The Gila/San Francisco Water Commission members, at their July 16 meeting, heard updates on the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission planning process to use the 14,000 average annual acre-feet of water from the Gila and San Francisco rivers and/or $66 million up to $128 million, as allocated by the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act to the four-county region of Catron, Grant, Hidalgo and Luna counties.

The first item of business on the agenda was discussion on a contract for a professional publicist. Member Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, said the item was a holdover from a couple of months ago, when a subcommittee talked about it. "But I'm not sure we're ready to do anything."

The second item of new business addressed a request brought up by Alex Thal, GSFWC treasurer, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District. Thal asked for an independent review by the New Mexico State University Range Improvement Task Force of The Nature Conservancy proposed study on defining ecosystem water needs and assessing impacts of climate change and water diversion on riparian and aquatic species and ecosystems of the upper Gila River New Mexico.

"We had a presentation on this study at the meeting before last," Thal said. "I request an independent, objective, scientific review, looking at the validity and viability of this project, for external validity and reliability.  The review will not deal with the results, but rather whether it meets the threshold of scientific study.

"I would advise the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission send the request and follow-up to the NMSU RITF to Sam Smallidge, (RITF interim coordinator), requesting review next spring when the study is complete," Thal said.

Dolores Dominguez, Grant County ordinance officer who provides administrative services to the water commission, said last month the commission members approved the letter to Smallidge by consensus, Chairman Tom Bates signed it and it was sent.

Thal said the item does not need to remain on the agenda. "I will take the responsibility to follow up at the time the report is completed."

A discussion item centered on a request by Lee for a reservation fund agreement with the NMISC.

"I think it would be a good idea if the commission endeavors to create such a fund," Lee said. "I promote gathering up and sending $1 per acre-foot of water as a good faith effort that we are interested in developing the water."

Javier Diaz, representing Luna County as a commissioner, said Luna County supports such an effort. Jim Massengill, representing the city of Deming, said the city would also be in support. Others that agreed were David Ogilvie of the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission and Thal for the GSWCD. In the end, every entity present concurred and said they would participate.

Craig Roepke, ISC deputy director, clarified that the group was talking about a reservation fund for the AWSA water.

"Yes, my idea is that it should be from the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission as a whole, rather than from individual groups," Lee said.

Roepke said the ISC has a similar contract in place with the users of the Ute Reservoir. It gives the optioner first dibs on the water. "I think the ISC would be interested in discussing this with the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission."

"I think it is important to show the ISC that the region has skin in the game," Rick McInturff, Deming city manager, said. "I would like to see the concept, but the devil is in the details, so I ask for a subcommittee."

"I think it is better if the money goes through the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission, and that an agreement is made with the ISC," Lee said. "I think there are a lot of conversations to take place. If we don't do it as a group, then maybe one person wants 10,000 acre-feet, and another wants 7,000. I don't know that we're at the point of doling out the water. I'm not sure how to develop the financial portion."

Billy Webb, GSFWC vice president, leading the meeting in Bates' absence, said he thought a subcommittee would be appropriate.

Lee suggested the already functioning communications subcommittee talk to the ISC.  "We can meet prior to the next regular meeting or at another time."

Members approved a brochure, created by Mary Alice Murphy, with language input from Lee.

"We got the brochure together," Lee said, "and we have used it. I will use it again tomorrow. We had a problem with printing, but it's ready, just not folded in the official tri-fold form."

Jerry Juarez, representing Columbus, asked how the brochure had been received.

"I did not get feedback when I used it, as I left right after the presentation," Lee said. "It has been sent to members of the commission asking how many copies they want for their use."

Lee suggested if someone wanted to use the brochure, it could be printed on a color printer or copier.

Janice Kiehne, representing the 1894 Luna Ditch Association in Catron County pointed out that at the previous evening's ISC quarterly AWSA public input meeting, almost every vehicle in the parking lot had a bumper sticker and people were wearing T-shirts that read "Let the Gila Run Free."

"If the coffers allow, I suggest we also do bumper stickers," Kiehne suggested.

Several ideas were promulgated, but none chosen. Members asked Kiehne to work on a slogan.

Diaz suggested involving children in a contest to determine a slogan.

Mary Reece, U.S. Bureau of Reclamation Phoenix Office general engineer, presented an update on Reclamation activities they are doing at the request of the NM ISC.

"They include economic and engineering at the appraisal level," Reece said. "The appraisal level means a higher level study using existing data to determine which proposals require more study. We formalized an agreement with the ISC for these analyses."

The economic analyses cover the benefits and costs, as well as the regional impacts. The engineering is an assessment of the diversion project proposals. "We are also identifying other configurations for the projects."

In the economics section, Reclamation is looking at the cost data in the proposals. Reece pointed out that her presentation would be posted on the nmawsa.org website. Upfront costs, as well as annual costs, are being looked at, as well as the benefits to be achieved.

"Another analysis is from the water supply usage point of view," Reece said. "We are trying to quantify all the benefits, but it is difficult to quantify ecosystem services. We do identify the sources that the economists use, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Report and recreation activities and their assigned dollar values. It is also difficult to get agreement on assumptions."

Thal pointed out that Fish and Wildlife figures are statewide. "We can do it on a regional basis."

Reece requested the information. "The assumptions will be made as close to the area as possible. For municipal and industrial uses, we have national numbers and would like regional information."

Thal said the discrepancy between statewide and regional data is large, compared to what is actually spent in the area.

She also mentioned erosion prevention and irrigation benefits.

"The key is that the data has to be readily available so we can use it."

For each proposal, Reclamation is determining the impact on the region and for every dollar spent, how much return there is.

"Whatever comes out of our efforts needs to make sense to the area," Reece said.

"We are finishing the engineering assessments," Reece said. "We pulled out information from each proposal. We are addressing the projects as a whole or each on its own merit, as well as the components that can possibly be configured differently. We are gathering information on hydrology, geology and geotechnical, and they all relate to storage."

The three proposals, involving diversion, conveyance and storage, are from the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission, Hidalgo County and the city of Deming.

The GBIC project proposes using the available aquifer for storage and existing ditches for conveyance. The Hidalgo County diversion and conveyance proposes storage in Schoolhouse Canyon, with an additional smaller storage off stream near Virden, with a diversion near Mogollon Creek or Turkey Creek.

"Elevation is a key component for gravity flow," Reece said. "At Schoolhouse, the maximum reservoir area would hold 15,000 acre-feet, with the range being from 4,000 to 15,000, depending on the conveyance route."

The small storage near Virden would use the Sunset Canal. "Our concern is that the proposal estimated 1,000 acre-feet. Our folks think it is closer to 50 acre-feet," Reece said.

For the Deming proposal, storage is suggested at the Mogollon Reservoir, with about 5,000 acre-feet and/or at the Mangas Reservoir with an estimated 26,600 acre-feet of storage. "Our folks think it may be closer to 29,400 acre-feet."

Thal asked if it included Forest Service land.

"We are not looking at ownerships," Reece said.

She presented the timeline, with a summary draft for the New Mexico legislators prior to the January 2014 legislative session; a full draft in spring 2014, which will be open for comment; and the final reports to the ISC by July 31, 2014."

The next article will address other studies to be undertaken by the NMISC as part of the fiscal year 2014 work plan.

Live from Silver City

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