The Gila Basin Irrigation Commission at its monthly meeting Wednesday, Jan. 30, heard reports on continuing studies on the Tier-2 proposals of the Arizona Water Settlements Act planning process being undertaken by an Input Group advising the Interstate Stream Commission.
The U.S. Bureau of Reclamation gave a preliminary report on diversion projects. Reclamation has also been asked to do an economic assessment of the 16 proposals being considered to utilize the 14,000 average annual acre-feet of additional water out of the Gila and San Francisco rivers, and $66 million for water projects up to $128 million for a New Mexico Unit construction under stipulations of the 2004 AWSA.
Although Reclamation's Jeff Riley gave the original report at the Input Group meeting, Mary Reece of the Phoenix office of Reclamation gave a brief overview of the report to GBIC members and Gila Valley residents.
"On a site visit in November, we looked at potential diversion sites," Reece said. "We identified 14 potential sites by their elevations and storage capacity to see if there is a way to reconfigure or combine proposals."
She said the storage sites looked at are primarily off-stream canyons. "We are using existing information, so it is basically a conceptual idea to see if the ISC likes any of the sites. The ISC asked us to look at gravity feed, so that narrows down the places where you could do a diversion or storage. The draft report will be done next spring and will stand for public comment."
Topper Thorpe, GBIC member and ISC commissioner, said that with Reclamation doing the studies, it means AWSA funds are not being utilized. "It could be up to a million dollars in services."
Reece explained that the AWSA says the state of New Mexico or Reclamation would do the studies. "We're responsible for environmental compliance on any projects anyway."
Dave Ogilvie, GBIC president, gave an overview of Intera's David Jordan's report on the analysis comparing flood and drip irrigation south of Deming. "There is greater efficiency with drip irrigation, but the water table continues to go steadily down, so the drip hasn't changed anything. The depletion of the aquifer is 1.3 -1.5 feet per five years. The crops are more productive, but the farmers use more water with drip."
Helen Sobien of the ISC said she was tasked with looking at effluent reuse in the Mimbres Basin, including Bayard, Santa Clara, Hurley, Fort Bayard and a Grant County proposal.
Bayard wants to use the effluent from the Regional Wastewater Plant to water ballparks and fields. Grant County wants to use the same effluent and pipe it to recharge Santa Clara well fields and create a recreational reservoir. Deming wants to expand its reuse of effluent.
Thorpe said the quarterly public meeting, which was held after the Input Group met in Deming, only attracted five people, including himself. "The same basic things as in the Input Group were covered."
"We had an ISC meeting on Jan. 16," Thorpe continued.
He said that an executive summary of a Reclamation study showed present and future imbalances in the basins that receive Colorado River water through 2060 and the range of solutions to solve the imbalances. "Over the course of the next years, there will be a deficit of water."
"Another thing presented at the meeting was the weather outlook," Thorpe said. "It's grim. The expectation is for 50 percent to 60 percent of average precipitation. Most reservoirs are at extremely low levels. Irrigators are being warned that water supplies are tight, and it is still extremely dry. I think we will continue to face a difficult situation here."
He said the state has developed a drought task force, and there has been talk of weather modification, such as cloud seeding, but as far as he knew there were no aggressive plans in place.
"I don't think there is any question, we will need the water and we need to secure it," Thorpe said. "A Supreme Court decision basically says the state should establish water rights by priority, with the Office of the State Engineer doing the task. I think the decision gives the OSE latitude."
He continued by saying the Southwest willow flycatcher critical habitat had been expanded, with the only part of the Gila Valley excluded being the portion where Freeport McMoRan Copper & Gold Inc. has a management plan. The habitat has been expanded to the Rio Grande.
Texas has filed a lawsuit against New Mexico alleging that water being pumped in New Mexico is limiting the amount going to Texas.
"People are finally beginning to realize water is important and extremely valuable," Thorpe said. "At the previous ISC meeting, we authorized $100,000 as a match to the Forest Service for seeding areas burned by the Whitewater-Baldy Fire, but the Forest Service didn't spend the money, so the funding has not been used."
A resolution was accepted by the ISC for the 16 proposals that passed the Tier-2 evaluation process. "Because of the damage by the fire last summer, the ISC staff offered to let proposers modify their proposals if they have new information. It is limited to the 16 proposals, and will be the only opportunity to amend. The amendments have to be accompanied by documents with the proponents approving the changes and sending them to Craig Roepke (ISC deputy director) by March 8. Catron County has requested to resubmit because the fires changed their proposal, which was mostly watershed work."
