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GBIC meeting held June 18, ditch reports heard

By Mary Alice Murphy

The first item of business for the Gila Basin Irrigation Commission June 18 meeting was presentation/comments.

"We expect the final report to be posted to the Interstate Stream Commission website on June 25, 2014," Eve Halper, Bureau of Reclamation representative, said. "The comment period will run from June 25-July 25."

"My understanding is that there is a lot of work being done on the projects,"
Topper Thorpe, GBIC member standing in for Chairman David Ogilvie, who was unable to attend, said.

"We actually presented the report to the ISC a week or so ago," Halper said. "Now we're incorporating their comments."

"BHI work is ongoing, being done on the proposed storage sites," Thorpe said. "We've seen them in the area. I've been looking for the reports, but no results yet.

"In terms of the ISC, in spite of what you may be hearing, no decision has been made," he continued. "It will come at the earliest during August and maybe later."

Ditch reports came next.

"Our ditch is in excellent shape," Allen Campbell, GBIC member representing the Gila Hot Springs Ditch, said. "We're going to construct a new flume, which hangs over the river. It's 17 years old and made of wood. We are running our ditch about two days a week. Our creek dropped a lot in the past week."

Jerry Woodrow, GBIC member, mayordomo of the Upper Gila Ditch, said:
"Our water is running about half of what it was two weeks ago."

According to Thorpe, the 85-year low was 13. "We're at about twice that right now."

Woodrow agreed. "We're in better shape than we were at this time last year."

"We're the worst of all of them," Donnie Stailey, GBIC member, representing the Gila Farm Ditch, said. "I think we need to divide up a little. I appreciate the Fort West Ditch, because we're getting some from them."

"We're snug," Thorpe, who represents the Fort West Ditch, said. "We went on terms yesterday. The Upper Gila has shared a little bit. We're working on fixing our diversion, which was leaking. We're down to about 6-8 inches of water in the bottom of the ditch. We hope to get a little head up for irrigation. We're going to irrigate every eight days. We have to work together to share what little water we do have. We've handled the situation in cooperation better here. In the Mimbres, they have had serious conflicts."

Campbell said: "We don't have a problem. We're the first on the ditch, and we have 27 acre-feet on the whole association, so we can move it around quickly."

As for the water situation prospects for 2014, the prediction is for a strong monsoon and good winter moisture, Thorpe said his meteorologist friend told him.

"Springs in the burned area have lost their sponge—the trees and shrubs," Campbell said. "It's just rock. We're not through flooding yet."

The next report was on the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting.

"I was at the meeting," Mike Cuff, representing the Farm Bureau, said. "At the beginning of the meeting, item 1 of the old business, which addressed the proposed creation of a regional water authority by a memorandum of agreement or by the GSFWC Joint Powers Agreement, was removed from the agenda. Public comment was at the beginning. Three folks wanted it back at the end. During the items for vote, Anthony said there would be time open for public discussion. Commissioners approved an agreement with the Domenici Law Firm with a cap of $5,000 to work on a New Mexico Authority, if needed.

"The time limit for public comment will be five minutes," Cuff continued. "Gerald (Schultz) said that was because of a bad apple of a meeting. For public outreach, the communications committee suggested up to $5,000 to start."

"At the ISC meeting last week, an authority was not discussed," Thorpe said.

Cuff announced the next Gila/San Francisco meeting would be held at 10 a.m. Tuesday, July 15, with the communication committee meeting at 9 a.m.

"At the ISC meeting, it was mostly review of work plans," Thorpe said. "$10 million was requested and approved, for the coming fiscal year, but the AWSA work was split into two pieces. The first piece would be from now through the end of the calendar year 2014. It is likely they will come back with modified work plans.

"Studies continue on evaluation of storage sites, ecological impacts, economic analyses and environmental services," he said. "Also considered was a moderator for the public meetings and Input Group. The budget for all was $3.3 million through the end of the year. Studies seem to be expensive.

"Once we have a decision, we will come back and modify the budget," Thorpe continued. "As we look at the funds that are spent, a significant percent of the dollars spent are to satisfy the requirements for the endangered species and the compact work to satisfy requirements with our neighboring states. And there's always litigation. It doesn't leave enough money for what we would like to do. There is a real concern in western states about the Endangered Species Act."

He said he has read recently about the decline in water availability in the Colorado River and from Lake Mead. "It will impact agriculture and food for people to eat, as well as hydro-electrical production. It's critical. It really is serious. We must use good judgment in our decisions," Thorpe said.

Next was an announcement of grant opportunities.

"Gov. Martinez announced the opening of a river stewardship program request for proposals," Thorpe said. "I think this is an opportunity for us, because we are acequias.

"In the past, we have talked about stabilizing riverbanks. Several in the valley are losing property with banks being eaten away. This is an opportunity to consider our ditches and to request some funds," he said.

B.J. Agnew, GBIC secretary, asked: "Collectively or individually?"

"Every year, we have grant opportunities, too," Halper said. "The USDA just made a big announcement."

"The capital outlay for the river stewardship program is $2 million in capital outlay," Thorpe explained. "Eligibility requirements may be a stumbling block, as we don't have compliance with an audit or with the Department of Finance and Administration. In most case, as individual ditches, we could comply with the Tier 1 requirements. I ask each of your treasurers to file the paperwork back to 2010, so they are in compliance. We should all do it, and if all of us have it in, then we can look at the funding as a group. We need to be thinking about whether we should consider diversion measures, conservation or what."

"Did all of you receive calls from the County Extension office trying to get us together with New Mexico State University representatives to get information on the economic value of water?" Stailey asked. Most had received the calls, but not all.

The meeting was adjourned, and the next meeting will be as called.

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