By Mary Alice Murphy
The first item of business at the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting Tuesday, April 22, was to combine two agenda items that GSFWC Chairman Anthony Gutierrez, representing Grant County, said were the same item. He discussed the issue later in the meeting and during public comment received a lot of questions on the decision made.
Under new business the first item was a report on the New Mexico First Town Hall meeting on Water Planning, Development and Use by Gerald Schultz, who attended the event on April 15-16.
"There were more than 300 attendees and several from Southwest New Mexico," Schultz reported. "Each group came up with two consensus statements. Several did not pass the larger group. The final report will come out two weeks after the town hall."
The next two items on the agenda were the combined items on a proposed memorandum of understanding agreement between the GSFWC and the New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission to contract the AWSA water and the proposed creation of a regional water authority.
"There was a misunderstanding and these were supposed to be the same item," Gutierrez said. "We had a committee meeting right before this meeting and decided we already have a JPA in effect and didn't need an MOU to form a regional water authority. We have to gather more information."
The item was tabled and moved back to committee.
Treasurer Alex Thal, representing the Grant Soil and Water Conservation District, said he would like to see a priority be to review the JPA to see if it needs updating.
Under old business, Thal said the group recommended a New Mexico State University agricultural economist be added to the ISC Science Evaluation Panel. "Dr. Ashcroft's name was submitted, but we don't know what the result is. Do we send the request to the ISC chairman or to Craig Roepke, ISC staff?"
"My understanding is that all economics is being done by Reclamation," Gutierrez said.
"Since most water is being consumed by agriculture, I thought they should have an ag economist on board. The ISC panel is made up of those wanting to protect natural resources. I asked to put an ag economist on the board."
"I think we can resubmit the letter to the ISC chairman," Gutierrez said.
Rick McInturff, Deming city manager, said the Reservation Fund is growing, with almost all members having paid the amounts requested. "I don't have the report. I thought it went out to you."
Schultz reported on the latest on the New Mexico Regional Water Plan. "This is information from the Dec. 17 meeting, which the ISC called for updating the regular water plans." He cited the criteria chosen for members of each region's steering committee. They should be or represent a water right owner, be directly affected by the outcome of water management decisions and have or represent the authority to make decisions and implement outcomes. The member should represent one or more of the following water use groups: agricultural surface water user, agricultural groundwater user, municipal government, rural water provider, extractive industry, environmental interest, county government, local retail trade, tribal entity, watershed interest, or federal agency. At the December meeting, it was decided that the list could include anyone versed in water.
Schultz said the meeting, which was originally set for May has slipped to late May or early June. He opined that the GSFWC should not "anoint" itself as the steering committee, to which Gutierrez said that the commission merely wanted to be represented.
Thal said he had talked to the San Carlos White Mountain Reservation attorney and he said the tribe has the claim to the water from the Rio Grande to the border with Arizona.
In the update on the NMISC AWSA projects and evaluations, Gutierrez said, at the Input Group and the recent public meeting, primarily presentations were on proposed sites for water storage. "We're still waiting on other reports.
Tom Bates, representing Deming Soil and Water Conservation District and alternate for Luna County, said Mary Burton Riseley had been on a tour on Sunday. She was asked to report on the tour.
"The group drove up and over to Turkey Creek campground," Riseley said. "We stopped and looked over proposed storage sites. The preferred ones were all just below Brushy Canyon. One would be an 8-foot wide pipe through a blasted 2-mile tunnel into Spar Canyon, then a large dam on Winn Canyon and Pope Canyon. Water would also flow into and be stored in Sycamore Canyon. One of the large McCauley homes would have to be moved."
She said the ISC commissioners on the tour were given an extensive packet created by ISC environmental scientist David Anderson. "He posted all the information to the nmawsa.org website."
Allyson Siwik of the Gila Conservation Coalition said before the public meeting on Monday, April 14, an open house had been held from 4-5 p.m. with a Farm Bureau-hosted lasagna dinner and then the public meeting was held from 6-8 p.m.
She said the Bureau of Reclamation gave out fact sheets. "The BoR believes the tunnel is cost prohibitive and is proposing open diversion canals on both sides of the river and looking at a range of storage. Plus Reclamation is doing a preliminary economic analysis."
Siwik pointed out that the subsidy for the New Mexico Unit has received no interest, so "we should expect a total of $100 million, meaning we have the $66 million for alternative water uses and the $34 million that will be used only for construction."
She also reported the Central Arizona Project exchange costs this year are $146 per acre-foot for users in New Mexico to pay to deliver CAP water to the Gila River Indian Community in exchange for water from the Gila used in New Mexico.
The Reclamation reports, expected in July, will have a 30-day public comment period.
Gutierrez said Silver City and Deming have water conservation plans.
Thal said he had no update on the 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. He had spoken with Martha Cooper of TNC, and she said the report was still under internal review and would be coming out in June.
On the agenda item of public outreach, McInturff said he had an opportunity to talk to a consultant who could work with GSFWC on public outreach, but would like to know what the budget would be. He was looking at a two-three month timeframe. "What kind of budget do the members want to entertain?"
Thal reported the treasury has $7,200 in the General Fund. McInturff said up to 10 percent of the Reservation Fund would be eligible.
Vance Lee, representing Hidalgo County, asked if McInturff had a realistic amount in mind.
"I think we should give a budget of $3,000, and then we can figure out whether it's enough or not," McInturff said.
'I think that's a good start," Lee said.
The next article/articles will cover public comments, when a shouting match occurred.