By Mary Alice Murphy
The Office of the State Engineer and the Interstate Stream Commission are mandated by statute to regularly prepare a statewide water plan, made up of information from the 16 regional water plans.
Angela Bordegaray serves as the organizer of the regional water plan updates throughout the 16 regions in the state. Bruce Poster was the facilitator for the Wednesday afternoon meeting, in place of the scheduled Rosemary Romero, who became ill. Dominique Cartron of Daniel B. Stephens and Associates is part of the organizing committee, as are Tom Morrison, consultant, and Helen Sobien, Interstate Stream Commission civil engineer.
Poster said the purpose of the meeting was to review the updated regional water-planning handbook. "We are aware that other processes are ongoing, especially in this region, with the Arizona Water Settlements Act process. "
Bordegaray said she and the team have been around to all 16 regions. "We saved the best for last. We want to look at long-term updating of the 2005 regional water plan."
She explained the state mandate for regional and statewide water planning came out of New Mexico trying to handle water that goes into Texas. The statute was "born" around 1986-87. Previously, regions have hired their own consultants to help with the plans, she said, with information gathered on how much water the region has, how it is using it, and how to fill water gaps.
"We just received funding in the last fiscal year to update the 16 plans and the state water plan," Bordegaray said. "People are concerned about water availability challenges, as well as flooding.
"The ISC has created a planning committee, when it realized that the regions were limping along with their updates," she continued. "We want to do the updates over a two-year period."
In 2003, the state water plan was a comprehensive inventory of statewide water supplies. "The statute requires bringing the regions into the state water plan, likely in early 2016. We also received a funding appropriation this year,."
Bordegaray said the first order of business was to update the planning guidelines, which can also be seen on the website. "The handbook calls for a common technical platform. It has to be a consistent basis of data. We identified an approach for forming a representative steering committee to develop strategies and identify projects to be funded."
The suggested sectors to be represented on the steering committee include representatives from agricultural—groundwater user; municipal government; rural water provider; extractive industry; environmental interest; county government; local (retail) business; tribal entity; watershed interest; federal agency; and other groups as identified by the steering committee.
'The vision and thrust of this is that the regional water plans should be implementable and can get funding," Bordegaray said. "The State Engineer, Scott Verhines, has wanted to link planning and funding. The Water Trust Board is the implementer of plans. The much harder part of this process is the political part and getting people to come to agreement."
She said the regional water plan builds on the existing plan and the ongoing AWSA process. "The plan should be done by this time next year."
Cartron said in Year 1, the team has been working on the technical update. "We have a limited budget, so we are updating key data. We are also meeting with the regions to reconvene the steering committees. We will come back here next spring to talk about the updated data."
She suggested that the existing Input Group of the AWSA planning process could be the ones to take on the steering committee.
In Year 2, the water planning steering committees will direct the compilation of the updated plan. "We will contract for technical and facilitation support for the important statistics. The steering committees will draft and implement a public outreach plan, identify implementable strategies, such as programs, policies and projects to meet future water demand, and will finalize the regional water plan update, submitting it for acceptance to the ISC."
Cartron said the team is preparing the technical report, with an introduction, background information, legal issues, water supply and demand, population and economic trends, future water use projections and the gap between supply and demand.
She requested input that the team might not know about for the technical data, such as major projects or initiatives that will affect employment; significant residential development; anticipated changes in key sectors; and key individuals to interview.
"Our approach is limited to common resources across the state," Cartron said. "We want to compile technical and legal information, such as water planning documents or local studies; significant water issues; local water related programs or initiatives; and local ordinances that address water or land use."
She said the list of representatives of sectors is "to ensure who will play in developing the role of water in the future. Year 2 of this process is the responsibility of the steering committees. The public involvement plan is up to you to plan the meetings with stakeholders and the general public to identify strategies to address water management issues, and they require goals. We want you to have a two-way conversation with the public using media. You will have the opportunity to hire a facilitator. The focus of the plans is narrower, with the technical work already done. The focus is on strategies on how to meet the needs in future policies, programs and projects."
The meeting was opened up for discussion.
