Editor's Note: PowerPoint slides are now available.
By Mary Alice Murphy
The second part of the Friday, March 21, 2014, Gila Economic Development Alliance monthly Roundtable featured a presentation by representatives of the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission discussing the Arizona Water Settlements Act.
Craig Roepke, ISC Gila Project manager, introduced David Anderson, ISC environmental scientist. "I'm going to let David present the presentation he put together focused on water, the need for, how it will help the economy and the outside area importance of water in the West and the whole U.S., for that matter."
Anderson said he has been nine months on the ISC staff, but worked before that for the Office of the State Engineer, "so I'm familiar with water issues."
He noted the area is in a seasonal drought, with the prediction of the drought persisting or intensifying through the end of April. "We expect the summer to be hotter and drier."
Anderson said the Colorado River Basin Study, recently completed, showed that water demand in the basin was outstripping the 10-year running average of the supply and the area was beginning to run into water shortages. SNOTEL, which measures snow depths, of the Natural Resources Conservation Service had reported the water year from Oct. 1-Sept. 30 was at 31 percent of normal in the state and 40 percent of normal in the Gila region.
The Interstate Stream Commission is made up of eight commissioners, with the state engineer as the ninth member of the commission. They serve without pay and come from throughout the state of New Mexico.
The ISC has the authority to investigate the water supply, as well as develop, conserve and protect the waters of the state; oversee the seven interstate water compacts; and determine the Arizona Water Settlements Act water use alternatives to pursue and fund.
He gave a brief summary of the process that culminated in the AWSA. In 1964, the Arizona versus California degree allocated 30,000 acre-feet of water to the Gila Basin. Arizona and California were allowed water for growth, but New Mexico got only what it was already using.
In 1968, the state received an additional 18,000 acre-feet of water, but it made the water a junior water right that year, so the water would be junior to all senior water users downstream. "It was not practical to develop water, so nothing went forward over the years. Today, New Mexico doesn't use all its adjudicated water rights because of the timing of water availability. Large amounts come in floods and cannot be used. In 2004, the AWSA gave the state the ability to develop 14,000 average annual acre-feet of water. The AWSA got around the priority issue. Through the act, the Gila River Indian Community forbears its priority call, if New Mexico pays to have water from the Central Arizona Project delivered to GRIC. The AWSA amends the Colorado River Basin Project Act to permit usage of 14,000 annual average acre-feet and up to $128 million for a project."
He clarified that $66 million of the funding is available for any water supply demand, and the remaining $34 million to a possible $62 million would be used only for a diversion project to develop the water.
"The ISC must approve a contract for the water between the U.S. Secretary of the Interior and the water users," Anderson said. "If the ISC gives the secretary, by the end of this year, notice of plans to develop the water, it will trigger the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) process."
He summarized the ISC Gila Policy, created a few months before the AWSA was signed in December 2004, which considers the water users and the environment in its decisions.
Anderson explained the two-tier process, which culminated in 16 area-stakeholder proposals being approved for consideration. One was withdrawn, leaving 15, including municipal, wastewater reuse, agricultural improvements, watershed improvements and diversion and storage.
Ag conservation proposals include 10 ditches in Catron County doing improvements to conserve water and rebuilding of ditches after floods. Taking two examples—the 1892 Luna Irrigation Ditch is estimated to cost $1.364 million to line the ditch and the Pleasanton Eastside Ditch is estimated to cost $2.662 million. In Hidalgo County, the Sunset and New Mexico Model Canal are estimated at $11.306 million and $4.777 million, respectively.
Anderson showed a slide graphic of how the AWSA works, illustrating the legal mechanisms. "If New Mexico were to withdraw water in the state, it would pay to send replacement water from Lake Havasu to its destination."
He had lists of the diversion and storage projects, which include the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission proposal, the Grant County Reservoir proposal, Hidalgo County's proposal for agricultural use and the Southwest New Mexico Regional pipeline proposal, which would serve Grant County communities on the water's way to Deming.
The costs are estimated at $210 million to $348 million, and "likely to increase," according to Anderson. Operating costs for the diversion and storage project would be about $3 million annually. He said the Grant County Reservoir proposal, which would use Gila River water, would cost about $18 million in capital costs for the recommended alternative.
