By Mary Alice Murphy
With a quorum on hand, the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission was able to complete several items of business at its meeting Tuesday, Aug 19, 2014.
The first item was public comments. M.H. "Dutch" Salmon, county resident, said he understood that the commission's aide, Dolores Dominguez, had retired. "Do you have a replacement yet?
"I think the advertisement will go out this week," GSFWC Chairman Anthony Gutierrez replied. "We apologize for not getting emails out. We couldn't find her list. We will try to do better with the emailing next time."
"What about Rick McInturff?" Salmon asked. "I understand he has retired."
"He has retired and been replaced in his position as Deming city manager, but I think he is still involved with the AWSA (Arizona Water Settlements Act). Jim Massengill was his alternate, but Jim couldn't attend today. Tom Bates is representing him."
"I will again say that I would prefer that public comments be moved down the agenda," Salmon said. "It's like reviewing a book before you have read it."
Gerald Schultz, in attendance representing New Mexico Resource Conservation and Development districts, read comments from an article in Geophysical Research Letters, titled "Western U.S. States Using Up Ground Water at an Alarming Rate."
It was reported, for the period from Dec. 2004 to November 2013, ground water from the Colorado River Basin was lost at a rate of 1.34 cubic miles per year, as compared to a loss of 0.22 cubic miles per year from Lakes Powell and Mead. "These losses of groundwater, which take thousands of years to be replaced naturally, point to the unsustainability of exploding population centers and water-intensive agriculture in the basin, which includes most of Arizona and parts of California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico and Wyoming," he quoted from the article.
Schultz noted that the amount of groundwater in these aquifers is unknown and regulations and monitoring of it are rare, whereas the basin's surface waters are apportioned precisely.
"I have been advocating for years that the Gila Basin, as well as the Mimbres Basin, needs a thorough groundwater assessment, which would cost huge sums of money," Schultz said. "There are those who say we have an 'ocean' of water, but I do not necessarily agree with that until a thorough assessment shows the same."
Vance Lee, commissioner representing Hidalgo County, asked if anyone in the room could fill the members in on the recently held regional water plan meeting.
"The meeting was held last week and had good attendance," Gutierrez said. "The ISC tried to formulate a structure for the steering committee for the plan. The ISC wants each region to identify potential projects, from the AWSA process, municipalities, ditch districts and anyone else. I think they will incorporate them into the state water plan. The focus right now is to get the local regions to identify potential steering committee members. Priscilla Lucero of the Council of Governments volunteered to put the group together. If you want to be a member, contact her."
Schultz added that the ISC wants all the regions to start at the same time and work on the plan for two years. "They deny it is top down, but are setting forth the template to follow. They will also put together the state water plan and all 16 regions need to dovetail into the state plan. There is a handbook for each region to follow. Between now and spring the regions will put together the steering committees and will start work in the spring to add to the current regional plans."
"I have a short question," Bates said. "Last time, we hired the group Daniel B. Stephens & Associates to help. Are they involved this year?"
Gutierrez said they have a representative on the organizing team.
This author noted to the commission members that the template will include the demographic and scientific data that they do not want public comment on.
"The state wants consensus from the region," Gutierrez said. "I issued a warning. I told them we spent years trying to get consensus on 72 projects, and couldn't. Prioritization of each project has to come from the region. They want the document for the Water Trust Board and other funding."
"I think we're ahead of the game," Bates said. "We had the criteria matrix developed, which shows a lot of work that has been done toward the plan."
"The municipalities, counties and water districts all have plans, too, so you're right, Tom. A lot of the work is done," Gutierrez said.
Schultz noted there would be no public review or comment on the data. "Peter (Russell, Silver City Community Development planner) made a row about it. They maintain that each region will have a public input process and that will cover it. I don't agree."
Salmon said what Schultz and this author brought up "is right. The ISC believes the data they are bringing forward in the template will be what we have to work with. I, along with Peter and others, think input into the amounts of water and use should be available for comment. For instance, the Mimbres Basin has lots of water, but it's held up by state regulations. The Mimbres Basin is not tied up in international or state compacts. We should know the amount that is available and what is open for use. If it's available, we may not need a project. If it's not available, we may need some sort of project."
