Editor's Note: This is the final part of a two-part series on the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting held Tuesday, March 18, 2014, in Silver City.
The meeting continued with three items of old business on the agenda.
"We had discussed getting an NMSU scientific review of The Nature Conservancy's Defining ecosystem water needs and assessing impacts of climate change and water diversion on riparian and aquatic species and ecosystems of the upper Gila River in New Mexico study," Alex Thal, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, said. "I have received the report and it is 400 pages long."
Tom Bates, representing the Deming Soil and Water Conservation District, noted that Martha Cooper had outlined the scope of the study last year. "Now she has a 15-minute presentation. Would you like to hear it?"
"I would like to take the report to the ISC first," Thal said. "I would like an independent scientific review, and then hear NMSU's review and hers at the same time." He noted that NMSU had agreed to review it and that Roepke said he had found misinformation and flaws in the report.
Anthony Gutierrez, representing Grant County and serving as chairman of the water commission, asked if Thal had anything in writing to request the review.
Thal said he could create a small paragraph and have it signed by the chairman.
The next agenda item addressed public outreach.
Gutierrez said he thought the issue had already been covered earlier in the meeting.
Bates said the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission was "receptive to reading Mary Alice's article from The Grant County Beat. They gave out copies to those attending."
"In my own personal experience, if someone asks me if I have read something and gives me a copy, I read it," Bates said. "It needs to be word of mouth. Ask groups to hand out copies."
M.H. "Dutch" Salmon of the Gila Conservation Coalition said he had not yet seen The Nature Conservancy report. "What are the things that are wrong with it?"
"I can get it electronically and send it to you," Thal said.
The next agenda item addressed the New Mexico ISC Input Group.
"The next Input Group meeting will be held April 14," Gutierrez said. "I'm not sure where, but a public meeting will be held at 6 p.m. in Cliff."
In committee reports, Thal reported the commission balance is $7,002.15, and the Reservation Fund balance is $10,5002.09.
"Mr. (Rick) McInturff (representing the city of Deming) has put together a report showing who has contributed," ThaI said. "I suggest we go back to the entities to get the funds. Do we need a target date?"
Gutierrez suggested sending out a reminder letter, and McInturff said he could re-invoice the entities that had not yet paid.
"Once we get the $22,000, as I understand it, $2000 goes into our operational coffers," Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, said.
David Ogilvie, representing the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission, said he knew that some entities had committed, but had not sent the check. The GBIC has committed to paying into the fund, he said.
"So has Grant County," Gutierrez said. "In the next few months, the ISC will make a decision. I think the ISC is looking for something from this commission. I ask each representative to go to your entity and discuss the formulation of a joint-powers agreement to support diversion.
"It's time to show the ISC, we have some skin in the game," he continued. "We need to show them the Southwest Region would like to contract for the water. As I pointed out to the Senate committee, there are ways to finance the infrastructure."
Lee said he would be more comfortable having something in writing to present to Hidalgo County.
"Our JPA has some language we could use," Thal said. To Gutierrez, he said: "I will work with you to put something together."
Gutierrez said the JPA is broad and kind of vague. "I think we need to be specific about contracting for the water. It would be advantageous for you to have talks with your commissioners ahead of time. We need a draft by next meeting."
"Are you saying this commission will be the New Mexico Unit Authority?" Bates asked.
"We would not necessarily say that, but I think the next step is a JPA," Gutierrez said.
"I think we should get ISC input and then an attorney," Bates opined.
"I think we need to maintain neutrality from the ISC," Gutierrez said.
"Is there anything that prohibits us from contracting for the water?" McInturff asked.
"I don't think there's anything prohibiting it, but we need some sustainability behind it," Gutierrez said.
"I've been thinking about it and I thought it would be difficult for a public body to make a hard contract without knowing the costs and numbers, unless we built in contingencies," McInturff said.
"Maybe a memorandum of understanding would be better?" Gutierrez asked.
"I thought this body could manage the water in the future," McInturff said. "Maybe we need an MOU at this time."
"I know the ISC needs something concrete from us in order to solidify that New Mexico gets all 14,000 acre-feet of water," Gutierrez said. "Maybe we need to be an Authority to make a contract at this time."
Thal suggested that perhaps a memorandum of agreement, which is more formal than an MOU, would be best. "Before we decide on how to do it, we must decide how we want to dance with the ISC throughout the whole process. I will draft an MOU, MOA or JPA, but maybe it's better for you, Anthony, to talk to the ISC. Give us your talking points and we can decide."
Gutierrez said he would have the discussions.
"Maybe the approach to the ISC chairman should be that under an MOU we want to become the New Mexico Unit and manage the water," McInturff said. "But what about the operations? We need something out there to show we want to be involved."
Gutierrez asked Dolores Dominguez of Grant County, who serves at the water commission secretary, if she could remind the entities that this is a critical time and their representation, forming a quorum, is necessary at each meeting.
During Public Comments, Schultz said he had one item. He began talking about an upcoming water townhall to be held by New Mexico First. For those who did not know anything about the history of the organization, he gave a detailed history. He concluded with: "New Mexico First will hold its seventh townhall on water on April 15 and 16 in Albuquerque at a cost of $100 per registrant."
Peter Burrows, Grant County resident, said: "I have tried to follow the Arizona Water Settlements Act process. Something Alex said caught my attention. You are trying to appoint an economist to the panel, but there is no economist on the panel. To me, that should be the first person on the panel."
"And then Mr. McInturff said, without knowing the numbers, it is hard to make a decision," Burrows continued. "As for a publicist, why don't you go to Western and put the Economics Department to work analyzing the numbers? There will be lots of articles creating interest in the process."
"I support what Burrows said that we need to be cautious with numbers," Salmon said. "This is big money we're talking about. Before you do anything contractual, we taxpayers need to know what you're talking about."
"We're running out of time," Don Stailey, GBIC alternate, said: "I think it's up to all of us members. We can't depend on Mary Alice to do everything. We need to do it ourselves. If you are interested in buying a property, you put earnest money down.
"Time is of the essence if we're going to get the water," Stailey continued. "And I reiterate: It's about the water."
The next meeting was changed to Thursday, April 17, at 10 a.m. at the Grant County Administration Center. The reason for the change was that at least three members of the commission planned to attend the New Mexico First Townhall and would be gone on the usual date.
Thal requested a report on the townhall at the meeting.
"I ask for representation from the ISC on the regional water plan, as well as on other questions we have," Lee said.
"We can talk to the ISC by conference call," Gutierrez said.
The meeting was adjourned.