"As we, staff, look at the proposals, we were directed by the commissioners to incorporate as many of the projects as possible," Anderson said.
Municipal conservation projects include one from the Gila Conservation Coalition for $10.8 million estimated cost. The ISC funded two pilot projects for municipal conservation, allocating $50,000 each to Deming, for incentives to replace swamp coolers with refrigerated air, and to Silver City, which changed its irrigation system on ball fields, to respond to soil moisture. Municipal effluent reuse would apply for groundwater credits to conserve water.
The watershed proposals were many and included a Catron County proposal and a Grant Soil and Water Conservation District proposal.
"Who wants the water?" Anderson asked and listed on a slide. Agriculture is asking for 15,000 to 35,000 acre-feet; municipalities want from 2,500 to 14,000 af, the environment from 500 to 1,500 af, biofuels from 10,000 to 30,000 af, and industries from 500 to 50,000 af.
His list of water supplies, with municipal conservation at 2,000 acre-feet a year, and other sources were listed on the slide.
"How do we meet the demands?" Anderson asked. "The wants are for 150,000 acre-feet. None of the present supplies or projected supplies will make up the water deficit."
Challenges that await the planning process include feasibility, environmental concerns, cultural concerns, different stakeholder values, time and costs. "These are driving the future water availability and demand," Anderson said. "We are trying to meet multiple needs with the same drop of water."
He had a slide showing the many years it took to develop the San Juan-Chama Project, which brings Upper Colorado River water to the Rio Grande Basin to provide water to Albuquerque. The first studies were done in 1918; a survey in 1933, the creation of the water authority in 1962, and construction began in 1964. The process was completed in 2008, with direct diversion to Albuquerque in 2011. A similar project for the Ute Reservoir began in the 1950s and came online in the 2000s.
Jim Redford, area resident, said: "This process has been going on a long time. For 15 years, we wouldn't talk to the mines. We already have a diversion to Bill Evans Lake, and the mine expressed an interest in collaboration."
Anderson explained the challenges—one being elevation and another being sediment. "Freeport diverts clean water into the lake, any time it can, as long as it doesn't exceed its allocation. The AWSA can divert only during high flows, that's why Freeport's facility cannot be used for AWSA water because of sediment. If the water were to be used upstream, it would have to be pumped, therefore precluding upstream users."
Kurt Albershardt of the Murray Hotel said he did some calculations on the San Juan Chama and Ute Reservoir project costs from beginning to end. "The projected costs are 12 to 1, by my calculations. The estimated $348 million would become $4 billion. I'm concerned we don't have paying customers for the water. I'm also worried about the costs in Phoenix, which are not tied to agricultural prices here."
"If you want the water, you have to have skin in the game," Anderson said. "Costs always increase. The CAP water costs are now between $100 and $200 per acre-foot, but New Mexico is paying only to deliver the water from Lake Havasu to its destination."
Roepke said much of the inflation was caused by federal agencies paying about 2 to 1 over the estimated price. "The act made sure New Mexico will build and own the project, which is unique. As for the appraisal estimates, we are contracting with engineering firms to review the first estimates before a project is built. There will be three phases of evaluating projects. We are determined we will not see cost inflations."
Albershardt asked if private contractors would be building it? "I've found it's worse if you combine private and government estimates."
Roepke said the three-phase approach is designed to eliminate that happening.
Bruce Ashburn of PNM said with the length of time of the completed projects mentioned being about 50 years. "Over 50 years, you can have a lot of inflation. What scares me is with Texas and Arizona growing, they will have to bring water in from somewhere else."
Gordon West, local business owner, said he was confused by the opposition to Senate Bill 89 and the opposition to spending funds on conservation and non-diversion alternatives. "As a business owner, I am interested in seeing the use of funding happen quickly, because I would like to see economic development."
"The city of Albuquerque turned the water over to a water authority," Anderson said. "The city just started using the water, even though the project was built for decades. In the 1970s, Albuquerque used to advertise to bring people to live there that the city was on top of an aquifer the size of Lake Superior. The U.S. Geologic Survey found out that the deeper parts of the aquifer were not as plentiful as it was thought.
