The Gila Basin Irrigation Commission meeting of Sept. 11, 2013, continued with reports on studies by Craig Roepke, Interstate Stream Commission deputy director, and a Colorado River Basin report by Mary Reece of the Phoenix office of the Bureau of Reclamation.
"David Ogilvie asked me about the other CUFA constraints" Roepke said. "There are monthly constraints. For example, in January, there has to be at least 82.5 cfs, with December at 75. We have decided to use double the median at 150 cfs for minimum flow in all months, as well as enough for downstream users in Redrock and Virden."
He explained another constraint is a minimum of 30,000 acre-feet of water stored in the San Carlos Reservoir. "Recently, we could not have diverted."
"The most we can prebank is 18,000 a year, and no more than 70,000 acre-feet total. In a 10-year period, we cannot divert more than a total of 140,000 acre-feet of water," Roepke said.
"In other words, if the San Carlos is below 30,000 acre-feet water stored, and it stays below, we cannot take any water?" Ogilvie asked.
"The provision is that if the San Carlos doesn't get about 30,000 acre-feet of water stored in a five-year period, we can renegotiate, so the amount required in the reservoir goes down, but we can divert the same number of days," Roepke said.
"The New Mexico Unit is only one piece of the Arizona Water Settlements Act," Mary Reece of Reclamation said. "Another piece requires, in Arizona, that, primarily in the Safford area, water rights must be retired in a staged process. The AWSA has a lot of moving pieces. The retirements will be using willing buyers and sellers."
She said what prompted the AWSA is that in the West, water is allocated to those first here have the senior rights. The tribes were in the area first, but water was not designated at that time, so the tribes have made requests: "We were here first."
"The AWSA is one way to reallocate water," Reece said. "The Gila River Indian Community has the time immemorial rights. The Central Arizona Project replaces their 14,000 acre-feet that we would use. It's a good deal for GRIC and for NM."
"Why is it mandated for Safford to retire any water?" Ogilvie asked
"A lot has to do with the way Arizona allocated water," she explained. "It didn't include the tribes, and there is not enough water to meet the needs. It is give-and-take and how, and all the parties agreed to it. It benefits everyone."
"Everyone also agreed, if there are problems, everyone downstream will defend us," Roepke said.
He went back to the model he was explaining.
Over 70 years of data show the diversions, with the maximum of 350 cfs at a time, while leaving a minimum flow of 150 cfs, that 12,000 plus acre-feet of water, with the CUFA constraints, can be taken out of the Gila.
"Some claim it will dry up the river," Roepke said. "With the minimum flow of 150 cfs, it can never dry up the river."
"What is the bottom line?" Topper Thorpe, GBIC member and ISC commissioner, asked. "Is it that irrespective of what we do, it won't change the water table, and there is a minimum flow below which we cannot take out water? It seems to me basically that it has maintained the riparian areas."
"I think that's right," Roepke said. "We still have a lot of studies, but everything we've looked at helps the water user and protects the environment. If we can store when there is high flow, we can return it to users and prevent the river from drying out and give water to the cottonwood trees that are dying. But it may be that there's at 1 percent difference that is critical somewhere. We can accommodate that easily.
"We are looking at smaller impoundments in Spar and Maldonado canyons, so as not to take so much land out of production for ponds," he continued.
Improving diversions, the engineers think is entirely doable, he said. It may be pipes for some ditches.
"There will be nothing that prevents the farmers from using their full allotment," Roepke concluded.
"I will give a report on Colorado River Basin issues and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation activities," Reece said. "This is a will be a high level look at the mainstem Colorado River issues."
The Reclamation mission is to manage, develop and protect water and related resources, in an environmentally and economically sound manner in the interest of the American public.
Reece explained the Colorado River Basin affects seven different states and Mexico and involves compacts back to the 1920s. There is a lot of confusion and politics, with 16.5 million acre-feet of water allocated annually. There is 13-14.5 million acre-feet consumptive use annually. So there is not enough water to meet the allocations.
"We have 60 million acre-feet of water in storage, primarily in Lake Powell and Lake Mead." Reece said. "They hold four years worth of water if there is no rain in the area. There have about 15 million acre-feet of annual natural inflow. In the Lower Basin (much of Arizona and southwest New Mexico), there is about 1.3 million acre-feet annual inflow. New Mexico gets most of the Colorado River Basin water through the Upper Basin (the north and northeast corners of Arizona and much of New Mexico) through the San Juan and Chama compacts.