"I think Gerald's suggestion for a groundwater study should be our top priority," Gutierrez said.
"Maybe this commission should support a study on the aquifers," Bates said. "I also think that with all the expertise in our population, the plan should allow for public comment on the template."
"I think the ISC wants that expertise on the steering committee," Gutierrez said.
"Will there be any teeth in this plan?" Bates asked.
"I think this will allow more funding," Gutierrez said. "If something isn't in the regional water plan, it will have trouble finding funding."
Under new business, the members considered a contact agreement with Wilson Binkley Advertising and Marketing for public outreach, which was slated to begin Sept. 1.
"I have some concerns that relate to the financing," Lee said. "I need to ask Hidalgo County, if it is willing to put in any money, so I would prefer to put this decision off until the next meeting.
"Another concern I have is that if we are going to use some of the reservation money, not to use so much that if we don't do a diversion, we have enough to pay entities back," Lee said. "I think it's safe to use our percentage for administration and public outreach, but no more than that. I want to make sure we don't overspend."
Janice Kiehne, member representing the 1894 Luna Irrigation Ditch Association, said she had a concern about the Glenwood Gazette being on the list, as the publisher had died. "And it's really too late for us to do anything."
This author said at least one more edition of the Glenwood Gazette is planned, and possibly more, with mid-September the plan to go to press.
"Is it possible to piecemeal it?" Lee asked.
"Our next meeting is Sept. 16," Gutierrez said.
Bates asked what the members needed to do, to which Gutierrez said they take copies of the proposal to present the issue to their entities to get funding.
The commissioners moved to table the contract until the next meeting.
The next item of business was also tabled, as it addressed the Reservation Fund and which entities had remitted dues.
Commissioners then discussed a policy for public comment during their meetings.
Gutierrez said he had moved the public comment portion to the top of the agenda because of a meeting that got out of hand. "I want to keep a sense of order and limit speaking to five minutes. Most often we do allow comment of agenda items."
"I would like for you to have more leeway," Lee said.
Benjamin Segovia, in attendance representing the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau, suggested the chairman be given the authority to limit the comments to one, two or three minutes. "It gives people a chance to speak. I give this suggestion because of all the meetings I attend."
After more discussion among members, Lee moved the commission set a procedure to have public comment at the beginning of the meeting, with a maximum of five minutes that can be adjusted at the chairman's discretion. The motion was seconded and passed.
During old business on public outreach, commissioners approved putting an ad into the Glenwood Gazette for the September memorial issue, because of the circumstances.
Segovia, during announcements, said his reason for attending the meeting was to let everyone know the ISC approached the Farm Bureau Association to do testimony at next week's ISC meeting. "We're the oldest and largest agricultural entity in New Mexico. We have 30 organizations represented. We are in the process of preparing our testimony. What we have concluded is that we will not get consensus, so we are planning to offer general comments on the beneficial use of this water to agriculture, in order not to cause controversy among your four counties."
Gutierrez announced the ISC meeting would take place Tuesday, Aug. 26, at 8:30 a.m. at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center at 2401 12th Street NW in Albuquerque.
"I'm presenting the farmers' and ranchers' perspective," Lee said. "Commissioner Javier Diaz (of Luna County) will present on impacts to Luna County. Allyson Siwik of the Gila Conservation Coalition will present conservation alternatives."
The draft agenda also lists ISC staff and Bureau of Reclamation going over studies and engineering.
"Will a preliminary decision be made at this meeting?" Schultz asked.
Bates noted that the draft agenda shows ISC Director Estevan López requesting changes to the schedule.
Schultz also noted that in November the Water Resource Research Institute would hold its annual conference in Santa Fe.
The meeting was adjourned.
The next GSFWC meeting will take place Tuesday, Sept. 16, at 10 a.m. in the Grant County Administration Center commissioners' meeting room.