Editor's Note: This is part 1 of a two-part series on the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting of March 18, 2014.
The Gila/San Francisco Water Commission at its regular monthly meeting Tuesday, March 18, 2014, dealt with several action items under new business.
Alex Thal, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, said the water commission at a previous meeting had approved a request to the appointment of a New Mexico State University economist to the Interstate Stream Commission Science Evaluation Panel.
"The panel has no economist, much less an agricultural economist," Thal pointed out. "My thought is that it's not too late to appoint an economist. Dr. Sam Smallidge asked about the status."
Anthony Gutierrez, representing Grant County and serving as the water commission chairman, said he didn't know where the ISC was in the evaluation process. "It may be useful for Craig (Roepke, ISC Gila Project manager) to make a presentation and request it. I know they plan to have everything completed by June."
Thal asked that Gutierrez call Roepke and ask him the status. "I have sent him a letter."
Thal also addressed the next agenda item: the Reservation Fund for education.
"I think we should pursue education of the public," Thal said. "The facts and figures are not getting out to the people. I would like to pursue a publicist."
Gutierrez agreed and said he had seen information in newspapers, with the exception of Mary Alice Murphy and the Beat, that had been one-sided. He said he had started to write some notes for an article, but "they get lengthy. We need to get someone to take the information and turn it into an article. I don't know how much it will cost."
Gerald Schultz, representing New Mexico Resource Conservation and Development activities, said a long article written by Murphy had taken up a whole page in the Glenwood Gazette. "I know people who write for the Desert Exposure, too. Both would hit a lot of people."
Gutierrez said he had the information and would like to see the articles come from the water commission, not just form him.
Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, said the Gazette gets spread out through the area. "We also need to get to newspapers in Deming, Lordsburg and Reserve."
Tom Bates, representing Deming Soil and Water Conservation District, said it was his experience that it is hard to get people to read an article. "Another good article would be about what happened during the hearing for Senate Bill 89." He said when asked who supported the bill, the vast majority of the many people on the floor of the Legislature stood up. Then when asked who opposed, about a dozen people stood up. But then the witnesses spoke. "What those from this area, who opposed the bill, said, they spoke from the heart."
Gutierrez said he reads all the articles so he can answer questions when people ask him. On the issue of using Reservation Fund money, because it is from public funds, "I think we would have to follow procurement."
Rick McInturff, representing the city of Deming, said he would see what Deming could do.
Thal asked him to come back with proposals, and maybe get someone on a consignment basis.
The third item of new business concerned the New Mexico Regional Water Plans process.
"Thanks to Gerald for bringing it to our attention," Gutierrez said. "I'm still uninformed about the process. Do you have updates, Gerald?"
Schultz said the notes he read at the January meeting were his notes. "They indicated that they would send out notes on their actions. Angela Bordegaray is in charge. When I asked her about the notes, she told me some things came up."
"They are working on a technical platform and are in the beginning stages of forming the steering committees," he said. "Likely this water commission will be part of the steering committee. They said they were hoping for broad geographical representation. They will have Reese Fullerton or Rosemary Romero, facilitators on contract, to lead and set up a meeting in May. They say they want to get the plans done aggressively within two years."
"I attend a lot of meetings of groups, and this (water commission) is the most representative geographically," Gutierrez noted.
"People in Santa Fe can appoint their friends from special interests rather than people who represent their constituents," Thal commented. "Several soil and water conservation districts have resource plans. We need to send a diplomatic message to the ISC that they should not just choose special interests."
"The first time we did a regional water plan, whoever showed up at the meetings was on the steering committee," Schultz said. "They said they want this plan to be done the same way across the state, to make it easier to mesh them with the state plan. I feel I'm qualified to be on the steering committee."
Lee said he recently saw where the funding for the regional water plans didn't make it through the Legislature. "About $700,000, I think. I don't know what effect that will have."
"The stakeholder model that the former governor imposed on us doesn't work," Thal said. "We need to take the initiative with the ISC to let them know not to use that model."
The Southwest New Mexico Regional Water Plan has no teeth, according to Bates. "Our plan says water cannot be taken out of the region, yet legislators float a bill to take the water to Las Cruces. Counties have water budgets, but they are not adhering to them."
"It might not have any teeth in Catron County either, but in conjunction with a resolution passed by the county commission, it prevented 54,000 acre-feet of water from being transferred to the Rio Grande," Thal said. "So it can be effective."
Schultz said it was suggested at the meeting he attended that not just government representatives be part of the steering committees, but they wanted better geographical representation, including those versed in water. "I will bring up at the May meeting that the plans had no teeth."
"If the regional plan has any accountability, I would assume the accountability would come from the local governments," Gutierrez said. "If a water association or irrigation association has to be accountable to the plan, they would have the responsibility for the accountability."
Thal said enforcement of water is almost exclusively with the ISC. A few things may be limited to the soil and water conservation districts. The only influence on water issues is the ISC, with advice from local water commissions.
"I'm afraid it will end up with a stakeholder process," he continued. "I ask for a conference call to clear up the misinformation. We have to make sure the committee has good representation from environmentalists and farmers and ranchers. I have had it with misinformation in the press."
R. Javier Diaz, representing Luna County asked that the topic be on the agenda next month, as well as the possible creation of a water authority.
The next article will cover the rest of the agenda and conclude the meeting.