Tom Bates, newly elected president of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission reported on the change of officers, with Billy Webb, representing the San Francisco Soil and Water District being named vice-president, and Bill Woodward, representing Grant Soil and Water District continuing as treasurer.
Martha Schumann-Cooper gave a report on a recent visit by Dave Rosgen, facilitated by the Gila Conservation Coalition, to describe the structures he has designed for more permanent water diversions. "Dave did site visits to current water diversions. It was videotaped. The gist of it was the cross-vane structures, which direct river water into the ditch, with the vane built of rock."
She said he explained a river meanders and the meanders would be recreated, with the water being directed on the upper side of a meander. Oxbow lakes would be part of the design, as they also capture surface water and could capture shallow groundwater. Streambank stabilization is another important component.
"Dave uses trees and rocks and would kick the river channel over a bit," Cooper said. "Rivers need meanders, so they try to cut into the banks." She said the Rosgen structures would potentially create a lot of work, and it would take more money for him to do a design. He said he believes vegetation would hold the river, and in other rivers, such as the Pagosa in Colorado and the San Juan, another Colorado River tributary, his structures have withstood floods up to 14,000 cubic feet a second, but not like the 30,000 cfs floods in the Gila.
Mary Burton Riseley of the Oak Land Trust said what impressed her about Rosgen's presentation were his photos. "His diversion does not go all the way across the river, but is like an A, with two head gates—one for the silt and the other going into the ditch. Inside the A is another rock structure, which prevents scouring of the channel. He did a lot of work on the Roaring River (near the Ozark Mountains), where polarized sides were under indictment for bulldozer work. With everyone in the same room working together, the Justice Department dropped the daily fines."
She also said she was surprised that wood under water doesn't rot, so root wads slow down the water and create pools. "To work on the Gila, he would want to work on a 5-mile stretch, which would cost about $5 million. Most of the money would go to locals—rock haulers and dirt movers."
Jerry Woodrow, Gila Valley resident, said Rosgen came to him and talked about Woodrow's cut banks. "He said he had had to prove his methods, but he knew our problem of having to replace diversion structures on an annual basis. He said the structures would give water during dry times. Will he have a chance to present to the ISC or Reclamation?"
Sobien said the ISC was always willing to listen. Reece said the information might be good for some projects.
Burton-Riseley said it was too late for another proposal for the AWSA funding, but foundation money might be available to pay for the work.
Moving forward on the agenda, Ogilvie said Anthony Gutierrez, Gila Valley resident and Grant County planner, is lead on the technical committee for spikedace and loach minnow critical habitat.
Thorpe addressed issues the Upper Gila Valley Arroyos Water District had with the Maldonado flood control dam. It was decided to breech it, but with legislative funding of about $175,000, 125 cubic yards of silt were moved out. The Bell Canyon dam's 12-14 foot tall spillway, which is almost covered up, will be another project. "The dirt will be moved to the Agnew property. We have a meeting Friday on how we will proceed. We have equipment in place and a contractor in place and hope to do it within the next week. It may cost a bit more for the Bell Canyon dam, but will come out of the tax assessment collected by the district."
The next item of business addressed the Draft Wildlife Restoration Plan and Environmental Assessment for Chino, Core and Tyrone Mine facilities. The reason for the plan is cited as injuries and death caused to birds and animals because of contaminated water from the mines.
The plan can be accessed at http://onrt.nmenv.state.nm.us/documents/DraftRPEAChinoCobreTyroneMine012013.pdf
Comments on the plan are being accepted until March 4.
Written comments should be provided to:
Ms. Rebecca de Neri Zagal, New Mexico Office of Natural Resources Trustee, 4910-A Alameda Boulevard NE, Albuquerque, NM 87113
It is likely that the four Tier-1 projects will be funded. They include work at the Burro Cienega on the east side of New Mexico 90 to improve aquatic habitat; the acquisition of the Double E Ranch, for habitat protection and improvement; riparian habitat restoration on several sites in the the Mimbres River Watershed; and habitat protection and improvement on 130 acres of private land along the Gila River near Redrock. The combined funding needed for these projects is $4.7 million.
Also likely to be funded are at least two projects under the Tier-2 level.
At the end of the GBIC meeting, it was announced that all the ditches in the valley would be holding their annual meetings and looking at cleaning ditches and updating old bylaws.
The next GBIC meeting will be held at 6 p.m., Thursday, Feb. 21, at the Gila Senior Center.