At the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting held Tuesday, Nov. 19, officers for 2014 were elected.

All were accepted by acclamation. The new chairman will be Anthony Gutierrez, who represents Grant County. Billy Webb, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water Conservation District will continue as vice chairman, and Alex Thal, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, will continue in the treasurer's position.

Tom Bates continued the meeting, as the chairman for 2013.

"Under old business, we have appointment of the city of Deming as fiscal agent for the Reservation Fund," Bates said.

"I believe I sent an agreement," Rick McInturff, representing the city of Deming said. "Could the motion include the agreement? It has the scope of work and that there will be no cost by Deming. We will set up and maintain a trust account for the funds to support the allocation of the 14,000 acre-feet of water.  Funds will be dispensed only by signature of an elected officer of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission." He added that Deming had passed a resolution for the agreement.

"In speaking with our county attorney, she thought the joint-powers agreement might need to be amended with the addition of the language of the Reservation Fund," Gutierrez said. "Can we put this on the agenda for the next meeting? She didn't feel we needed a new JPA, just this amendment."

McInturff asked: "Do we have a draft agreement with the ISC or is it still in the works?" No one had received notice about it.

Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, said Thal had written the letter and submitted it to the ISC.

However, members were confused about whether a letter on the Reservation Fund agreement had been sent or a letter about a publicist contract.

Thal said he would review the Reservation Fund letter again and make sure it went out.

"On the JPA issue, we need to make sure we follow the guidelines for revision," Lee pointed out.

"Our attorney could not offer legal opinions on any of this for the GSFWC, but just offered suggestions," Gutierrez noted.

More confusion on letters, when Thal suggested the letter be mailed and emailed to Craig.

"I have signed letters to be sent to the entities about annual contributions to the Reservation Fund," Bates clarified.

"I will draft a letter to the ISC on the Reservation Fund and will expedite it ASAP," McInturff said. "I will draft and send it to Alex, Tom, Anthony and Dori (Dominguez, who takes the minutes for the GSFWC)."

"We will put on the next agenda the revision of the JPA," Bates requested.

The next agenda item addressed the publicist issue.

"Alex and I both sent a letter about it to the ISC," McInturff said.

Bates then read from an article in the Daily Press by Jim Owen. "It is full of inaccuracies and opinion."

"We definitely have a need for a publicist to get the truth out about when we can take water from the river," Lee said.

"A publicist would be possible," Thal said. " I think we should send a letter to the governor that represents this body, with its representation of 18 local elected entities, to clarify what this body is about and get accurate statements to the governor. I'm concerned that this inaccurate information sent to the governor will be detrimental to what we want to do."

McInturff asked how much money had been allocated to the publicist.

"$2,500," Lee said.

"When I talked to Craig, he felt like an appropriate budget would be $40,000," McInturff said. "A match of $2,500 seems kind of light."

"I spoke with the governor last year and wrote a letter to her requesting to have a meeting on the Arizona Water Settlements Act and the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission, as well as the value of the water to southwest New Mexico" Gutierrez said. "I never got a response. Maybe, as the commission and me, as the new chairman, we will have more clout."

Lee suggested a letter from the commission might carry more weight, and Gutierrez said he still had the language from the letter he wrote.

Thal said the points in the article that Bates read needed to be clarified.

"At the Drought Committee meetings that were held in Las Cruces, a sportsman came up," Gutierrez said. "He wasn't aware of a lot of the information. People are really ignorant about the AWSA.

"The fellow from the sportsmen's groups has done a 180 and now supports the AWSA," McInturff said. "He felt like he was misinformed."

"I've dealt with recreation for many years," Thal said. "Any reservoir in the Southwest has a great multiplier effect on the economy, circulating dollars. This article is just propaganda."

Lee asked that Gutierrez draft a letter to the governor, "explaining our position, put it on our letterhead and put one of our brochures in with the letter."

Gerald Schultz, representing statewide Resource and Conservation District activities, said he had read the well-written letter."But the damage has been done. Even if the sportsman has relented, people have read the article and believe it. You cannot continue to re-attack. We have to contact outside groups, and we have to talk to the community groups.