Allyson Siwik of Gila Resource Information Project and the Gila Conservation Coalition said she was part of the planning group for the earlier regional water plan. "I was wondering about public input on the technical aspects. Will we have input?"
Cartron replied that their team would develop the data. "You have a unique environment here, with the AWSA planning process already going on. There will not be rehashing of the technical data in the steering committee. Of course, if there are errors, point them out. We will not identify the magnitude of the gap in the supply and demand analysis. If you think you need more data, you can identify that in the plan. Don't change the technical data. We want the focus to be on the solutions side."
"If we don't know the target and the problem, how can we develop a plan?" Siwik asked. "What's different about this plan?"
"You are not looking at a water budget," Cartron said. "We don't have the resources to work on solutions to problems that we know and understand, for instance, a municipality developing its well fields. We want to know about other needs identified in the region. We aren't necessarily defining non-adjudicated water use, such as in riparian areas."
Morrison said there are two types of supply—what's physically available and what's legally available.
"A water supply gap is not the only thing to drive solutions," Cartron explained. "Watershed health is also important across the state. Because in almost all areas of New Mexico projected demand is expected to exceed available supply, the update should include elements to reconcile the gaps, with the following elements: water management, water conservation, water development and infrastructure development.
"Please keep in mind that the AWSA is separate funding and is a separate process, but it falls within the umbrella of what belongs in the plan," she continued.
Grant County Planner Anthony Gutierrez had a question. "We are working on the Infrastructure Capital Improvement Plan, which involves different funding sources and the projects must be prioritized. Is this plan to prioritize projects?"
"Yes, the regional water plan should bring all those projects together," Bordegaray said.
"You should prioritize the universe of needs, such as infrastructure," Cartron said. "You need to catalog everything, but the steering committee needs to prioritize."
"What about if the plan is identifying something larger, such as economic development?" Gutierrez asked. "Should the steering committee categorize that?"
"If you have a memorandum of agreement and say you need a storage unit for such and such, it can be stated as an economic development goal," Cartorn said.
"So you want specifics?" Gutierrez asked, to which Cartron replied: "Yes."
Priscilla Lucero, Southwest New Mexico Council of Governments executive director, said Gutierrez was correct that the area has projects in motion that "we would like to see occur. Please explain to me what this plan has to do with the Water Trust Board. I want to make sure we won't be at a disadvantage of we don't put ongoing work into the plan."
"The funding will be packaged," Cartron said. "The funding does not just apply to the Water Trust Board. The Water Trust Board, however, does require a project to be in the plan."
"We have the majority already in the ICIP," Lucero noted. "We already have so many studies, too. We're unique because we have plans with USDA funding, and lots of colonias. The problem we're seeing is that planning monies are difficult to come by. If you don't meet eligibility, you can't qualify."
"In terms of these projects, I don't think there is a danger if they are left out, but probably most would fall into what's already in the plan," Bordegaray said.
"The regional water plan is even broader," Cartron said. "The difficulty is prioritization, because not every project can be a priority. But get all of them in the plan that can be implemented within the next five years.
"You can do them in phases, with Phase 1 a priority, for instance," Poster pointed out.
Gerald Schultz, retired hydrologist, said he attended the December meeting that went through the draft of the handbook. "There was a lot of discussion on representatives on the stakeholder group, and that they not be locked into a list. We talked about allowing anyone versed in water."
"Yes, people may be knowledgeable, but they may not be policy makers," Cartron said. "The steering committee needs to be made up of people who have skin in the game and can implement the projects. They need to be a representative of their constituents. Maybe there could be an advisory group to advise the steering committee, but for the steering committee we want folks who can make decisions."
Martha Cooper, The Nature Conservancy, asked if there were any existing data on climate change that would be included in the technical data.
Cartron replied: "We will look at the lowest stream gauge data as an indicator of severe drought."
M.H. "Dutch" Salmon, Gila Conservation Coalition, said a gentleman said water might be impacted by legal and physical constraints. "The ISC and the OSE pretend water is not there. The Mimbres Basin has a tremendous amount of water, of which the OSE is in charge and is a decider on how to use it."
