By Mary Alice Murphy
At the Silver City-Grant County TEA Party Patriots meeting on Tuesday, May 20, 2014, the invited speaker was Norman Gaume, retired professional water engineer and former New Mexico Interstate Stream Commission director.
Vic Topmiller, TEA Party Patriots chairman, said: "As a group we don't have a position. Individually, we may have a position."
Peter Burrows, vice chairman, said the invitation to Gaume was a response to some who attended the April 2 meeting that featured two members of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission- chairman Anthony Gutierrez of Grant County and former chairman Vance Lee of Hidalgo County.
Burrows said Gaume is a retired licensed water engineer, and in addition to being a former Interstate Stream Commission director, took part in Santa Fe's successful river diversion projects, developing a federal project for drinking water. "On your tables, you have a copy of the testimony he recently presented with his objections to the ISC."
"I appreciate the opportunity to talk about the one preferred proposal alternative," Gaume said. "My personal involvement with the Arizona Water Settlements Act came when I was ISC director from 1997-2002. Senator Pete Domenici's staff approached us, because Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl wanted to get the bill passed and it had to go through Sen. Domenici's committee.
"I went to the Phoenix Bureau of Reclamation office several times, and, in the end, what I thought New Mexico had gotten out of the deal was $66 million to meet water supply demands. I never thought we might be building a New Mexico Unit."
He referred to his PowerPoint presentation, which had the title Gila River: Take 4. "I thought I knew the river pretty well and with the challenges, I thought then it was impossible to store water, and now it may not be impossible, but it is infeasible."
"Fatally flawed to me means you cannot fix it," Gaume said. "There are other alternatives that are not fatally flawed, but are infeasible. Friends asked me as an ISC director if I wanted a diversion. I thought we couldn't do it.
"In October 2013, I went to the nmawsa.org website and looked for hard information," he continued. "I looked for whether they had been able to overcome legal constraints, which are hard to overcome. There was not one single word on the website about how much water could be gotten. I read a report by Craig (Roepke, ISC deputy director)—I hired him 10 years ago. This time he had nothing to say at the ISC meeting that was substantive. Legal constraints include the Consumptive Use and Forbearance Agreement (CUFA), which is 100 dense pages. I asked Craig if he had solved the conundrum of the CUFA.
"On Dec. 12, he showed my his PowerPoint slides, and I said to him: 'You haven't said one word about yield. You've shown me cartoons, which is what I called the graphics.
"The CUFA has many constraints," Gaume said. "You can only divert water when all the downstream senior water rights users have their needs met. Until the San Carlos Reservoir has a minimum of 30,000 acre-feet of water stored, you can't divert. The CUFA has an amount that can be withdrawn and it varies by the month.
An audience member said: "If there were five years at the San Carlos Reservoir below that level, I understand that the CUFA can be renegotiated."
"That's true," Gaume replied. "They cannot constrain New Mexico from taking water less than 10 days a year."
He showed a spreadsheet that had the historical flows of the Gila Gauge from 1936 through March 2013. Gaume said he found data for the Gila River at the Gila Gauge, at Blue Creek and at the San Carlos Reservoir. "If everything is fine, then New Mexico can divert water."
"I asked for details about the model and I asked for a copy of the model," Gaume said. "Craig refused on Dec. 12 and said he would give me the output, but not the model. I was in Costa Rica when a friend told me the Bohannon Huston report had been posted to the website as the preferred alternative. I determined it was fatally flawed, because it was not dealing with sediment. I was asked to intervene. I did all of this on my own, with later financial support from April 2 to May 8 by the New Mexico Wildlife Federation. I want to prevent the waste of the river and financial resources."
He said, depending on the ISC decision, the process afterward will be long and thorough.
