Editor's Note: This is the final part of a two-part report on water issues that were discussed at the April 1 Silver City-Grant County TEA Party Patriots meeting.
An audience member asked about the major water line work being done from Kirkland to Racetrack roads. "What money will go to maintenance?"
Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner and Gila/San Francisco Water Commission chairman, said the water line would increase capacity to Arenas Valley from Silver City. The operating and maintenance costs will come from the users.
"I have been approached by people asking if the pipeline proposed to Deming goes by a person's home, if it could cut costs," Gutierrez said. "Right now, if a user is not within Silver City, the water is double cost, plus what a water association costs. I don't have an answer, because the cost for the Gila River water is an exchange cost with the Central Arizona Project, and that cost has not been determined yet. I see any project being 10 years out.
"Another question I receive is whether citizens would get to vote on a bond issue?" he continued. "It would depend on how the authority sets it up. It is usually set by state law whether citizens vote on a bond issue. I can't answer this one."
Still another question he said he receives is what will the net revenue be used for. "I presume it will be used for other water and wastewater projects. The community could utilize AWSA funding as a match, which is not uncommon. But nothing is decided yet."
A written question asked if the area is in a severe drought, where would the water come from.
"I don't know who will take the risk," Gutierrez said. "If there's no water because of the drought, water wells are already going dry. I live on the river, and from June to September last year, we had high water levels. I've done flood control. The water comes fast and it leaves fast. We need to store it when we get it, then we have it.
"Because we have no way to store the monsoon rains, it fills up the dams in Arizona and they utilize it," he noted. "We need to use it in New Mexico. Farmers don't get the water they need. There used to be value-added crops in the valley—corn, milo, hay. They don't exist anymore. It's now permanent pasture."
Vance Lee, a second speaker answering questions and representing Hidalgo County on the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission, said it is his opinion that of the 16 projects on the table, which are viable, the final project would incorporate all of them—conservation, lining canals and portions of the three diversion projects.
"I think there will be one diversion project, but all 16 proposals are good ideas," Lee said.
A question was posed about storage in the aquifers.
"The ISC is looking at that, but has not found the best spot," Lee said. "Less pumping is better, but if it's in the aquifer it will require pumping."
Another questioner asked what would happen if the water were taken out of the basin.
"Most of the basins do not interconnect," Lee said. "It would be like taking half a glass of water and putting it into another half a glass of water."
What about the possibility of up to 30 percent seepage along the pipeline, a questioner asked.
"I'm not sure there will be any loss along a pipeline," Lee said. "However, 30 percent evaporation is typical. Closer to us in Virden, there is more evaporation, because it is warmer."
"How do you respond to Norman Gaume saying the plans are fatally flawed?" a participant asked.
"I wasn't at the hearing," Lee said, "but I read the testimony. He said taking the dirty water would be a problem, and yes, the high flows will be dirty. I disagree that it will clog the pipelines. Dumb old farmers clean out pipelines all the time to keep the water flowing. I know he's bright and has experience. These are issues the ISC will work through."
A questioner asked if New Mexico and Arizona were one state if it would change the calculations or debate.
"I would still say this region needs the water," Lee said. "Farther downstream, they have other sources of water, such as the Salt River and the Central Arizona Project."
"Will the users have to pay the Gila River Indian Community for use of the water," a questioner asked.
"The end user pays the exchange costs for the CAP to provide the water to the Indian Community," Lee said. "Right now the exchange costs are between $100 and $200 per acre-foot."
"There is still a lot we have to do with who's going to pay what," Gutierrez said.
A participant asked who has come forward wanting the water.
"Deming wants to use the water," Gutierrez said. "The Gila Basin Irrigation Commission wants to use the water. A regional water system out of Silver City is being put together. I know Santa Clara is having issues. The smaller municipalities have shallow wells, which without snowpack, are not being recharged."
Another questioner asked if the state Legislature manages the ISC spending, could it veto the ISC's decision.
"If the city of Santa Fe or Albuquerque can move projects forward, why not southwest New Mexico?" Gutierrez posited. "What one senator said is that the Legislature wants to be fiscally responsible. This is New Mexico water. I don't see why the state wouldn't invest in southwest New Mexico. If projects help Albuquerque and Santa Fe, why not here?"
A male speaker said he was watching a program on TV about a Texas Panhandle town's reservoir going completely dry, requiring shipping in water and recycling wastewater. Supposedly the people are not drinking the recycled water, even though it is purer than what they were getting.
"In Arizona, they are getting water from everywhere they can, and because they are still growing, they will continue to try to get water from New Mexico," the man said. "They are not doing conservation in Arizona, from what I saw on a recent trip. I have a small farm. I send water to the fish hatchery and it comes back to our farm. Also, whatever New Mexico can do to the watershed, we need to do it. Whatever we can do to keep the water, do it. The needs for water are not going to end. Our descendants need it."
Gutierrez noted that wastewater-recycling projects are not so far away. "In Cloudcroft, they are taking treated wastewater and mixing it with the water they do have, because of no recharge.
"Everything on a project is preliminary," Gutierrez said. "If the decision is to do a diversion project, the National Environmental Policy Act process will kick in. More cost analysis and more engineering are needed. A diversion on the Gila River, which has been there since the 1960s, has endangered species upstream and down. I think Gaume's flaws can be worked out. I'm fourth generation on the river, and I want to make sure my kids and their descendants have water."
Gerald Schultz, area resident, pointed out that when low-flow toilets and restricted showerheads are used, yes, it conserves water, but the less water the municipalities provide, the less revenue comes in, so bills go up. He noted that hotels don't have to use low-flow toilets. "Why not create a utility that could and should look at water that way?"
Gutierrez said he couldn't answer that question.
Lee said he wanted to make one final comment. "If you have time and can make it to Cliff on April 14, it's an important public meeting. I'll be driving 100 miles to get there. At the Cliff Gymnasium, from 4-5 p.m., participants will have the opportunity to talk to ISC staff members. From 5-6 p.m., the Cliff home economics class will provide food for donations. From 6-9 p.m. will be reports and questions and answers."
The agenda is posted at http://nmawsa.org/meetings/april-14-2014-public-meeting/april-14-2014-public-meeting-agenda/view. You can also access the agenda from the NMAWSA home page by clicking under "Recent Additions."