Editor's Note: This is the second and final article on the Feb. 27 Southwestern County Commission Alliance meeting held in Reserve.
Charlie "Tink" Jackson, New Mexico Office of the State Engineer Deming manager, addressed the "fiction of the free-flowing Gila River. It has not been free-flowing since at least 1888. Upstream before it goes into Arizona had diversions back to 1860. A lot of people in Santa Fe believe what they're told. The marketing is that it's free-flowing, but it is not."
Jackson said he hears a lot about costs. "Look back to history. The Ute Dam, when it was developed, Portales and Clovis chose not to participate. Now the two towns get water only from the Ogallala Aquifer. The latest prediction is that it will be dry in 15 years. Albuquerque looked into the future, particularly at the Rio Chama. The value of that water is now over $1 billion. This water here is for about 50 years from now. The cost now would be insignificant compared to then."
Shannon asked for clarification: "We would not be robbing from the Gila River, only the excess flows? And, if we don't take it now, it will go to Las Cruces or somewhere else?"
Jackson agreed. "The $25 million doesn't scare me. The Las Cruces representatives are already working on a plan to take the decision on the water away from the Interstate Stream Commission and give to the Legislature."
Ramos said he would like to keep the water in Grant County and inject it into the aquifer to benefit Grant and Luna counties.
"If a 3-inch pipeline is approved by local entities, and the ISC sends a letter to the Secretary of Interior with a contract, the water will stay in the four counties," Jackson said.
McGuire commented that a proposal in the San Augustin Plains to draw 54,000 acre-feet of water a year from the aquifer is not feasible.
Jackson said the OSE said no to the application, the district court said no to the application, but three days after Texas filed suit against New Mexico for pumping too much groundwater in the Rio Grande Basin, the group came back to ask the Supreme Court to determine whether the group can take the water.
"In 1980, El Paso filed applications to drill in Santa Teresa," Jackson said. "The OSE said no. It ended up in the Supreme Court, and the court asked for proof that New Mexico needed the water. Why put in the statewide water plan and in the regional water plan that the water cannot leave the state? To prove that it is needed.
"This 10,000 acre-feet of water is not New Mexico water, it is the Gila River Indian Community that owns the water," Jackson said.
Of the 16 proposals before the ISC, 13 are diversions and three are not. "I would like to see all the projects in the proposals that we are working on right now. We can amend by March 8 to put the projects together."
Ramos asked if the area entities agree to the combined project, "would the water be committed to the area?"
"For the life of the project and at least 50 years, yes," Jackson said.
"We need to emphasize the economic development with this project," Diaz said. "Grant County would have tourism with fishermen. Luna County is kind of left out."
Ramos suggested each county take the proposal to its commissions.
During county requests and comments, Ramos invited those who had requests of Congressman Steve Pearce to talk to his representative, Fred Huff, after the meeting.
Allred talked about preparing an ongoing report on the Catwalk and hoped soon to have more details.
Shannon asked whom else the alliance "could push to support the Catwalk on the federal level."
McGuire suggested getting other counties on board.
"It's hard for Sierra or Socorro counties to get here," Ramos said. "I know Sierra County is concerned because the Travel Management Plan is trying to remove some of the county's roads in the forest."
The alliance members held a roundtable discussion.
"These are productive meetings," Ramos said. "As commissioners, we give facts to the people, such as the fact that only excess water can be taken out of the rivers per the AWSA. It is 'our' river. I'm fourth generation in the county, and I want to see my grandkids playing in the river."
Diaz pointed out watershed management is a concern. "We need to get hold of the Forest Service or get the sheriff to claim trees and manage them ourselves."
Ramos said he has heard that a willow tree can take 200 gallons of water a day and cottonwoods, 400 gallons a day.
McGuire said on the Rio Grande, bosque was cleaned up with goats eating the salt cedar.
Jess Carey, Catron County wolf interaction investigator, said in talking to old timers, they say the watershed is bad now, with water being used by the trees that are too close together.
Ramos said the spotted owl is no longer an issue, because studies have shown the owl prefers thinned forests.
Huff said the organic act that established the National Forest Service created it for two purposes—a perpetual supply of lumber for U.S. residents and second for securing continuous downstream flows.
Allred said on one of his favorite places on the forest, from mid-June to mid-September in recent years, he could walk up the San Francisco River and not touch a drop of water. After the first cold snap, there was one foot or more of water in the river. "With all the programs of the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Forest Service and the spotted owl issue, we have never, ever had cumulative impact studies, as required by law."
"A Forest Service scientist told me we could log 37 million linear-feet of timber a year without any damage to the forest," Allred continued. "We need to send a letter to Fish and Wildlife Service and Pearce asking that cumulative impact studies be done on the Travel Management Plan and endangered species—culturally, economically and socially. Catron County now has a higher rate of crime than ever before, with 14 unsolved murders."
"It doesn't happen like what they say will happen," Shannon said.
Griffin said, at a recent meeting, he heard members of the Gila River Indian Community talk about how the U.S. government broke every treaty and how the government lied to them at every turn. "An attorney had it documented."
McGuire said, in 1960, in Colorado, he was managing ranches and permits in the forest. "The rangers would come help us. I had respect for them. You come here and see how it has changed. I'm not sure what changed the culture."
Griffin said it is no the fault of the local folks. "They have to follow orders from above."
"Most of the Forest Service folks are local," Ramos said. "The 'official' Forest Service rebutted what we had said in previous meetings. In the Grant County Beat, the Forest Service presented a fact sheet. I did research, and all agencies have to deal with local public entities." He also pointed out that the Gila National Forest supervisor claimed she was not making the decision alone. "It states in her own document that she makes the decision."
"I think they don't know their own rules," Shannon said.
A Catron County resident said he could document the $50,000 he has lost to wolves over the past two years. "A woman in the wolf program said a workshop teaches them how to convince people that wolves are nice. The program gave me $1,500 for hay for 180 head I moved off my private property so the wolves could den. Then they sent me a 1099 for the hay."
Ramos said he wanted to explain how the big water project started in Santa Fe. "We also spoke to Sen. John Arthur Smith and Commissioner Javier Diaz. We wanted to get elected officials together. We put together a meeting. We had no back door meetings, no secrecy, no two commissioners from the same county at the meeting, so as not to go against the Open Meetings Act. It was a meeting of responsible elected officials. Everything gets turned every which way by some organization. Our main concern is water for our residents."
The next meeting of the SWCCA is slated for 1 p.m. Wednesday, March 27, at the Luna County Courthouse in Deming.
Ramos told the Beat those in attendance at the "Santa Fe meeting of responsible elected officials included Hurley Mayor Edward Encinas, Bayard Mayor Charles Kelly, Silver City Town Manager Alex Brown, Grant County Manager Jon Paul Saari, Silver City Mayor James Marshall, Jackson, Kuenstler, Diaz and himself.
The next meeting is slated for 1 p.m., Wednesday, March 27, at the Luna County Courthouse in Deming.