Gaume said the book, Water Politics: Continuity and Change, gives some history of the water process. New Mexico Senator Clinton P. Anderson succeeded in getting, in 1968, a junior water right. He headed the Senate Committee the Central Arizona Project had to go through to reach approval. He wanted something for New Mexico. The Arizona delegation let by Sen. Mo Udall was the chief proponent of CAP. The creativity of New Mexico State Engineer Steve Reynolds authorized 18,000 acre-feet of depletion of water (consumptive use). Hooker Dam was to be a mainstem dam that would have backed water into the Gila Wilderness for nine miles. Anderson threatened to undo the wilderness if he didn't get Hooker Dam or a suitable alternative for the 18,000 acre-feet. Another option was the Conner Dam. The Hooker Dam failed for endangered species of fish. The Conner was Take 2 and the Mangas Creek diversion and storage—Take 3—failed because nobody was willing to pay for water they didn't need.
"In the AWSA are several important things," Gaume said. "There are explicit restrictions on New Mexico's junior diversion. $66 million can be used anywhere in the four-county region to meet a water supply demand. $34 million is set aside for a New Mexico Unit. It would be a federal project. The Secretary of the Interior will delegate to design the unit and it will be headed by a federal water master."
He explained that it is incredibly expensive for the NEPA process and a "slew of other federal laws. The $66 million has grown, I understand, to about $90 million but a lot of that will be gone with compliance with federal regulations. An additional $34 million is deposited into the Colorado River Fund for a New Mexico Unit, but it has not grown."
He noted the 10-year deadline for a decision is the end of this year. "All the ISC has to say is 'Yes, we want to build' or 'No, we don't.'"
Gaume said he had a copy of the email Mary Reese of Reclamation had sent to the ISC stating what Reclamation would expect from the ISC. It included when handing a project over to Reclamation that it would not find any fatal flaws.
"So little work has been done that my opinion is a project will never be done," Gaume said. "I think some really good things could be done with the money. My concern is that the ISC will spend a lot of it for federal processes and will withhold it from the area for beneficial prospects.
"Water is a public resource, and spending public money and having a closed, secretive process goes against my grain, particularly from the ISC I used to be proud of."
He said he thought the process was being controlled by control of access to information, including critical information such as the model and the expected yield.
"On the non-diversion side, I think the Grant County Water Commission's support of a regional water supply for $18 million is a great project to provide drinking water to much of the county," Gaume said.
He said one of the problems is that a mainstem dam is out of the question, so the Bohannon Huston preferred project has a tunnel under a volcanic mountain that the Gila River has carved a channel around and a buried pressured 108-inch diameter pipeline, sending water 40 feet uphill to what he described as basically arroyos. Gaume described the recommending engineer as an urban hydrologist who has proposed a screen with very narrow slots of ½ millimeter. "That would keep out the coarse sand and other debris, but not ash, medium sand or fine sand, which would go right through it and immediately settle out, plugging up the pipe. It is fatally flawed and cannot be fixed. The big problem is the amount of water to be provided is low and slow."
He presented a graph of the data from the model, which covered 1936-2013, and which was released to him by the ISC. "The average for the past 20 years is about 8,000 acre-feet a year that is available for diversion. I have my doubts that you can take water from a raging flood."
Gaume accessed USGS sediment reports online. "The extreme high was more than 1,000 tons suspended in the flow, including 99 days out of eight years. In order to get the highest water yield, you have to have perfect operations, and no operation is perfect. Reynolds picked the Hooker Dam site, because the location had the lowest evaporation on the river."
He said the ISC used a 1972 evaporation rate of 60 inches a year, which sounded low to him.
"This water is so junior that every drop of water that is consumptively used has to be replaced by pumping water from the California border through the CAP to the Gila River," Gaume said. "New Mexico has to pay the exchange costs for the use, as well as the evaporation. Seepage is also a big issue and could be higher than the evaporation. The process is so skewed toward storage, but nothing talks about seepage."
He said water would be needed for environmental impact mitigation, which has the first right. "The ISC has as one of its objectives to keep the river wet. I question whether there is enough water to do everything. In 20 years, you will have some zero diversions, with less than 5,000 acre-feet most years. I think about 3,700 acre-feet is available each year."
"I have a question about the process," Gaume said. "How can the information be so volatile so late in the process? Why is the data different from what was given to the consulting engineer?"
