The final part of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting of July 16, 2013, focused on several elements of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission's fiscal year 2014 work plan.

Helen Sobien, ISC engineer, said those working on the elements are assigned to get as much information to the ISC as possible. Element 1, which has $187,000 allocated to it, will study the three proposals that directly or indirectly deal with effluent reuse. They are the Grant County reservoir, the Grant County Commission plan to provide water rights to Hurley, and the Deming effluent reuse proposal.

"There have been some concerns about the consultants hired for these studies," Sobien said. "The ISC has five on call for ongoing work, so they are doing the studies."

Grant County was looking to create a reservoir. The original idea was to use treated effluent from the Bayard Regional Wastewater Treatment Plant for the reservoir. If the Deming Regional Water Supply proposal develops a pipeline from the Gila River to Deming, a spur off the pipeline along U.S. 180 through four communities on its way to Deming could provide Arizona Water Settlements Act water for the reservoir.

The Deming effluent project will use treated effluent to water fields and parks.

The Grant County Commission plan would take rights that have been applied for as discharge credit from the wastewater plant to provide water to Hurley.

Element 2, with $720,000, will add to studies on three proposed diversion alternatives. The Gila Basin Irrigation Commission project proposes to improve existing irrigation diversions, store water in holding ponds, ditches, side canyons and the alluvium. This proposal includes providing water for farms that were abandoned after the 1964 Supreme Court decision that cut water rights allocated to the Gila Valley.

Hidalgo County's project would store water in Schoolhouse Canyon, with a smaller diversion near Virden.

The Mimbres Regional Water Supply project would release water to irrigation ditches and pump Gila River water to towns in the Mimbres Basin. Sobien explained that to get water to Mogollon Creek and store it there would not require Gila River water, but would draw from the watershed and would require a holding structure.

She said private consultants would be hired to assess engineering feasibility and design options; environmental considerations; esthetic/cultural considerations; and cost. These studies would be in addition to and complementary to the Bureau of Reclamation assessments and evaluations.

Ali Effati, ISC engineer, asked the question: "Could we safely divert water?"

"In many cases, the answer is yes," Effati said. "Sometimes, it would also divert fish, but there are ways to take care of that."

He said there are ways to divert water, while still preserving the environment.  Effati described river-friendly diversion alternatives, such as infiltration galleries, screened-pipe intakes, seasonal dams and consolidated diversions.

Infiltration galleries are perforated pipes embedded into a gravel layer in the riverbed. A fabric layer prevents clogging of sediment or entrapment of fish. And the pipes do not diminish aesthetics, because they are not visible. Some types do have clogging issues, and must be cleaned manually. Another disadvantage is that they are difficult to construct where the banks are not alluvial.

Screened-pipe intakes can safely divert water to a distribution system for immediate use or into surface or subsurface storage for later use. Advantages include functioning without a dam to control water levels and sediment and fish can pass without significant disruption while diverting or storing the water. The disadvantages are that they are expensive to install, operate and maintain and do not work well with insufficient flows.

Seasonal dams are temporary structures that can be removed to allow flows and fish to pass. When in operation, they raise the river level, allowing water to be diverted. Common types are inflatable dams/gates of thick rubber or fabric tubes, which can be filled with air or water and are anchored to a concrete foundation.

Flashboard dams have a concrete foundation and frame into which boards are inserted to block stream flow and raise the water level for diversion.  Advantages include that fish and water can pass when the dam is not in use. The temporary dams also provide cool water habitat for species. The disadvantages are that they can inhibit the dynamic nature of the river; bladders can be damaged by debris and other causes, and the dams have maintenance and/or electrical requirements.

Consolidated diversions reduce the number to a single diversion point, an advantage, but generally pumping/conveyance costs are increased.

Effati showed a map of diversions on the Gila River, which include the Freeport McMoRan diversion to Bill Evans Lakes, two diversions near Redrock and the diversion at the Sunset Canal near Virden.

Other structures to consider for improving existing diversions are cross-vane and gabion dams/diversions.

Cross-vane is a weir-type diversion that reduces velocity and rate of water surface drop to maintain pool habitat, which enhances fish habitat and prevents disruption of sediment transport, as well as reducing stream bank erosion. The cross-vane would require a fish passage structure and is only applicable in streams with gravel and cobble substrates. They also do not work well in low flows.

The gabion dam creates a diversion pool, dammed inexpensively with gabions to provide water extraction at the surface rather than beneath the sediment.  Gabion dam/diversion structures are pervious to water and less susceptible to sedimentation issues. However, they are not applicable in environmentally sensitive areas, have adverse sedimentation issues if flood stage rises above the diversion pond and have maintenance issues with separating and clogging.

Effati concluded by stating the heart of any diversion structure is the analysis of the riverbed, flow distribution and care in the engineering and design that governs its operation in order to decide which option to choose.

