Editor's Note: This is part 3 of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commissioner meeting held Oct. 22. This article will cover a proposed reservation fund and some audience comments.
"The reservation fund agreement is a simple one we will present to the next ISC meeting," Vance Lee, GSFWC member representing Hidalgo County, said. "In addition, we are in the process of getting out invoices to GSFWC members for the reservation fund. In the letter, we say 10 percent of the fund is for administrative purposes. Even if there were no reservation fund, we would have to assess the amounts to keep us operating."
Rick McInturff, who will create the document to present to the ISC, said the whole committee would review it and send it to the ISC for review.
"We will also create a change in financial management," Alex Thal, treasurer, said. "The Grant Soil and Water Conservation District will continue as fiscal agent for the water commission, but the city of Deming would be the fiscal agent for the reservation fund."
McInturff protested that he was looking for volunteers, but agreed the audit procedures would increase the conservation district's budget by $1,000 to $1,500 a year. "Picking a fiscal agent for the reservation fund should be done first."
The commissioners approved the City of Deming as the fiscal agent for the fund. "It would expedite things to have the invoices pay to the city of Deming," McInturff said.
"Has each member entity or commission voted on the expenditure of $2,000?" M.H. "Dutch" Salmon of the Gila Conservation Coalition asked.
McInturff said Deming and Luna County, as well as Columbus and the Deming Soil and Water Conservation District, have voted and approved the expenditure. "I don't think Grant County has voted yet."
"This is a questionsrelated to the reservation fund," Claire Catlett of the GCC said. "What plans do you have for a public presentation to the public for use of the reservation fund? Mr. McInturff, was there public input?," to which McInturff said there was none, but there was an opportunity to give public input at all the meetings.
"What is the reservation fund for?" Catlett asked.
"The reservation fund was established by this commission as a set aside, where hopefully we will enter into an agreement with the ISC, providing there is a diversion project," Lee explained. "The money will follow the water."
"Is it to support one of the diversion projects?" a male questioner from the audience asked.
Thal confirmed it would support any diversion if one is chosen by the ISC. It will also be used for public education and submitting information to the ISC and the governor.
"In this process, is it going to support a diversion or give all sides?" the same man asked.
"In the guidelines for the reservation fund, it is $20,000 annually for the AWSA 14,000 acre-feet of water allocation," McInturff said.
"To try and support the allocation?" the man asked. "So more taxpayer money is being put into the diversion and will promote the diversion?"
"Yes, to secure the 14,000 acre-feet of water that was deprived of Southwest New Mexicans," Thal answered. "Withdrawal has to comply with the AWSA and CUFA."
Tom Bates, GSFWC chairman, clarified: "The funding is to secure the water and show the ISC our support of obtaining the water."
"So you're putting in more money at a cost to taxpayers?" the man persisted. "It's quite a bit of benefit to support a few water users."
"The thing being left out of the equation is that it is the user who will be paying for the water," Thal replied.
"Alex, I'm a Grant County resident, and I am disturbed by your saying our water is going to Arizona," Nancy Kaminski, representing the Southwest Audubon Society, said. "It's not our water. It belongs to the Gila River Indian Community. We can do a lot of good projects with the $66 million for conservation. Do you believe we can do a diversion for under $128 million? If you keep the water, you will pay for it as long as you take it."
"These waters, by way of the AWSA, are our waters," Thal replied. "The $66 million for conservation is still coming out of tax dollars."
"The storage is about storing some floodwater and keeping the river alive," Lee said. "When the rivers go dry, there is a potential to let out water to keep the rivers alive."
"Southwest rivers go dry," Kaminski said bluntly. "Now we have the garter snake and the southwest willow flycatchers. The crops in the valley are not food. It's hay. It's an excessive amount of money for beef. The costs are the environment and the water. Yes, I agree that food is grown in Virden.
"If there are diversions, the river will no longer be wild," she alleged. "The statement is that what makes it wild is its ability to flood. The water will not come just off the floods.
"Yes, we have different opinions," Kaminski said. "I say, no more diversions, in order to keep the river healthy. Let's take the $62 million without strings. Do not take my tax dollars promoting diversions."
"What about the endangered species going extinct if we don't do something?" McInturff asked.
"We are in the worst drought and this is the year we found the garter snake," Kaminski said. "Through time immemorial, they find ways to survive."
McInturff pointed out that it is the opinion of the recovery teams that if something is not done, the endangered species will go extinct. "There will be some judge who will take the water rights from the user to preserve some species."
"There are a lot of endangered species," Kaminski said. "I like research over rumors. If you're going to spread diversion, I don't want my tax dollars used."
"We need to be focused on getting the 14,000 acre-feet without it being on the backs of taxpayers," Thal said. "We need food sources and flood control. I know other folks see it differently. I will wait to see the results of the studies."
"I have a lot of respect for Nancy," Gerald Schultz, representing New Mexico RC&D activities, said, "but if the river is only wild with floods, two hurricanes still flooded unwild rivers. All waters will flood wild with enough water.
Bates pointed out that at least four of the commissioners are farmers or ranchers. "We don't want to damage the environment. A study showed that taking water would not impact the ecology. Yes, opinions differ. Farmers and ranchers make our opinions on experience and the data we have available. We try here to do whatever we feel is best for the public."
The final article will cover the publicist agenda item and more public comments and discussion.