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Gila Basin Irrigation Commission meeting 120413

Editor's Note: The Beat did not know about Interstate Stream Commission staff presentations for Cliff-Gila FFA members ahead of time, so did not get notes from the presentations.

The Gila Basin Irrigation Commission held a gathering for Future Farmers of America participants before the official meeting to have Interstate Stream Commission staff members provide information on the Arizona Water Settlements Act.

At the beginning of the formal GBIC meeting, Craig Roepke, ISC deputy director, said the ISC is considering 15 proposals to use the 14,000 average annual acre-feet of water from the Gila and San Francisco rivers and up to $128 million for projects, including conservation, ditch improvements, conservation and diversion and storage projects. The water and funding was allocated to the four-county region of southwest New Mexico, consisting of Catron, Hidalgo, Luna and Grant counties by the 2004 Arizona Water Settlements Act.

Roepke said the process began with 16 proposals, but the city of Bayard had withdrawn its application for effluent reuse.

"Of the 15 remaining, five involve watersheds, three are effluent reuse, and municipal conservation pilot projects are ongoing in Deming and Silver City," Roepke said. "Three of the projects are diversion and storage.  Others involve ditch improvements. The ISC has allocated $2.8 million for this year to determine technical feasibility, costs and ecological impacts of the proposals, with $1.63 million of the amount, more than half, for ecological studies."

The ISC's timeline is to have a preliminary decision by August 2014, with the final decision to be made in November of next year to meet the December 2014 deadline to inform the Secretary of the Interior of the state's intention to use the water or not. If the water is not used, then $66 million is available for other water projects to meet water supply in the area, but $62 million is lost to the area, because it is specifically for a New Mexico Unit project or projects.

"We have 22 studies ongoing," Roepke said. "The climate study is done. We are studying everything from the atmosphere to the mud under the river. We are trying to get preliminary results of the studies by January, at the request of legislators, and final results by June.

"So far, we have not discovered anything indicating that we cannot divert," Roepke said. "When, because of Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement constraints, we chop off the tops of higher flows, it actually gives us a higher percentage of flows up to 300 cubic feet a second in the river. Letting 500 cfs to 700 cfs go by will not impair the ability to divert."

Topper Thorpe, GBIC member, thanked Roepke and his staff for talking to the students.

"These guys are great," Roepke said, referring to his staff, Helen Sobien, Ali Effati and David Anderson. "They created these presentations themselves, and also presented them yesterday (Tuesday, Dec. 3) at Aldo Leopold High School, where they got a great reception."

Vivian Gonzales of the Phoenix Office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said those involved with the AWSA studies meet at least weekly and sometimes two or three times a week, looking at engineering studies.

"Reclamation is working on options for diversion and storage," Gonzales said. "The Denver Office is doing the cost benefit analyses. We hope to do a presentation to the ISC in January."

She announced two grant-funding opportunities—one a field services grant and the second, water and energy efficiency grants.

Martha Cooper, Gila Valley resident, asked what the first grant involved.

"It's for conservation," Gonzales said. "The deadline is Feb. 7. The water and energy efficiency grant applications are due Jan. 23."

Thorpe reported on the recent AWSA ISC planning process Input Group meeting and the public meeting that followed.

"The ISC is doing a lot of studies, but there is still not enough information to develop conclusions," Thorpe said.

He also reported on the recent Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting, where he said two or three basic issues were addressed, including the proposed reservation fund, with the member entities of the GSFWC putting in money to support water diversion projects. Another issue was the hiring of a publicist.

"There is a definite need to get out factual information rather than what has been appearing in publications," Thorpe said. "The issue was not resolved."

The GSFWC did pass the reservation fund proposal, he reported.

"We had an ISC meeting earlier this week," Thorpe said. "The chairman said the ISC could not work on an agreement with the GSFWC at this time, because the process was not far enough along."

David Ogilvie, GBIC chairman, said the group had received an invoice for the reservation fund.

"I move to refer the issue to all our (Gila Basin Irrigation) commissioners, if not here in a meeting, in a conference call, when the time comes," Thorpe moved" B.J. Agnew, GBIC secretary, seconded the motion.

"Related to the ISC meeting this week," Thorpe said, "the staff requested of the commission to allow the staff to continue aggregating proposals, where it made sense. The commission gave the option to staff members. Particularly as the proposals relate to the AWSA, they would go to the Gila Committee of the ISC. The members are State Engineer Scott Verhines, ISC Chairman Jim Dunlap, Buford Harris of Las Cruces and me. The committee would make recommendations to the entire commission."

He said in the meeting it was pointed out that there is still no question that the state is in a drought condition. "There is still great concern, and the maps still show drought."

Thorpe referred to the earlier presentations to the FFA students, and their interest in the AWSA.

"Kids from Las Cruces came to the Gila River," Thorpe said. "Most of them had never seen the river before, and they said not to divert it. So we thought kids here needed to know more. I hope they share their thoughts."

Mike Cuff of the Cliff Farm Bureau said he wanted to let the GBIC members know that the Farm Bureau supports the local efforts "all the way up." He said the former president, Stewart Rooks, is now at the county level, and Tammy Hooker is the first female president of an area Farm Bureau chapter in the state.

Thorpe said state legislators had made a strong request of the ISC to have preliminary results of the studies available before the legislative session.

Ogilvie said Reclamation is doing geologic studies in the Gila Valley.

It was decided to hold the next GBIC meeting when necessary and when more information is available. The members and the public will be notified.

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