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ISC AWSA Quarterly Public Meeting 102113, final part

Editor's Note: This is part 7 of the Monday, Oct. 21, quarterly public meeting hosted by the Interstate Stream Commission staff to present ongoing work on the Arizona Water Settlements Act planning process to evaluate possible utilization of 14,000 average annual acre-feet of water from the Gila and San Francisco rivers and the use of up to $128 million, allocated to the four-county region of Grant, Catron, Hidalgo and Luna. This article will cover the final presentation and the final questions and comments at the meeting.

"The basis of my presentation is the 2013 USGS report on groundwater depletion in the Mimbres Basin," Ali Effati, ISC staff, said.


"This is from your input on this report at the previous meeting," Effati said. "As soon as I was back from the meeting, I began looking at the report.

"This is not meant to be an encounter with the previous presentation," Effati said.

The USGS 2013 report shows water levels in the Mimbres Basin to be stable. Until 2000, depletion was increasing, when it stabilized, according to the report.

"However, this report was based on only one source—the Balleau Groundwater recharge plan for only Silver City," Effati said.

"The chosen area is 50 square miles, with 15 wells clustered in one small corner of the 5,000 square miles of the whole Mimbres Basin," he said. "And the Franks well field, which was part of the plan, is not even in the Mimbres Basin."

He noted no additional data was used from any other sources, although seven reports were accessible since 2000. "One was by the USGS itself in 2005, three were by Daniel B. Stephens and Associates Inc., one from INTERA, and two from the Office of the State Engineer."

The 2005 USGS report covering 1986 to 2005 shows a drawdown of 1.25 feet per year. "There are sixty-seven other wells that could have been used, which have water level data showing the average water levels of the wells," Effati said.

"One particular well was measured almost monthly," he continued. "The trend from 1939-2009 shows drawdown. From 2000-2007, the drawdown was 1.37 feet. That source was the USGS 2005 report."

Effati agreed that there is a lot of controversy about drip versus flood irrigation. "I know drip contributes to higher yields. Based on the previous presentation, we know farmers are growing more crops. A 2008 study shows drip irrigation can lead to depletion."

"You cannot extrapolate 15 wells, some of which are not even in the Mimbres Basin, to the rest of the basin," Effati said. "The bottom line is that there is a declining trend in the Mimbres Basin aquifer."

A male speaker alluded to a schematic shown in a previous presentation by David Anderson, ISC staff. "The reservoir in the schematic is shown to keep the river flowing. In what canyon is it?"

"Each proposal has different storage sites," Anderson explained. "In the Gila Valley, smaller storage sites are on private land, with diversions near the Gila Gauge."

"The schematic was a concept of what the three diversion proposals advance, not a particular project," Craig Roepke, ISC deputy director, said. "Suggested sites are on the several canyons, such as the Spar and Mogollon to allow gravity flow to maintain flows in the river."

"The implication of the proposals is that Deming is driving down its water, and they want to use ours," a male speaker said.

"It takes water to grow crops," Roepke replied.

"I would rather forego chile than forego the river," the same male speaker said.

"I have been administering the Mimbres Basin for 15 years," Charles "Tink" Jackson of the Deming Officer of the State Engineer said. "From an administrative standpoint, we have watched water levels drop, which provides lower water use for crops.

"I didn't hear comments about reports that had to be made to the Natural Resource Conservation Service on short crops and EQIP money for drip irrigation," he noted. "What we're seeing is that now farmers can afford to pump, because drip irrigation and chemicals are being used more effectively. Instead of 65 percent efficiency, they are getting 85 percent efficiency.

"Now we can do two or three crops," Jackson continued. "EQIP money has dried up, so they have to add in more crops."

According to Jackson, 55,000 acres in the Mimbres Basin are adjudicated to be irrigated. "Now the economics will go back in."

"Net depletions being zero—no way," Jackson said. "We are seeing the deepening of wells 70 feet because they have no water for their homes. If we see all acres in agriculture, we will start seeing drops of 10-15 feet in the aquifer."

The well that was being monitored monthly (as noted in a previous presentation) was in the middle of a productive area. They stopped monitoring it. The majority of drip irrigation has happened in the past three years.

"Some farms became profitable, because drip irrigation reduces pumping costs, but it does not use less water," he said.  "We import so much food, why not eat local food?"

"Farmers are taking our water at our house.," Roger Dombrowski, Grant County resident, said. "When their water table drops, so does my drinking water well."

"I have a two-part question," Starr Belsky, Silver City business owner, said. "What is the legal allowance for irrigation?"

"There are 55,000 acres total adjudicated in the basin, with 2,100 using surface water," Jackson said.

"Is it an incentive to use more water, if with the investment you have to earn more money?" Belsky asked.

"Court orders limit the use to historical use," Jackson said.

"You're talking historical use, but we have to look to the future," Belsky said.

"If they are more efficient, will they be penalized?" Jackson asked.

"No," Belsky replied. "It’s a human artifact. I empathize with those who have risk. I agree to keep agriculture in the country, but there has to be a balance. There has to be adaptation not to keep doing business as usual. Is what we're doing wise? Maybe not."

"I want to say that I think there are some issues with the conclusions John came to, but I appreciate your work and would like to come to some resolution," Roepke said about Conway's presentation. "John has looked at wells one way and Ali another better way. Our job is to get the best data.

"It would be irresponsible of us not to look out for the welfare of the farmers in Deming and irresponsible not to look out for the welfare of the river," Roepke concluded.

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