It was suggested that it be an open letter and submitted as editorials to news papers all over the state.

"I think we should be proactive, so the public is not so vulnerable to this false information," McInturff said. "The ISC wants the water and money to benefit the economy and the environment."

"We need some good economics on the value of the water," Thal said. "I have approached the New Mexico State University Range Improvement Task Force to find out the value of the 14,000 acre-feet of water. I will put it on the agenda."

Grant County Commissioner Ron Hall pointed out: "It's a political year. The governor is a political animal. People read something and think it's gospel: 'I read it in the paper.' You need to respond with facts, not reply to articles. The others network very well. Don't forget it's a political year."

McInturff asked for additional discussion on the publicist issue. "We need to increase the match to the ISC. If we're going to make a concerted effort, it will take $30,000 to $40,000."

Thal concurred that an increase should be addressed. "Is there a way to find out what would be an appropriate amount?"

"In writing and applying for grants, usually it's 20 percent to 25 percent match," McInturff said. "That would be around $10,000. I could redo that letter and set out a match percentage to see what ISC's requirement is."

Bates suggested it be put on the agenda, to which Thal replied it would slow down the process too much. "We need a publicist yesterday. Maybe it's worth moving forward now."

McInturff said he would talk to the ISC's Deputy Director Craig Roepke about the issue.

Schultz had several items for public comment.

"The WRRI at NMSU will be having its annual conference starting on Thursday in Albuquerque," he announced. "The theme is 'New Water Realities: Proposals for Meaningful Change.'"

He also said the Water Resources Research Center at the University of Arizona would be having its annual conference on April 8 in Tucson, with the theme, "Closing the Gap between Water Supply and Demand."

"Both of these conferences are similar and there are likely other similar conferences with similar themes," Schultz said. "It would be good if messages from these conferences got out to the general public. They are usually archived and can be used for public outreach."

He also said a drought conference would be held in Albuquerque Feb. 20-21, as part of the annual xeriscape conference.

"The ISC released its Draft Updated Regional Water Planning Handbook: Guidelines to Preparing Regional Water Plans in New Mexico and had a period of time for review and comments by individuals and entities, to which I replied," Schultz said. "The ISC plans to convene an informational meeting open to representatives from each region to provide additional information for greater clarity on the water plans."

He talked about the Rural Futures Institute established in 2012 by the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. It is dedicated to asking hard questions of how rural communities need to evolve. "I attended the second conference earlier this month." He then read the mission and vision statements.

"The RFI works in a holistic approach, which might be useful for us," Schultz said. "Rather than just concentrating on a single item, it utilizes many avenues of development to have a greater chance of lasting sustainability. "

Schultz said he would talk to people at the WRRI conference, beginning Thursday.

"I can't recall that the Grant County Commission has voted on the Reservation Fund," M.H. "Dutch" Salmon of the Gila Conservation Coalition said.

"If we were to enter into a JPA, the commission would address it," Gutierrez said.

"I understand why the water commission wants a publicist, but I can't fathom why the ISC would be involved, because they always say that the ISC will be neutral and are not trying to promote usage of the water," Salmon said.

"Neutrality is with the consideration of proposals and projects," McInturff said. "The ISC purpose is to use the money for the benefit of the region."

"I don't think anyone is against recreation." Salmon said, "but they differ in the methods. Some would bring in powerboats to a reservoir and others prefer a quiet ride on the river."

"My understanding of reading the AWSA is that it is to secure the water and use the money for the benefit of the region," Thal replied to Salmon's comment.

"About the economics of sportsmen—Roepke said if Catron County put in an off-stream reservoir, it would bring at least $3 million income to the county," Lee said.

"Of the top 10 trophy blue ribbon streams in the U.S., two are below dams," Thal said.

The next meeting is set for 1:30 p.m. Tuesday, Jan. 14, at the Grant County Administration Center. No meeting is planned for December.

Live from Silver City

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