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ISC AWSA Quarterly Public Meeting 102113, part 5

Editor's Note: This is part 5 of a seven part series on the Monday, Oct. 21, Interstate Stream Commission quarterly meeting on the Arizona Water Settlements Act planning process. This article will cover material presented at an Interim Water and Natural Resource Committee meeting.

"Last Monday, Craig Roepke presented to the Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee," David Anderson, ISC staff, said. "I hope this presentation will answer some of your questions."


The fiscal year 2014 AWSA work plan has nine elements for a total expenditure of $2,845,000 for appraisal-level evaluations. These are 10 percent estimates of costs, sizes, and sites.

Every evaluation includes criteria for technical feasibility, design options, environmental impact assessment, cultural considerations, economics and water supply.

Element 1: Effluent Reuse Proposals
$187,000 includes evaluation of the effluent return flow credit, the Grant County Water Commission proposal and the Regional Water Supply proposal.

Element 2: Diversion and Storage
$720,000

There are three diversion and storage proposals. The Gila Basin Irrigation Commission project proposes storing water offstream or in the alluvium. During low flows, water would be released for agricultural use and for the environment. The proposal includes improvement to diversions and ditches.

Hidalgo County proposed storing water in Schoolhouse Canyon.

The Southwest Regional Water System would take water through Silver City and the mining communities to Deming. Potential diversion and potential storage locations are being evaluated.

Element 3: Assess agricultural conservation projects
$25,000 is allocated to improve diversion structures and line ditches in Grant, Hidalgo and Catron Counties.

Element 4: Assess municipal conservation
This is the only proposal funded so far, according to Anderson, with $50,000 going to Silver City for smart irrigation, and $50,000 to Deming for low-flow toilets, xeriscaping and retirement of swamp coolers. The final report is due next June.

Element 5: Assess watershed restoration projects
$25,000
The preliminary reports are due the end of this month with evaluation of five proposals.

Element 6: Ecologic assessments of proposals and baseline ecologic studies
$1,365,000 is allocated to do baseline studies, with a number of consultants. The studies include habitat simulations for the endangered species of loach minnow, spikedace, and southwest willow flycatchers, as well as on bugs in the river. The simulation is to show the food web on the Gila River.

Element 7: Legal Support
None of the $100,000 has been used yet, but is focused on potential NEPA/ESA legal issues. National Environmental Policy Act action is required for a project on any BLM or Forest Service lands.

Element 8: Economic analysis
$250,000 is set aside to support and add to Reclamation work.

Element 9: Planning, consultation and facilitation
$75,000 is allocated to facilitate public meetings, disseminate materials, maintain the nmawsa.org website, and provide for public involvement. It will continue throughout the AWSA process, including NEPA.

"The Legislature has requested as much information as possible, so we have January deadlines for the preliminary evaluations," Anderson said. "May and June will be the deadlines for final reports, which we will present to you and to the legislators."

He showed a slide of the ISC Gila Policy:

"The Interstate Stream Commission recognizes the unique and valuable ecology of the Gila Basin. In considering any proposal for water utilization under Section 212 of the Arizona Water Settlements Act, the Commission will apply the best available science to fully assess and mitigate the ecological impacts on Southwest New Mexico, the Gila River, its tributaries and associated riparian corridors, while also considering the historic uses of and future demands for water in the Basin and the traditions, cultures and customs affecting those uses. "
–    ISC formally adopted September 2004

"This was adopted before the AWSA was signed into law," Anderson noted. "There are 10 conditions that must be met before New Mexico can divert the AWSA water. The most restrictive is a limit of 140,000 acre-feet in any running 10-year period. For each month, NM cannot divert until minimum daily flows are bypassed.

"If there is a New Mexico unit, the optimum is not to divert below 150 cfs, which is double the median flow," he continued.

He explained that if an entity had been diverting during the September flood of more than 200,000 acre-feet of water, the small red areas at the tops of the flows on a chart he presented showed how much could have been skimmed from the flood—28,000 acre-feet of water.

"During low flows, diversion is not possible," Anderson said. "In an average year, such as from January to May 1965, only 4,100 acre-feet could have been diverted.

"Can water be used to benefit Gila ecology?" he asked. "We are still in extreme drought. With low flows, farmers are trying to make a living. There is not enough to sustain the farms, the bugs or the fish."

Anderson showed several photos, charts and graphs.

"There are three acequias in the Gila River Valley," he pointed on a schematic. "Each can divert about 20 cfs. But, if there are only 37 cfs available, and the uppermost acequia gets 20, the reach below the diversions will be dry.

"The Gila River supports riparian areas," Anderson said. "The three diversions have the senior rights to water in the valley. The river also supports the farms and farmers, as it has for more than 100 years.

"If the river gets low, either the farmer or the river gets the water," he said. "If you divert the whole 37 cfs, there is nothing left for the riparian areas. If you leave the water in the river, you will lose farms, farmers, and the other businesses they support.

"The ISC wants to have its cake and eat it, too," Anderson said.

Another chart was representative of one of the diversion proposals, with water to be stored in off-channel reservoirs. Water would be diverted at high elevation and the reservoir would be in side canyons. Water could be released to augment the farmers and the riparian areas and to help alleviate dry reaches.

"The study is going on and the preliminary results will be presented in January," Anderson said. "This die-off of cottonwoods is because of drought and low water. Water storage could also avoid fallow fields."

The next article will cover some questions and a presentation by John Conway on a study he and several others did on sub-surface drip irrigation.

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