100,000 to legal support, focused on the National Environment Protection Act and Endangered Species Act process and issues.

Element 8 allocates $250,000 to economic analyses to support and add to Reclamation's work. "We are looking at specific issues brought up by stakeholders," Roepke said.

Element 9 provides $75,000 to planning consultation and facilitation to assist with public meetings, disseminate materials and formulate public involvement strategy. This work may continue throughout the AWSA process, including NEPA.

Kyle Johnson said Carruthers had mentioned the Gila as one of the last primarily undammed rivers in the world. "Where is the economic value of that? Don't we have any value to that? I see it as absent in this process. The only people with the sense of what it was during the Hooker Dam stage were a homogeneous community then. They didn't have any environmentalists."

"That is not true," Carruthers said. "Thirty-three years ago, there were people in the room, just like you, saying the same things."

Reese Fullerton, facilitator, said a previous slide about deer should be looked at neutrally. "Hunting could go up or down in measure of benefit. We are looking at it."

An audience member said: "Some things have intrinsic value beyond what we can put dollars to. I'm here to stand up for the river. My concern is about something going to be pushed through without the input of residents."

Another audience member said 90 percent of the riparian areas in New Mexico are already gone.

And another asked: "What do we get out of this? The last time I was there, the Gila was a creek. To give Deming water? I just don't get it."

An additional audience member said, according to the Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement, only so much water can be taken out, because "we have to protect downstream users. Let something that can't speak for itself be protected."

Belsky said this country is about dollars and cents. "We don't own this water. It belongs to the Indian tribes downstream. Every cubic liter of water goes up in the air through evaporation. It will have to be paid for by people here with no benefit. We will be throwing money out the window, when the money could go to other things, including conservation. The Indicators of Hydrologic Alternation model reflects the historical and presumed current state of the river. Is that valueless?"

"We are heading out into a time where the temperatures will go beyond whatever is known in history," Belsky continued. "It is terra incognito. You will do your best because you are professionals, but the cost factor keeps me concerned. What will the irrigators have to pay for, including evaporation? Will we have any idea how much it will cost before the decision is made? There are potential hidden costs and maybe only for a short time. Yes, I agree on the intrinsic values, but work on the dollars and cents. I think this whole project is a colossal waste of money. My personal prediction is that it ain't worth doing."

Shelby Hallmark, Grant County resident, directed his question to Carruthers. "You said that you want to figure out how best to do this. How to best not do this needs to stay in your mind. Keep your mind open to all options.

Fullerton said the process is "about democracy and voice and them listening and taking to heart what you say."

Live from Silver City

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