"We do as good as job as we can, using historical data, but it doesn't tell you what will happen in the future," Anderson said. "Regional governments need to look at providing water for their constituents."
"All the water wants cannot be met using conservation and watershed restoration," Roepke said. "Yes, we will have to do conservation, but it won't fill the demand."
West alleged water use could be reduced by 25 percent to 50 percent.
"I'm agreeing conservation will be part of the solution, but conservation will not meet the needs and demands," Roepke said.
Rick McInturff of the city of Deming said he testified at the Senate Bill 89 hearing. "We need all three, watershed restoration, conservation and diversion."
Allyson Siwik of the Gila Resources Information Project and the Gila Conservation Coalition said that former ISC director Norm Gaume also testified. "He said the project was designed to cost $348 million, but it was fatally flawed, in that it did not account for sediment, which would clog the project; the construction was substandard and would be blown out or buried by floods and the geology showed seepage losses. He continued that with evaporation loss, the losses would be way more than the project is designed to deliver. We have another engineering estimate happening. I'm wondering how the fatal flaws will be addressed."
Anderson said, yes, the ISC was bringing in other engineers. "Everyone has respect for Norman Gaume. I wouldn't characterize what he did as a thorough evaluation. We went back to the engineers and asked if they had dealt with his concerns. To say fatally flawed to impossible, I don't buy it. Yes, there are design challenges."
"Other challenges include municipal conservation," he continued. "If you reduce water use, the utilities still need revenue. If you conserve, you almost get punished, because the rates have to be raised. In Albuquerque, the usage has gone down, but rates have gone up."
He gave an example of a daily shower turning into a short shower and then a Navy shower every other day. "It gets to the point where you cannot conserve anymore."
Jeremiah Garcia, Gila EDA chairman and moderator, said people still wanted to discuss the issue. "Are there any plans for you to discuss this?"
Anderson said another public meeting was tentatively scheduled for 6 p.m. April 14, at Cliff School. "The local home economics group plans to do a fundraiser at about $5 a plate, because there is nowhere to eat in the area."
"If the Gila EDA wants more, we would be happy to come down again," Roepke said. "It would be valuable to us."
Cissy McAndrew, Southwest New Mexico Green Chamber of Commerce director, said the group and the Western Institute for Lifelong Learning would hold a "Sense of Place" event on April 11, with breakfast and a brown bag lunch in between presentations. "Dan Schilling, who wrote Civic Tourism, will speak. We are also working with Silver City MainStreet Project on the Tamal Fiesta, which will take place the same weekend as the Lighted Christmas Parade, Nov. 29."
Christine Logan, area representative for the New Mexico Economic Development Department, said there has been a lot of interest in relocations. She said West had worked with her to answer a request. She announced the Women's Career Success Conference to be held on April 17.
Scott Terry, Silver City-Grant County Chamber of Commerce president, said the chamber was working with the Small Business Development Center on a meet and greet for entrepreneurs over the age of 50 years.
Ashburn said PNM was working with rebates such as switching from a swamp cooler to refrigerated air. "Yes, there is an increase in energy use, but there is actual water savings."
Skip Thacker, Gila EDA member, announced Bridge Community would hold an early dinner fundraiser on April 13, with Jericho providing entertainment.
George Julian Dworin of the Silver City Arts and Cultural District invited everyone to the Tuesday evening Town Council meeting when he hoped the council would adopt the first Continental Divide Trail Gateway. As part of the celebration for the designation, April 23, the area would welcome a group of wounded warriors who are hiking the entire trail.
For the month of April, advertising in Times Square in New York City would invite people to the Gila Cliff Dwellings.
"I am also inviting you to buy in on cooperative advertising," Dworin said. "We have a full page in New Mexico magazine for the rest of the year, as well as advertising in El Paso, Arizona and in Phoenix.
Mimi Clark, representing Mimbres Region Arts Council, said Friday evening would feature the last folk series.
The next Gila EDA meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. Friday, April 25, at a location to be determined.