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GBIC hears rest of report, part 2

Editor's Note: This is the final article on the GBIC meeting, and covers the rest of a report on a proposed project to use Arizona Water Settlements Act allocated water and funding.

As he continued his comments on a proposal for a small-diameter pipeline to Deming to utilize Arizona Water Settlements Act water out of the Gila Basin, New Mexico Office of the State Engineer Deming Office Manager Charles "Tink" Jackson said the Las Cruces area is looking at four basins—the ones that are in the lowest populated areas.

"We need every entity to agree to incorporate these projects into the one proposal," Jackson encouraged.

"In order to get approval, we need more meat on the bones," Topper Thorpe, GBIC member, said. "That would give us a basis to say: 'Crap,' or 'Yes, we agree.'"

Jackson said the ISC gave direction on how to incorporate anything from the plan. "I will tell the ISC to put the GBIC portions into the plan. Staff can do it on their own."

A user of Gila River water asked if once a plan is in place, if it is subject to a lawsuit.

"Everything is subject to lawsuit," Jackson said.

He said Catron County would be pulled into the proposal, also. "There's no way to ever get consensus. The Legislature said it would take the water to Las Cruces. I said environmentalists won't agree and neither will local governments. The only option we have is for all governments to sign off on the plan."

He hypothesized that from the time a letter from the NM ISC is sent to the Secretary of the Interior, it will be at least 10 years, probably 15, before any construction can begin. "When the NEPA process begins, the lawsuits will begin," Jackson guessed. "The longer it takes to get the plan done, it provides that many more opportunities for the Legislature to take it away from the ISC."

Anthony Gutierrez, Grant County planner, asked if there were anything in the plan to make the environmentalists agree.

Jackson said he believes Mogollon Creek storage of about 5,000 acre-feet would make it possible to keep a minimum flow in the river, in a dry stretch, which would help the loach minnow, the spikedace and the southwestern willow flycatcher. "I've heard complaints time and time again about the portion that goes dry every year."

He refuted a comment made at a prior meeting that leaving water in the river would increase the economy. "The water has been here since before any of us was born, and the economies of Glia, Cliff and Glenwood have been going down. If you build a reservoir, people will come and stay. The second benefit of a reservoir is that water can augment the flow of the river."

Jackson said the Mogollon Creek structure would not be a structure to catch floodwaters.

David Ogilvie, GBIC chairman, pointed out that what is being proposed could increase local infrastructure, but would still be vulnerable to have a flood take it all out.

"Javier Diaz said it well," Jackson said. "If you take $1 once, it's gone, but if you have infrastructure with the $66 million, it will keep the economy going."

The money would be used to secure water for at least 50 years. "The aquifer is going down," Jackson said. "This is not about the water today, but for 50 years from now."

He said he had talked to Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown about seeking money elsewhere for the regional water plan. Brown indicated the town could likely get money elsewhere.

Tom Cooper, Gila Valley resident, asked why not divert near Redrock, where there were no habitat problems.

"Because of the operations and maintenance costs to get the water back up river," Jackson replied.

Allen Campbell, GBIC member, said the higher the diversion, the easier to use the water down the river.

Cooper said a diversion on Mogollon Creek would benefit irrigators.

Jackson concurred and said it would also benefit endangered species.

Cooper said he was unclear about whether irrigators would pay for the water out of the storage.

Jackson said if the water is put on existing uses, it would be native water, but irrigators would have to pay for any evaporation from the storage. "We're trying to get the project paid for without the residents paying for any of it."

Gerald Schultz, representing state Natural Resources Conservation and Development District activities, said he had recently read a study on how much water needless trees are using.

"In 1960," Jackson said, "300,000 acre-feet of water were coming down the river. There has been poor watershed management."

A mature cottonwood tree can consume up to 450 gallons of water a day.

Allen Campbell, GBIC member, said that 50 years ago when he would ride down the river with Boy Scouts, they could find almost anywhere along the way a place to camp where there was feed for horses, like an open field. "Now it's jungle, a bosque. Without the trees, there would be more water. To quantify it, we need to get a meter below our irrigation system to measure the West Fork and the Middle Fork."

Gutierrez said the county had a project on Iron Bridge. The Army Corps of Engineers and the Fish and Wildlife Service were open to a maintenance type plan for too many trees. "I suggested a maintenance plan for the spikedace and loach minnow, with some sort of structure to protect private land. The growth in the channel pushes the water outside the main channels."

Campbell said no fish could be found in the river because of ashy mud. "I breached our ditch to flush the mud out. No tadpoles, no minnows, a few snails, and no fish out of the creek. The habitat for the loach minnow has been destroyed because of the mud. The loach minnow wants a gravel bottom. We're trying to get trout restocked. We're only a mile from the confluence with the East Fork, but none are in the West Fork or Middle Fork."

Don Stailey, Gila Valley resident, said he and Jerry Woodrow are the oldest ones living on the river when it was adjudicated in the 1960s. "We know how much water we lost. The 10,000 acre-feet were meant to come back to the river for us to use. No politician ever says the water is meant for the river. The Mogollon flow would augment the river, and we would have to pay for the augmentation."

Diaz said he had been enlightened by the discussion at the meeting that "you are thinking about nature."

Thorpe suggested the need to monitor the plan closely and have another session if needed to decide how to proceed. "The concept of trying to consolidate projects makes sense. No, not everyone will be happy, but we have to agree and move forward. There has been progress made, but not consensus. We have to make the best decision we can make."

Jackson said Craig Ropeke, ISC deputy director, told him the ISC is carrying forward with studies on the proposals on the table.

"I think concern for environmentalists' issues may alleviate concerns," Ogilvie said.

Mary Reece of the Phoenix office of the U.S. Bureau of Reclamation said the role of the agency is "and I  reiterate several points—this is a state of New Mexico decision, not a federal decision. If there is a New Mexico Unit, Reclamation will have a role. Prior to the December 2014 decision, the ISC has asked for Reclamation tech support. We are in the process of entering into an MOU (memorandum of understanding) with the ISC for economic analyses, cost-benefit and economic impact of all 16 proposals, as well as diversions and how to configure them. The potential is there for all 16 to change. When can we know so we can do the analyses? We're going to sit back and see what proposals we will be looking at. We plan to do an additional site visit after March 8."

Thorpe, who is also an Interstate Stream commissioner, said he could not speak for all of the ISC, but he knows there is a concern about what decision would go to the Secretary of the Interior, whether it would be with a project or that "we don't want the water. I don't think the latter is what we want to do. I think it would be really good to have a project to look at. There is real anticipation of what may come in, in a positive way."

Gutierrez, who serves on the spikedace and loach minnow recovery plan group as a stakeholder, said the group has only held one meeting to set the structure for a new recovery plan. The technical people have identified concerns, including dry areas in the Gila Valley and chemicals in the water. "You have until March 15 to add concerns and comments. I have concerns about the maintenance of the channel, trees in the waterway and flood control. I can bring continuity to protect infrastructure and private property."

Under new business, Ogilvie said most ditches are holding their annual meetings, doing assessments and amending bylaws to get them updated and shared with other ditches.

Thorpe thanked Jackson for attending the meeting. "Water issues are serious and will get more serious."

Stailey said the area may never come to consensus, but "we've come a long way."

The next GBIC meeting is slated for 7 p.m. Wednesday, March 20, at the Gila Community Center.

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