Editor's Note: This is the continuation and final portion of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
During the rest of the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission meeting on Tuesday, elected officials and representatives from area organizations commented on the surprising development out of Luna County—a change in the county's proposal. The county and the city of Deming had put forth a proposal to utilize at least 10,000 acre-feet of Gila River Basin water as allocated by the Arizona Water Settlements Act. The project proposed constructing a pipeline from a diversion on the Gila River to deliver water to Deming.
The project was among the 16 being studied by the Interstate Stream Commission, with input from the Input Committee, as part of the planning process to determine by Dec. 2014, whether New Mexico would use the water within the state or let it continue to flow to Arizona, as it does now.
The change was that the pipeline would be built, but the water would also be available to the communities, through which it passed, including Silver City, Santa Clara, Bayard and Hurley. In exchange for support, the entities were likely to drop their own projects in order to expedite the studies on the major proposal.
Grant County Commissioner Gabriel Ramos said: "We all share the same thoughts. We want to keep the water in the four counties. I support this project."
Grant County Commissioner Ron Hall said he is very concerned about losing the water. "It's our livelihood, and we need to get this done now. We need to work as a unit all together to keep the water in the area."
Hidalgo County Commissioner Darr Shannon said she "definitely" supported what Ramos and Hall had said "to keep the water that is rightfully ours."
Not everyone at the meeting agreed with the proposal.
Allyson Siwik of the Gila Conservation Coalition said she had questions, and Charles "Tink" Jackson, Deming Office of the State Engineer manager, who had given the overview of the project (in the first article), offered to answer them.
"It would be helpful to know who the end users are," Siwik said.
"The municipalities and the counties will use the water," Jackson said. "We see the need of the water for our children and grandchildren. The same things were said about how 'crazy' the canal to Phoenix (Arizona) was. We need to think about where we're going to be 50 years from now. No one has signed the resolutions yet, but they are being prepared."
Siwik also questioned the 10,000 acre-feet Jackson had alluded to in his overview. "The Act allocates 14,000 acre-feet."
"Yes, the AWSA allocates 14,000 acre-feet, but 4,000 acre-feet come from the San Francisco River in Catron County," Jackson replied.
"You said the entities will pull their projects," Siwik said. "We have 16 proposals. Maybe not all will go through with pulling them. Who is pulling projects?"
"The entities have indicated that after the resolutions are passed, they will look at the proposal and decide whether to pull their projects," Jackson said.
"Public participation is also a concern," Siwik said. "Now there are backroom discussions being done outside the public process."
"We are only bringing in elected officials," Jackson said. "That's why they are elected—to do what is best for their constituents. This is not a new project. It is a revision of an existing project. Entities put the projects forward without public input, and they can amend them."
Kelly Kuenstler, Luna County manager, pointed out that every resolution is open to public input.
Gerald Schultz, representing Natural Resource and Conservation District statewide activities, asked how much water Las Cruces would use if the pipeline, as recently proposed by NM Sen. John Arthur Smith, were to be built to Las Cruces.
"The city uses about 100,000 acre-feet a year, not counting groundwater," Jackson said. "If the pipeline extended to Las Cruces, the city would pull even more water from this area."
Alex Thal, representing Grant Soil & Water Conservation District, said the Gila/San Francisco Water Commission had proposed projects "as far back as 10 years and GSFWC has been trying since day one to propose, intitiate and expedite AWSA projects. The former state administration set up a competing process. This body is the only one mentioned in the AWSA to advise the Interstate Stream Commission. I propose to my fellow commissioners that we communicate to the ISC, via a resolution, on how this regional water commission can assist ISC in expediting any and all AWSA projects to comply with the tight timeframes we are working under."
M.H. "Dutch" Salmon of the Gila Conservation Coalition pointed out: "Things started hopping when John Arthur Smith made his proposal to pipe the water to Las Cruces. If he were king, instead of senator, it would be easier."