Darr Shannon, Hidalgo County commissioner, commented on climate change and noted the plan, on page 10, said the plan was not addressing "political issues."
"That's right," Poster said. "The technical data is addressing variability."
Bordegaray said some regions have formed a subcommittee to build the steering committee. "The COGs are a good start and are good fiscal agents. We will facilitate the process, but there are no easy answers."
Cartron said the steering committee would begin next spring, and that the AWSA Input Group might be a good start.
When asked about size, Poster urged that it not be too big to be efficient.
Schultz asked for a definition of watershed.
Cartron said watershed would be determined by the one that could implement a project to move it forward; the one who could sign off on a project.
Dennis Inman of the San Augustin Plains asked how the delineation of the watershed and basins would be accomplished.
"If there is a conflicting issue, it can be put in the plan," Cartron said.
Ty Bays of Freeport McMoRan said the steering committee should be representative. "Most of us in the room today are paid by the city, county, environmental group or company. I think you need a representative from each county, so they can represent the citizens of the four counties in the plan."
"It's up to you to decide who represents a county," Poster said.
Lucero said the COG could make a presentation to each county to appoint someone to be on the steering committee. "I'll work with you. Contact me if you have an interest. We are unique in that we have several working groups that cover the four counties—Stronger Economies Together and the renewable energy group. We are developing regional economic development strategies. We've done a lot of regional planning for a long time."
Bordegary asked her to forward names within a month.
"If we miss a sector, let us know that," Lucero requested.
"We also seek names of those who want to be involved but not on the committee," Bordegaray said.
Alicia Edwards, resident, said she believed waiting to begin next spring was too late. "We need to work on the group dynamic to make sure it's effective."
Denise Smith of the town of Silver City said she, too, thought the steering committee should be formed before spring.
"Ideally it would be working by spring," Cartron said, "but Phase 2 of the planning depends on funding by next summer. We want to provide resources for facilitation to keep the process going."
Bordegaray pointed out that the OSE and ISC have facilitators already on contract. "I have to write the scope of work."
Peter Russell, Silver City Community Development director, asked for clarification that the technical report would have no comment.
"We expect the regions will have comments," Cartron replied.
Poster reiterated that errors should be pointed out.
"When you send out the report, you're not interested in if we think we have 100,000 acre-feet and you put in 10,000," Russell said.
"If it's an error, yes, but in terms of how you would work, you develop your projects," Cartron said. "There will be no drafts."
"I think it's a big mistake not to take public comment," Russell said. "The state controls the water by blocks."
"Put it into the plan to change policy," Cartron suggested.
Lucero clarified that the stakeholder group would disseminate information on public participation, then offer an opportunity for public input. Yes, she was told.
Russell said there are no premises of how much water or what the demographic process is. "You are creating a structure that is not disputable. The community will see the demographic projections as way overstated."
"You have to think of the practicality," Cartron said. "We are focused on regions to address all the water issues in the region. I think the best way, if you want to have another study, is to put it into the plan."
Poster said there would not be just one projection, but a high and a low—a range of what can occur.
"We don't know what will happen in the regions," Bordegaray said. "In this region of all regions, you will have a lot happen in the next few months."
Carolyn Smith of the Silver City Co-op said the team expects results at the end of 2015, the end of the two years to develop plans, programs and projects for the next five years, "but you're not meeting until spring?"
Bordegaray said the community should start meeting.
"Some regions will be more efficient," Cartron said. "Our goal is two years to completion, but there has to be flexibility."
Gutierrez cautioned on the breadth and complexity of this region. The panel and the ISC have been working on the AWSA for years, and now the focus is whether there should be a diversion or not. "The stakeholder group came up with 72 projects, and it was extremely difficult to prioritize them. The length of time to review all the needs in the region will be hard to do in two years. It will be difficult to build a five-year plan in two years."
Siwik said she would talk to team members one-on-one about her concerns.
Schultz said at the December meeting, ISC director Estevan Lopez spoke to the heated topic of climate change and said there was no funding for that, and that climate change was still in a category of doubt. But it doesn't stop each region from putting climate change into the plan.
Bordegaray agreed that it was difficult to do in a short time frame, but "worth it."