Craig Roepke, ISC Gila Basin manager, presented Element 3, which will assess agricultural conservation, and has $25,000 allocated to it. The study will involve the Pleasanton, Luna, Sunset/New Model ditches, as well as two ditches representative of the 10 in Catron County. "The drip irrigation project is complete and shows that it increases water consumption by 16 percent. Work orders have already been executed."

Element 4 will assess municipal conservation. A pilot project has already been funded, with $50,000 going to Silver City for smart irrigation on the Ben Altamirano sports fields, and $50,000 to Deming for low-flow toilets, xeriscaping and the retiring of swamp coolers.

Element 5, a $25,000 pilot project, will fund a consultant to assess the five watershed proposals, and it may also fund a watershed restoration workshop with outside scientists.

Element 6, with the largest allocation of $1,365,000, will fund ecologic assessments of proposals and baseline ecologic studies. It will include a broad-based panel of independent experts from the start, including the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services, academics, Reclamation, The Nature Conservancy and consultants.

"The Gila River is overadjudicated," Roepke said.

He reported that Steve Carruthers would be looking at the proposals and the ecology to meet human needs and improve habitat and ecosystems.

SWCA, environmental consultants out of Phoenix, Ariz., will be doing hydrologic modeling and also some work on watershed restoration.

Alex Thal, GSFWC member representing Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, pointed out that in the NEPA process, ecology focuses on human and ecological services. "There needs to be interaction between human and physical environments."

"Absolutely yes," Roepke said. "The northern Mexican garter snake was recently discovered. To me, that has never been a concern, because if we protect the environment and meet human water needs, using scientific data, we can do both at the same time, and even improve the environment. When I hear about NEPA and ESA, it comes more with legal issues. What we can do with water is improve the habitat and not make it worse."

"Will you consider working with NMSU on the health of range land?" Thal asked. "We need to recognize the historic aspects of agriculture. It has a major focus of looking at the environment through the focus of benefits to humans."

"Carruthers is going to consider that," Roepke said.

Element 7 allocates $100,000 to focus on NEPA and ESA process and legal issues.

"We want to answer questions pre-emptively," Roepke said. "It does not mean the ISC had decided on diversions or storage. Improvements of ditches could raise NEPA and ESA issues. We will have legal advice to keep us from stepping into holes."

Element 8 provides $250,000 for support and additions to Reclamation's work.

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

Darr Shannon, Hidalgo County commissioner, said there is a lot of negativity against agriculture, as well as confusion about water efficiency and water conservation, especially on drip irrigation.

"The conclusion on drip irrigation is that if you convert on the same acreage, with the same crop, it will increase the net consumption of water by 16 percent," Roepke said. "People get confused, because with flood irrigation, some water returns to the aquifer or stream. It's not about how much water you pump, but how much water the crop consumes. Drip consumes more."

"How do we educate these intelligent people who don't seem to want to understand?" Shannon asked.

"You said it well," Roepke said.

"On the human side, it's not just economists," Thal said. "You could make the case that without water, there is no economics. The same holds true for social, cultural and civil rights. I got the impression people would like to take away the rights to use the water. Economics alone does not paint the whole picture."

"There should be value attached to humans," Roepke said. "There are those who want the value of a wild, free-flowing river. I'm afraid if the ISC starts to get into personal values, it could detract from the scientific approach."

"There are social sciences," Thal said. "Ecological services, for example. Some will just leave out the human aspect. Farmers offer ecological benefits."

"If the ISC staff attempts to attach value to going out in the field with the sun rising through the mist, it's not scientific," Roepke said. "To those who bathe in the river daily, it's spiritual. My job is to get raw scientific data in front of the ISC. Communicate your values to your congressmen or legislators. Those who have these values don't have the same values as those of farmers and ranchers, and they are not reticent to express their values."

Thal said there are other scientific disciplines at work. "The program through NMSU involves all disciplines, including human and physical. I just want to ensure that NEPA includes humans."

"I may not understand the inputs and outputs of the NMSU model," Roepke said.

Jerry Juarez, representing Columbus, said the focus should remain on the deadlines, without "chasing more rabbits. Focus on the scientific studies. As I looked at the proposals, they are taking into account people."

Javier Diaz, GSFWC member and Luna County commissioner, in addition to being a driller, said he would like to talk to the person who performed the water level test. "The farmers say they are using less water with drip irrigation."

"The Office of the State Engineer rigorously controls irrigation in Luna County," Roepke said. "The OSE has signed loans for drip irrigation. If it is rigorously controlled, it can decrease depletions. I would be happy to talk to them some more."

In reports from GSFWC committees, Treasurer Thal, said the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, the GSFWC fiscal agent, was in the process of reimbursing Mary Alice Murphy for the brochure.

Mary Reece, Reclamation engineer, said, in public comment, that if there is a diversion, in the NEPA process, Reclamation would be involved and human and cultural would be part of the process.

The next GSFWC meeting will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday, Aug. 20, at 119 E. Pine. Jim Massengill of the city of Deming asked that an agenda item include ways to bring input from Luna County residents.

Live from Silver City

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