"Not everyone in New Mexico agrees with this," Salmon continued. "Time will tell if the majority supports this project. There are 40 million acre-feet of water storage in the Mimbres Basin. Ten thousand acre-feet will not make or break the region. The Gila River is worth more as its natural free-flowing river."
Kim McCreery of the New Mexico Wilderness Alliance said she was confused.
"If we don't use or divert the water, we will lose the water and it will go to Las Cruces?" McCreery asked. "It's perplexing that everyone equates using water with diverting it. Shouldn't we use the water in the river for recreation and tourism? You should keep in mind climate change. It's not something we should pooh-pooh. There is no Gila River in Arizona. It is diverted, and doesn't exist anymore.
"We should consider non-diversion alternatives," McCreery continued. "They are more economical. People are used to doing things the same way. Mistakes have been made in diverting water from rivers. If you really care about 50 to 100 years from now, and if you care about your children and grandchildren, using it means keeping it in the river."
Schultz pointed out that Congressman Steve Pearce when he spoke earlier in the meeting had said: "Where there is water, that is where there are jobs." Schultz continued: "Recently I was at the Red River Conference in North Dakota. The river is the border between North Dakota and Minnesota. There is no place to impound the water, and municipalities have to get the water directly out of the river. At the same time, flood protection has been a problem. Now, all of a sudden, there is no snow, so everyone in the region has agreed on a pipeline from the Missouri River. They get along. I agree that 10 years has been wasted here on disagreements, but if there is no water, there are no jobs."
Donna Stevens, Upper Gila Watershed Alliance director, said a lot of people are fiscal conservatives. "We live within our financial budgets. Why can't we live within our water budgets and leave water in the Gila Basin?"
Jackson said he was putting on his personal hat. "I keep hearing the concept of leaving the water in the river for tourism. The water has been in the river since before I was born. We've given the water a chance to grow the economy, but we're losing jobs."
Shannon said because of the fear of floods after the Whitewater-Baldy Fire last summer, the Catwalk was taken down, and "now there is no tourism. We're still worried about floods from the denuded mountains. We need to store the floodwater and put the Catwalk back in. It's horrible what taking the Catwalk out has done to Glenwood."
"I want to go back to talking about economics," Siwik said. "I think it is a mistake for anyone to pull their projects. During the Conner Dam days, water costs were predicted to rise by eight times. I encourage entities to rethink pulling their projects. For instance, the regional water plan, and the Bayard and Deming reuse projects are economically feasible. Don't you want to know the analysis and whether these projects would work? You don't want to sign up for expensive projects when you have cost-effective affordable options."
Bucky Allred, Catron County Commissioner, said: "It's very important to keep our water. The San Francisco River, in the fall when the cottonwoods are taking the water, is a dry river. As soon as the first cold snap comes, we have one to one-and-a-half feet of water in the river. I'm all for pristine areas, but we need to think of our resources. The trees take up a great deal of water. The Whitewater-Baldy Fire was 32 miles long and 24 miles wide. Then we had the warning of floods. Clay-like, ashy silt built up in the creek. With the permission of the (U.S. Army) Corps of Engineers, we were scraping up the silt. The Wallow and the Whitewater-Baldy fires put me out of business. There is no tourism in Glenwood and Reserve. I want to use the water in the four counties."
Shelly Hallmark, Grant County resident, said he is one of those people who came to the area for the forest and wilderness. "I just came here from riding in the forest. I don't know if the river should be accountable for jobs, but I worry that what's happening right now is a stampede to build a dam to keep the water from going somewhere else. I think we need to be good stewards of our resources."
Schultz had the last public comment. "Public involvement includes an education component. It needs to be beefed up in relation to the aquifer and the river." He encouraged those interested to attend the University of Arizona Water Resources Research Center upcoming conference on groundwater.
The next meeting of the GSFWC will take place at 1 p.m. Tuesday, March 19, at the Grant County Administration Center.