In discussing costs, he questioned the lowball estimate with only a 20 percent contingency for a 10 percent design level, which to him was about 2 percent. He also questioned the annual operating costs for 1 person working 10 hours a week. "There's nothing about energy costs, which could be $8.9 million annually to pump 10,000 acre-feet of water to the Continental Divide at 10 cents a kilowatt hour."
"The ISC proposes to keep the river wetter, provide stored water to agriculture and provide water to Silver City and Deming—no way," Gaume said.
He said the cost proposals should be estimated in dollars per 1,000 gallons for uniform comparisons. "When the yield is zero, you still have to pay." He talked about the water rates for municipalities, which are better detailed in http://www.grantcountybeat.com/index.php/news/news-articles/15938-gila-san-francisco-water-commission-hears-report-during-public-comments
Gaume said he was allowed to testify at the ISC meeting in Tucumcari.
Burrows said the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission has members from the western part of the state, such as Deming and Virden. "I'm surprised they are in agreement."
"The process has indicated the water yield is larger than it really is," Gaume replied. "You can't stretch it. Someone has to allocate it and no one has discussed power costs of $8.9 million for 10,000 acre-feet of water to be raised to the Continental Divide."
Another questioner asked what happens if and when the Colorado River gets so low, that New Mexico water cannot be replaced.
"New Mexico gets no water," Gaume replied. "The exchange is with the Gila River Indian Community, which is higher in priority."
An audience member asked if replacing the screen would cost 20 to 30 times the estimated cost, if it is purposefully being low-balled.
"The ISC is concerned about meeting environmental requirements," Gaume said. "The screen is fragile. According to what Reclamation told me the screen won't work."
A question asked if the seepage loss has to be replaced. "If there is seepage, you have to divert more water to make up for the loss."
"Is cleaning out the pipes part of maintenance?" someone asked. "Yes, with a bucket and shovel," Gaume said.
Someone asked if the ISC were cheating or taking advantage of an opportunity. Gaume said the Rio Grande Company requires that if Elephant Butte Reservoir is lower than 400,000 acre-feet, junior water rights users upstream cannot store water. "Elephant Butte takes enough water to keep it low, so the junior reservoirs cannot store."
Gaume was asked if water were stored, would it dry up the Gila River in Arizona, to which he replied: "The water is gone until it is replaced."
What would happen if New Mexico were pretending it would get 14,000 acre-feet. "I would think it would come home to roost," Gaume said.
"If the junior rights are useless...?" an audience member asked, and Gaume finished the sentence: "The process indicates real water. The case could be made the water is worthless."
John Crow said the chairman of the county commission told him he didn't want the water to leave the area. Gaume said: "He told me the Grant County Water Commission supports the regional water supply."
Crow asked if the chairman said anything about a resolution supporting the "pump and dump or did he neglect to tell you?"
"He told me Grant County believes the water should be kept in Grant County," Gaume said.
"It seems you're reluctant to put yourself in the place of the current ISC Commission. You hired Craig, it's your fault," an audience member said.
"I did, so it must be," Gaume said. "It's very hard for a New Mexico water development agency to kill Reynold's idea to provide water to the people of Southwest New Mexico, but I cannot explain the process."
M.H. "Dutch" Salmon said: "Given that the ISC Gila policy is to protect the unique ecology of the Gila River, what do you think of putting in storage in a de facto wilderness area between Mogollon and Turkey creeks?"
"It would be downstream from the wilderness and upstream from the head of the Gila Valley," Gaume said. "I think it will never get built. A memo I got said it would be difficult to build a road for construction and maintenance and asked about the cost to mobilize by helicopter, and because, it said, a diversion on channels on either side of the river would be infeasible. I agree."
Mike Cuff of the Cliff-Gila Farm Bureau asked if Gaume had looked at proposals that keep the water in the Gila Valley.
"My opinion is that a good use of the funding would be to improve diversions," Gaume said.
Cuff invited Gaume to hear what the Farm Bureau and Gila Basin Irrigation Commission are talking about to use the water at reasonable cost.