On Wednesday, Feb. 19, members of the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission met in a regular meeting to hear reports and discuss the hearing of Senate Bill 89, which several attended.
"The treasury has about $1,300 in it," Topper Thorpe, GBIC member, said. I forgot to look at the exact amount. The ditches have agreed to put in another $100 each. Next month I will have a better report."
"We are so busy," said Kim Musser, representing the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation, in place of Vivian Gonzales, who was unable to attend.
"Friday we will determine what material to put in a template. The draft Appraisal Report will be ready for internal review in mid-March."
At the meeting in Cliff, she said she heard about the possibility of a brownfield on one of the proposed storage sites.
"Yes, it is a brownfield at Peru Hill in Deming," Musser said. "It has been cleaned up, and as soon as the buildings are demolished, the EPA will update the report for the Deming storage site."
Martha Cooper of The Nature Conservancy asked: "The Appraisal Report will be only for internal review in March? When for public comment?"
"We will present the final report to the ISC in July," Musser replied. "I don't know when there will be public comment."
Thorpe had asked that the item on water situation prospects for 2014 be added to the agenda.
"At the ISC meetings, there has been a lot of concern on water availability, especially for irrigation," Thorpe said. "We are well below the normal median level in the river right now. There is no snowpack; well, maybe a little dab, but it raises concerns about how much we will have available for this summer.
"The predictions say we may be moving into an El Niño period, which often brings an earlier monsoon season, but it is not confirmed," he said. "An El Niño in place has definite implications for us, as we go into the irrigation season, because it usually means we will get more precipitation. This year we may require terms of sharing. Each of us has to look at our own situation, how we use the water and how we share it. We don't have enough water now. In the peak irrigation season, it could be worse this year."
Tom Bates, representing the Deming Soil and Water Conservation District, gave a report on the Tuesday Gila/San Francisco Water commission meeting
"We had no action items," Bates reported. "Mostly, it was a discussion on the SB 89 hearing."
He said Anthony Gutierrez, GSFWC chairman, went through the investment banker estimates of water value, with the original cost $4.25 per 1,000 gallons. In 25 years, the users would have paid the investment and the water would be worth $138 million.
Gutierrez also talked about the balance of $10,500 in the reservation fund.
Gila Conservation Coalition member Clare Catlett gave a report on the amount likely to be received through the AWSA. She said the $66 million has grown to about $90 million, and then the funding for construction of a unit is divided into two parts—the first is $34 million and then a possible $28 million, which might not materialize.
Rick McInturff explained the funding is based on the economy. He also said other parts of the state were getting pipelines.
Janice Kiehne of the 1894 Luna Irrigation Ditch and Javier Diaz, Luna County commissioner spoke articulately about the importance of the human species on the rivers.
"Anthony said the group is concerned about conservation, but also about people," Bates concluded.
"What is reservation fund for?" Cooper asked.
"It's to show we want the water, and if we don't get it, the money will be refunded," Bates explained.
Thorpe gave a report on the Senate Bill 89 hearing.
"SB89 was co-sponsored by Sen. Peter Wirth and Sen. Howie Morales," Thorpe said. "It would have killed the opportunity for a diversion, and that was the intent. The bill stipulated that $82 million would be used for projects other than diversion projects."
He said Wirth allowed five from the supporters and five from those against the bill to testify. The five against it were Rick McInturff, Anthony Gutierrez, Javier Diaz, Stan Jones and Donnie Stailey.
"Basically they were saying there should not be any stipulations on the funding," Thorpe said. "The end result was a vote that killed the issue. The second vote to move it to the next committee also failed."
He handed out a packet with several informational items. They included two articles written by The Grant County Beat; a press release from the Gila Conservation Coalition, posted on the Beat editorial page; and two articles in the Silver City Daily Press, one from the Associated Press and another from the Cibola Beacon.
"I was pleased we were represented in Santa Fe by people in Luna, Hidalgo and Grant counties on how they felt," Thorpe said. "I found it interesting in the article about Sen. Wirth in the Daily Press. He seemed to be saying the exact opposite of what he said at the hearing, perhaps because of the way the bill went."
"Analysis, evaluation and studies continue by Reclamation and the ISC," Thorpe said in an ISC report. "No decisions of any kind have been made. Everything is still in consideration.
"If you hear a decision is going to be made that is 'going to flood us out,' it's not true, although it might be someday," he clarified.
To a question about SB90, that required all the money to be in place before a diversion is considered, Thorpe said he thought it did not get out of committee.
David Ogilvie, GBIC Chairman said all the ditches had their annual meetings in January to prepare for the upcoming season.
"I attended the Upper Gila and Gila Farm meetings," Ogilvie said. "There were concerns about the drought and the lack of snow. The past two years, we have had more upkeep on the ditches because of the ashes coming down. It will be an ongoing problem. All three diversions required extensive repair and rebuilding from the late flood. With the increased maintenance, the assessments have gone up to historic levels."
Under old business, Thorpe said: "We owe these folks, who took time to go up to the Roundhouse and who had never testified before, a huge thanks. Most made the decision to go the day before they left. I encourage you to commend them, and take it as a lesson on how involved we need to be in the Legislature."
"Wirth took both sides of the issue," Thorpe said. "This is an election year and people are trying to position themselves."
"I hear Donnie did an excellent job," Cooper said. "People have strong values, so it gets messy."
She continued under new business.
"We are having historic flow patterns," Cooper said. "I will be giving a 15-minute talk on The Nature Conservancy study at the Gila River Symposium. The final report will be ready in the spring or summer. I am willing to also give the talk to the GBIC.
"The other thing is: I expect the river to be dry this spring," she continued. "The hydrograph shows extreme low flows for the past 10 years in the spring. Any solution to this is at least 10 years away, with about five for NEPA and five for construction, if there is any."
She said The Nature Conservancy wants to hear the irrigators' concerns and possible short-term solutions." I have heard mention of an inflatable storage, which could help. I'm talking to irrigators, but nothing is happening. I want to understand what's needed."
Mike Cuff, representing the Farm Bureau said: "I have gone on record that the Farm Bureau supports storage and banking of water."
"The biggest diversion will be if it goes to Arizona," Cuff said. "We need to emphasize the definitions. Reservoirs are banking water to put back into the river. We're trying to keep water in the river, not take it out.
"I plan to write some articles and may have a time to be on the new radio station," he said. "At 10 a.m. on Thursdays, they talk about water. I have asked to counter the information that is given out. We want to keep the water here."