Editor's Note: The Interstate Stream Commission Quarterly Public Meeting, which was held Jan. 13 at Cliff High School, will be divided into several articles. This is the fourth and final article of a series of four. Also note that some of the presentations were lengthy and can likely be better understood from the http://www.nmawsa.org website reports. A brief summary of each report will be presented in the articles, but most of the articles will center on questions and answers. Many asked questions and most were unknown to this editor.
The question-and-answer period continued, with those in the audience asking questions and Interstate Stream Commission, Bohannon and Huston Inc. personnel and U.S. Bureau of Reclamation representatives answering the questions.
"This is for the ISC," a man said. "In the past 24-36 months, how many times have users diverted out of the river? In the high flows, you don't take into account the debris and mud."
"In 2009-2010, a lot of water could have been diverted," Craig Roepke, ISC deputy director said.
The same speaker agreed: "Yes, the highest since the 2005 flood. All that would have been diverted, but you would have had evaporation."
"About 25 percent of storage could have been diverted," Roepke said. "30 percent if it were full. There are years when you will divert very little."
"What is the value of crops in the Gila Basin?" a woman asked several times to differing answers.
"It's based on the value the way we evaluate agriculture benefits net," Steve Piper, Reclamation economist, said. "There is farm income with irrigation and without irrigation. We will evaluate that in the regional impact."
David Anderson, ISC environmental scientist stepped forward to answer the woman's question: "You can get that information online at the National Agriculture Statistics Service."
A man asked about the Deming project. "We've always seen the front end. What happens to the water when it gets to Deming?"
"The proposal didn't get into that detail," Riley said. "We are presuming the water would be treated for municipal use. The numbers can be applied easily so we can tell you."
"I am flabbergasted by these proposals," a man said. "These are rare, threatened ecological jewels. The proposals will obliterate local control. We will give our lives to the Central Arizona Project or the best use for the Gila River water will be to feed growing Deming and Las Cruces.
"Clearly there are environmental impacts," he continued. "The impact is on 400 cfs or 4,000 cfs. The environmental hurdles are high. Every drop of water will be metered by the federal government.
"It's clear from the scope that agricultural users and the health of the river are not the primary beneficiaries of this proposed action," he concluded.
"Will the cultural evaluation be done after the decision?" Starr Belsky, Silver City business owner, asked.
Reclamation NEPA specialist Kimberly Musser confirmed that it would be after the state of New Mexico tells Reclamation what project to look at.
"This question is for Riley or Bohannon Huston," Belsky said. "The terminus at Deming for the maximum diversion is the old Peru Mill site. It's a brownfield. I have a real problem with that."
"I have no idea what contaminants are there," Musser said. "It would have to be studied, confirmed and mitigated. The EPA decides how clean is clean."
"I also have a real problem about costs of the water going to Deming, if we don't know what they want to do with it," Belsky said.
"How can we bridge the high cost benefit?" a woman asked. "I saw sustainability mentioned only once."
"This is for Piper," M.H. "Dutch" Salmon, Gila Conservation Coalition member, said. "You have attempted to factor in the recreational benefit because the river has no cost if it's left alone."
"At this point, the environmental costs have not been estimated," Piper said. "The current recreational value and the potential to be detrimental can be quantified."
A woman cautioned that the benefits lost in wells would equal the costs.
"We haven't done that yet," Piper said. "Fifty years is used in the hypothetical example. In federal projects, we are limited to 100 years. We could do 100-year analyses, but typically we do 50-year ones.
"You never returned to the question about who will pay," Mary Burton Riseley, Gila Valley resident, said. "Craig said the water users. Who are the water users? As an irrigator in the Gila Valley, it's not going to be us. At least once a year, a high flow will push away our diversions. We have to wait until it's dry to bulldoze. I would like to see some money put to protecting our ditches. At the Upper Gila Ditch, the whole ditch is in danger. A Rosgen or other type would be good. I don't hear it being considered."
"A Rosgen type like what Bohannon Huston proposed would be a high priority," Roepke replied. "I would encourage the ISC to do that."
"But who pays the $450 million?" Riseley asked, to which Roepke replied he didn't know.
"It would have been nice in 2005, when the Legislature allocated $950,000 for environmental studies," Roepke said. "However, at the behest of the environment community, the governor vetoed it. We would have been farther along in our studies."
"We don't see anyone who is part of the GBIC here," Kyle Johnson, Gila Valley resident, said. "We didn't hear them advocate. Why not? Because the fix is in?
"This is not a Republican or Democrat thing," he continued. "I think the agencies have a mission and they are going forward. A diversion project is exclusive of all non-diversion alternatives.
"I don't believe you when you say the ISC has not made the decision," Johnson said. "I think the decision has been made. This is not over. Protect the river is what you need to do."
"You have been on the same theme the past four meetings that you believe the ISC is lying," Roepke said.
"I haven't seen anything to change my mind," Johnson said.
"It is time to learn that there is no profit in arguing with lunatics, idiots or liars," Roepke said. "If you think we're lying, why are you here?
"I think a lot of people are not going to change their minds," he continued. "That does not make us enemies because we do not agree."
"We are not enemies," a man said. "We love this land."
"There was an earlier question about water rights being protected," David Anderson, ISC environmental scientist, said. "New Mexico is charged with protecting the senior water rights. We will not endanger them."
Mike Cuff, Valley resident and member of the Farm Bureau said:
"Several from the GBIC were or are here. They certainly have interest in the issue. Their meetings are open. They are neighbors. They know about sustainability. They own the oldest water in the state. (He emailed the Beat and clarified that the rights owned by the ditch owners are the oldest in the Gila Valley.)
"That's not true," Riseley protested. "The oldest are in the northern part of the state from 1610."
"The adjudicated water rights of the ditches are the oldest ones here," Cuff agreed. "The GBIC meetings are public and advertised. As far as the ISC, I have not run into anything they have lied about."
"How long would the building process be to build diversions?" a man asked. "And if there is not water how will it get paid for?"
"We haven't put numbers on how long or how many years," Craig Hoover for Bohannon Huston Inc., which had created the first presentation available online at nmawsa.org.
"If there's not water to put in reservoirs, how will we recoup costs?" a man asked the unanswered question.
Reece Fullerton, facilitator, thanked all those who attended the meeting: "Thank you for asking excellent questions."