"As part of the Central Arizona Project, Arizona takes a cut if the Colorado River is in shortfall," she said.
"As an agency, we have to deal with concerns, including meeting water demand and generating hydropower," Reece said. "We are also tasked with oversight of the environment.
"The energy-water nexus is critical. They are integrally interrelated. Any impact of the Navajo Generating Station, which is coal-fired, may raise CAP water rates, which will raise the cost of water."
She said Hoover Power is renewable hydropower. As water levels drop in the river, it can't generate as much power. Money from power generation goes into the fund for AWSA projects.
"The Colorado River Basin Study looks at the entire Colorado River Basin," Reece said. "The basin is over-allocated today and as populations grow, demands increase. Climate change and the natural variability of rivers create a lot of uncertainty. This study looked at a 9 percent decrease on the Gila River. Craig said an 8 percent decrease.
"The Colorado River system has never been declared in shortage, but in 2007, the Secretary of the Interior put out a decision that if a shortage were declared, Arizona would have to take a cut in the amount of water received," she said. "Seven states got together and negotiated operating criteria, with interim guidelines for shortages. Reclamation has to declare a shortage, excess water or everything is OK.
"Water off the Gila River has the same priority as the Gila River Indian Community. The GRIC priority is protected, which is a benefit to you. GRIC is one of the last groups affected by a shortage."
"So the big picture of the Colorado directly and indirectly affects us, but over time somebody's going to get cut," Thorpe said.
"One of the Secretary's priorities is looking at conservation," Reece said.
"This also builds a strong case not to let this water get away," Thorpe said.
"The Basin study shows a portfolio of alternatives, including water reuse," Reece said. "Arizona cities are fighting over effluent."
The Tier 2 proposals of the AWSA process are not just diversion and storage projects or conservation, she said. They cover a whole suite of possibilities.
"We have entered into a memorandum of understanding for technical support for the ISC, as it makes its decision," Reece said. "Reclamation has taken on the pieces we were specifically asked to look at, which are the three diversion proposals and if there were other potential options to use and store the water. We are evaluating potential sites for storage and conveyance of water, whether a pipeline or canal, and how much they cost.
"On the 15 remaining proposals, we are doing cost/benefit and regional impacts of each at the appraisal level," she continued. "It would be nice to have certain information if we can, such as the cost per acre-foot and other standard items, so we can evaluate the proposals.
"Unless and until there is a New Mexico Unit, then the NEPA process will begin," Reece said. "Now our environmentalists are looking at diversion and storage. We're attempting to say whether it will benefit a species or speed up the degradation of the species."
Roepke pointed out that three stream gauges figure into the settlement—the Blue Creek, Gila and Clifton gauges.
"We took the drought reduction figure of 9 percent and applied it to 70 years of data," he said. "It lowers the amount of water that is available for diversion from 12,115 acre-feet on average to 11,800. At sixteen percent drought reduction we are still over 11,030 acre-feet available, and at 30 percent reduction still over 10,000.
"If we get hit with a 30 percent decrease in water, there would be a cultural and social disaster in the region, but under the CUFA, we could still get 10,000 acre-feet here," Roepke said.
GBIC members then heard updates on issues.
"At the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting, there was an effort to get members to make a financial commitment, a reservation fee for water provided through a New Mexico Unit," Thorpe said. "We keep hearing that nobody wants the water, but this reservation fee of less than $2 per acre-foot shows we do want the water. It would be about $1,000 for the GBIC.
"Ultimately, the money will go into a CD or a reserve account and if we get the New Mexico Unit put together, the money would be used to supplement federal money, if needed," he explained. "If the money is not used, it would be refunded. This approach was used in developing the Ute Reservoir. For the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission, the next step is to work out the details with the ISC."
On another issue, he said The Nature Conservancy is in the process of "defining the water needs of the Upper Gila River."
"Craig is doing similar work as part of the ecology studies," Thorpe said.
"It is important because if a necessary low flow is established, it could jeopardize our ability to irrigate.
"At the ISC meeting, we heard a presentation from The Nature Conservancy, on forest fires and a brief on a study on the ecosystem and the impact on diversion," he concluded.
The GBIC members, before adjournment, decided the next meeting would be called as needed.