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Gila/San Francisco Water Commission 102213, part 1

Editor's Note: This is the first of at least four articles on a Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting held Oct. 22.

The Gila/San Francisco Water Commission met Tuesday, Oct. 22, and heard the same presentations as were given at the previous evening's Interstate Stream Commission's quarterly meeting to inform the public about the Arizona Water Settlements Act planning process and evaluation of proposals to utilize an average annual 14,000 acre-feet of Gila and San Francisco rivers water, plus up to $128 million to support conservation and water utilization projects.

"We gave numerous presentations at the AWSA Quarterly Public Input Meeting last night (Monday)," Helen Sobien, ISC engineer, said.

"We (the ISC support staff) hired consulting engineers, with a goal to have apples-to-apples comparisons to present to the Interstate Stream Commission in August for preliminary decisions," she said.

Bohannon Huston Inc. was hired to do the Grant County and Bayard effluent reuse projects, although after the contract was signed, Bayard withdrew its application.

The engineers recommended site 2 for a reservoir on Twin Sisters Creek, with the caveats that it must bypass the storm flow or it would adversely affect the downstream well fields. It would be a 91-foot high dam for a recreational reservoir at a cost of $18 million.

"All the information is available online at nmawsa.org in the preliminary engineering reports. They are all drafts," Sobien said.

She described the Grant County Water Commission proposal to develop a well field near the airport and a pipeline to Hurley, Bayard, Santa Clara and Silver City, which was evaluated by William J. Miller Engineering of Santa Fe.  Silver City is dumping treated effluent into the San Vicente Arroyo. The town already had 193 acre-feet of purchased water rights at the airport, but would get 943 more at the maximum with recharge credit for the effluent. The town has filed an application with the Deming Office of the State Engineer for the recharge credit.  "Hurley definitely needs the water," Sobien said. "It would be about a 16-mile pipeline at a cost of $12.5 million."

The city of Deming proposal to use treated effluent was evaluated by Souder, Miller & Associates. The city has an existing system, but Deming wants to expand it. It would involve about two miles of pipe to water the ball fields and parks. The effluent would be treated to class 1A, and several booster pumps need to be repaired or replaced for a total of $4.5 milion.

 "We sent the draft preliminary engineering reports to the proposers and received comments, which will be put in the drafts," Sobien said. "We ask for public comments up to Oct. 31. December 6, we hope to have the final PERs.

Gerald Schultz, representing New Mexico RC & D activities, asked: "You want them done by Dec. 6, but you want comments before?"

"Yes, we want comments by Oct. 31," Sobien said. "The drafts are to the 10 percent level. They are not 30 percent PERs.
"But no final draft?" Schultz asked.

"No, just these drafts, then the final report," Sobien said.

Tom Bates, GSFWC chairman, said: "At last night's meeting, most of the discussion was that the source of water for the reservoir was not part of the Bohannon Huston evaluation. The sources for the reservoir are storm water and potable Gila River water."

"And the storm water must bypass the reservoir," Sobien confirmed. "The Shoemaker reports made it clear that if we impound storm water, it would impact the downstream well fields by 60 acre-feet annually.

"Practically speaking, the reservoir would collect the storm water and then release it," Rick McInturff, city of Deming administrator, said.

Grant County Commissioner Ron Hall declined to speak on the proposal. "It's Commissioner Ramos's project."

The next presentation was given by David Anderson, ISC staff. "The ISC did an AWSA presentation to the Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee in Las Cruces last week on Oct. 14. Craig Roepke presented the nine elements of the FY2014 work plan." Anderson gave a brief overview of the presentation.

Element 1: Effluent Reuse Proposals

$187,000 is allocated and it includes the projects Helen Sobien just presented.

Element 2: Diversion and Storage

There are only three diversion and storage proposals.

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, 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," Anderson said.

Element 5: Assess watershed restoration projects
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. The preliminary report is due in January, with the final due in May or June before the ISC makes its preliminary decisions.

Element 7: Legal Support
"None of the $100,000 has been used yet, but is focused on potential NEPA/ESA legal issues," Anderson said. "NEPA 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.

"This is a graph of how much of the September flood of more than 200,000 acre-feet could have been taken, following the constraints—28,000 could have been taken," Anderson said. "The maximum in any year that can be taken is 64,000 acre-feet. But in an average year, only about 4,100 can be taken.

"This should illustrate to you that with any type of New Mexico Unit, the greatest amounts would be from events like September's," he noted.

In showing a slide of the ISC Gila River policy, he explained it realizes that a dry river is not good for people or the ecology.

When the flows are low, for example at 37 cfs, although each ditch can take 20 cfs, there is not enough to keep the downstream acequias wet.

"When the high flows are enough, agriculture and the ecology are supported," Anderson said. "When the flows get low, the riparian areas dry up. What water there is is diverted by the water-rights owners.

"If the water is left in the river and the agricultural users didn't use it, it would support the ecology, but agriculture would go away," he continued. "Water could be released from storage to support ag and the ecology.

"Too often before the monsoon season, there is not enough water for ag or the ecology," Anderson said, while showing photos of the river in dry stages. The cottonwood die off is likely due to drought and low flows in the river.

"The ISC Gila policy would support flows in the river that would prevent fallow fields, keep water in the river for the ecology and support local businesses," he concluded.

"I have a few points to make," Craig Roepke, ISC deputy director, said. "There were originally 16 proposals and one was withdrawn. We are assessing each of the 15. We are looking at each under the scope with the same criteria. The ISC has issued a request to support ecology, while supporting water users."

The next article will cover a presentation on a USGS Mimbres Basin study, and discussion on presentations to the Interim Water and Natural Resources Committee and the drought sub-committee.

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